When the first season of Stranger Things hit Netflix nearly a year ago, it really felt like it came out of nowhere. Before Stranger Things, the closest film we seemed to have gotten as an homage to 80s Spielberg/Stephan King was J.J. Abrams’s Super 8 (a film that now seems to have arrived a few years too early). Stranger Things was perfectly suited for this new generation of film watchers where all eight episodes were available at once and told a story that felt like you were watching an eight-hour movie as opposed to a single season of TV (perfect for binge viewing).
Now, with the first season of Stranger Things taking the world by storm, the wait was seemingly non-ending for the follow-up, Stranger Things 2 (a more appropriate title over Stranger Things: Season 2). It has arrived on Netflix this past weekend. I finally finished this nine-hour adventure and join in the almost unanimous praises of the rest of the internet by saying, Stranger Things 2 lives up to the hype and expectations. While it is not as refined as the first entry, Stranger Things 2 opens the world’s mythology and expertly navigates returning and new characters too great success.
(Mild Spoilers Ahead And Spoilers For Season 1)
Stranger Thing 2 takes place nearly a year after the events of the first season. Will experiences PTSD and visions of his time in the upside down world, Mike tries to live a life without Eleven, and the town of Hawkins once again starts to experience a new terrifying event as the upside down world continues to invade their world. Hopper tries to make sense of the new signs, while Nancy feels guilty over the death of Barbra.
There is far more going on in Stranger Things 2 than what is written before you. Each one of the large cast of characters has their own story arcs bobbing and weaving throughout this season. Several new characters are introduced like Sean Austin’s Bob and Sadie Sink’s Max. Each one of the new pieces work well with the old ones. Sadie Sink’s Max adds a wonderful new dynamic to the original group of kids and takes almost no adjustment period. Her chemistry with the rest of the young child actors is fun and will have you looking forward to seeing more of her in the future Stranger Things installments.
The large amounts of story arcs are expertly balanced and wonderfully executed by the tag team showrunners of the Duffer Brothers. Less skilled writers would find it difficult to balance them all in a massive novel let along a nine-episode season of TV. Each one of the story arcs come to a satisfying conclusion. The only misstep in the Duffer Brothers approach would be dedicating an entire episode to Eleven finding her lost sister (episode 7). It feels too disconnected with the rest of the plot and feels a bit like one of The Walking Dead single character episodes where it goes on for too long and doesn’t amount to adding much to the ongoing story. Perhaps in future seasons of Stranger Things, this will come into play in a much bigger way.
In some ways, the narrative choice to split Eleven off on her own journey is reminded of The Empire Strikes Back with Luke going off to find Yoda. Stranger Things 2 does have a bit of an Empire Strikes Back vibe. The group is more split up and in many ways, this is darker than the last season.
But, it would be false to say this takes an entire Empire Strikes Back approach (which admittedly is an overused comparison). Stranger Things 2 doesn’t feel like the dark chapter in a trilogy. In other ways, this is more fun than the first season. The character pairing yields some creative and fun results. Having Steve being more integrated with the younger cast proves to be a risk that pays off. The chemistry that Joe Kerry has Gaten Matarazzo is delightful.
The rest of the returning cast all continue their hot streaks of good performances. Winona Ryder improves upon her performance giving Joyce more layers than ever before. David Harbour continues to be my favorite character and cast member in the series as Hopper. His relationship with Eleven proves to be one of the beating hearts of this sequel. Finn Wolfhard is still excellent but a bit underused, while Caleb McLaughlin shines a lot more in this season.
This season is also surprisingly slower paced. The first act of the narrative takes a while to get going and builds much slower and subtler than the first series. For some, this may have been the wrong approach but for myself, this was an inspired and confident choice. The first few episodes succeed off the backs of the strong characters and interactions with one another. The story builds slowly as the Duffer Brother spent most of their time catching up with our favorite characters and building the new ones. By the time episode eight and nine rolls around and the third act finale starts to kick in you’ll find yourself more than happy that you spent so much time in the first few episodes set the stage as opposed to the first season’s quicker pace.
Stranger Things 2 does at times feel a bit more predictable than the first Stranger Things. While the first Stranger Things isn’t the high mark in terms of originality (it is after all a homage to films like E.T. and stories like It) I found myself a bit more savvy to Stranger Things 2 tricks. This isn’t a big issue because it does have a few surprises that you won’t see coming and this does tend to happen with sequels.
Stranger Things 2 is the sequel that we were hoping for. While Stranger Things 2 does have an episode miscue and can be at times a bit more predictable, this is an overall strong follow up. This challenges the status quo of the returning characters and introducing new ones that audiences are sure to fall in love with. While not as refined as the first season, Stranger Things 2 represents some of the strongest cinematic TV around. The wait for Stranger Thing 3 now, feels that much longer.