From left, Bill Hader and James Ransone have some funny moments in “It Chapter Two.” (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

‘It Chapter Two’ focuses on lovable characters as much as scares

Long length is both an asset and a setback

At two hours and 49 minutes, “It Chapter Two” is among the longest Hollywood horror movies in history. (Ari Aster’s director’s cut of “Midsommar” is two minutes longer.)

The length is both a setback and asset, as it allows plenty of time for the characters to come to life.

It is a requirement to have seen 2017’s “It” before venturing into this one, though intimate knowledge of Stephen King’s 1986 novel or the 1990 TV movie might make a passable substitute.

“It” focused on seven main characters as kids, dealing with the threat of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) during a scary summertime adventure in Derry, Maine in 1989.

Pennywise is said to reappear every 27 years; at the end of “It,” the middle-schoolers make a pact that they will return, should the terror rise again. It does.

Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one who remained in Derry, calls the others, one by one, and they answer.

Bill (James McAvoy) is a screenwriter in Hollywood, Bev (Jessica Chastain) is in an abusive relationship, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comedian, Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk-assessment insurance guy, and Ben (Jay Ryan) lost his adolescent weight to become a chiseled architect. Stanley (Andy Bean) is a no-show.

Besides its length, the movie’s other flaw is that it doesn’t immediately draw a clear line between the kid and adult versions of the characters. It takes awhile to nail down who’s who, even though Richie and Eddie are obvious, due to spot-on casting, and Bev is the only female. The issue could be solved with a few well-placed flashbacks.

McAvoy, even though he’s a terrific actor, doesn’t quite seem like Jaeden Martell’s Bill from the first movie; the equally terrific Chastain doesn’t quite capture Sophia Lillis’ playfully puckish Bev.

After an alcohol-aided reunion at a Chinese restaurant, the plot requires each character to find a token, a personal object that ties to the summer 27 years ago, to perform a ritual. These searches, shown one at a time, each with a flashback and scary Pennywise encounter, take up a large middle section. The showdown also occupies a huge amount of celluloid real estate, though, of course, the less said, the better.

“It,” only 135 minutes, kept its characters mostly together, concentrating on truly affecting scares. After all, the movie wasn’t simply about ghosts or monsters, but things that haunt the deepest, darkest corners in all humans.

“It Chapter Two” is less scary; like early “Evil Dead” films and other 1980s horrors, its crazy creatures inspire surprised laughter more than terror.

Much like the horrifying carotid angiography sequence that peaked “The Exorcist,” the most frightening moments here stem from real cruelties — hate crimes, spousal abuse and suicide — rather than supernatural forces.

Weirdly, the movie is also funny, with belly laughs coming from Hader’s loony one-liners and hilariously bratty bickering with Ransone.

Mostly, “It Chapter Two” is committed to bringing the characters together again as a messed-up family. After their long journey, the goofy losers will seem once again like folks you’d want to have on your side, should the clown ever come creeping back into your nightmares.

REVIEW

It Chapter Two

Three stars

Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Bill Skarsgård

Written by: Gary Dauberman

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

Rated: R

Running time: 2 hours, 49 minutes

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