“It: Chapter Two” is every bit as good as 2017’s “It,” the first film chapter based on the massive, 1,000-plus page novel by Stephen King about friends banding together to defeat evil.

Which is to say that it depicts fear in a visually stunning fashion, it’s disturbing and graphic, it thankfully leavens the horror with humor and it’s way too long.

The great news is that Tulsa’s Bill Hader is the best thing about this sequel.

It makes sense that as the adult version of Richie Tozier (the jokester among the first film’s “Loser’s Club” teens), it would be Hader providing the comic relief here.

But where the little-brat jokes were groaners in the first movie, Hader is killing it here with comic asides, impressions (one of his favorites, Jabba the Hut, even makes the cut) and more.

Meanwhile, he’s also the most interesting when moving from the comedic to the tragic, which happens often and sometimes with turn-on-a-dime speed, calling for everything from tears to the face of fear.

Despite Hader’s successful track record in many movies already, this is different because he’s so good and because so many people will see this movie.

You will soon be telling friends, when describing who Hader is, that “he’s the guy from the ‘It’ sequel” as often as “he’s the guy from ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

As for the movie, there are plenty of frights, and some are almost as scary as the running time of 2 hours, 49 minutes, which is excessive.

But it was a gigantic book, which alternated the stories of its ensemble of characters as teens fighting a monster and as adults forced to return 27 years later because they took an oath — if “It” ever comes back, we’ll return too, to finish the job.

“It” changed things up: The 2017 film only depicted the bullied and nerdy teens of the “Loser’s Club,” who find that evil is all around in Derry, Maine, a town where, as we’re told, adults “go missing” at six times the national average — and with children, the rate is even higher.

It takes the imaginations of six teens not yet desensitized to this horrible fact to realize that there is an “It” and that it lures children to their doom in the form of a circus clown with red balloons who offers them a chance to “float” with him.

“It: Chapter Two” brings back the kids for flashback scenes, but the focus is on the adults, and on King’s beautiful and frightening simplicity of a creature that knows what scares us and feeds on those fears.

That allows for a narrative structure that is character-driven, and yet, there are so many omissions from the novel that many fans of the book will be disappointed.

That is, unless, they can go in satisfied in knowing that themes of childhood innocence lost, or of how parents shape our lives, or of generational fears in America, are all missing, and what’s left is the fear-factor and friendship.

We get to know the six adult “Losers” (there were more but not all make it back to Derry), and we are again reminded what scares them and that takes a lot of time giving each of them their own solo scared-witless moments.

These are some colorful, creepy nightmares starring Pennywise the clown — and the different forms that he takes, or what he tricks the “Losers” into thinking that they see — like a Paul Bunyan statue that goes ballistic with its axe.

Director Andy Muschietti returns to balance the screams with a few laugh-lines, but the scares are often more gruesome than the first movie, and blood is sprayed everywhere.

Like when Beverly (played by Jessica Chastain) is clawed at by an old, naked decaying woman, or when Richie (Hader) must fight off a decapitated head that grows spider legs and goes on the attack.

Many of these moments are disturbing, and there are many of them. The imagination is impressive, and the art production is fantastic.

But it does get to the point of staging one big set piece after another for each character, dragging out the movie’s second half, leading to a final showdown.

And all of this takes away from the development of some characters, especially James McAvoy playing Bill, the leader of the kids from the first film but who’s sort of lost in the shuffle here.

But in a movie where the concept becomes of more importance than the acting of its stars, at least we retain the ideas of what bonds them together in the first place, and in knowing that their only chance against the clown is the strength of their friendship and sticking together.

That’s mostly what keeps “It: Chapter Two” bonded together — that and the brilliance of Hader.

Michael Smith

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