Stranger Things 2 review: Netflix’s breakout hit returns, just as wonderful, and just as frustrating as Season 1
Stranger Things 2 review: Netflix’s breakout hit returns, with more monsters, more mysteries, more everything. But is that a good thing?
Stranger Things 2
Cast - Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Materazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Dacre Montgomery, Charlie Heaton, Sadie Sink
Rating - 2/5
Since Stranger Things is so forthright about its frankly clingy obsession with Steven Spielberg, its successes – and there are many – instantly being compared to the master’s heyday, even its failures – and sadly, there are many of those, too – should naturally be held to the same standard.
Season 2, it pains me to report – we were all taken by surprise, weren’t we, by the swooning charm of Season 1 – is a terribly disappointing step in the wrong direction, a clumsy tumble into the Upside Down, if you will.
Five episodes in, once the excitement surrounding its massively-anticipated return had died down, and once the adorable gimmicks – like calling it Stranger Things 2 – had faded away, a tragic realisation struck: It’s simply not that good. A show that aimed to emulate the success of sequels like Back to the Future Part II, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Empire Strikes Back - all great sequels - ends up resembling films like Jaws 2, and the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 – which is to say, the sequels everyone seems to hate, or at the very least, aggressively dislike.
But honestly, I wasn’t as taken by Season 1 as the rest of the world seemed to have been. Super 8, JJ Abrams’, err, strangely similar 2011 film, was a far more accomplished telling of basically the same story – small town kids must band together and fend off monsters while battling personal demons.
While there were many reasons to appreciate the show – the striking period detail, the nostalgic tone, the perfect casting – it did leave something to be desired. And I realise I’m in the minority here, but you can’t love ’em all. Or maybe you can, but not this time. No more brownie points for playing the nostalgia card.
Stranger Things 2, like the subpar movie sequels that inspired its name, is just as charming as Season 1, and just as frustrating. The jeans are still flared, the skies are still blue, and school is still a chore. It’s Halloween, 1984. A year has passed since Will Byers mysteriously disappeared for a week. The Terminator has just arrived, in the same theatres that a few weeks ago showed Ghostbusters. It’s still a great time to be alive for our young heroes.
There is, however, one key difference this time around: We’re now living in a post-IT world.
Only a few weeks ago, the Stephen King adaptation took everyone by storm, racing away, in record time, to become the most successful horror picture in history – for good reason, IT is an excellent movie. And it’s a cruel twist of irony that a film clearly greenlit because of Stranger Things’ success, sandwiched as it was between two seasons, has become the reason for the harsh judgment it is about to receive.
But where do we even begin… There’s a reason I’ve been hesitant about revealing more details about the plot – of course, inadvertently revealing spoilers is a dangerous thought, but it’s mostly because it’s very hazy as to what I’m even allowed to say. No, really: I signed a suspiciously detailed confidentiality agreement.
So after scrutinizing the season, and understanding the potential repercussions of revealing too much, I offer you my summary of the plot: Will returns from the Upside Down, Will has nightmares about the Upside Down, Mike spends his evenings trying to locate Eleven, and Dustin finally grows a set of front teeth. Meanwhile, someone noticed the lack of gender diversity in the group, and threw in a new addition, a girl named Max.
Season 2 is, once again, about the pains of growing up. It’s about those weathered Stephen King themes - parental negligence, traumatic childhood, and the joys of friendship. It doubles down on everything that we liked about the first season – the music is lusher, as are the visuals, both presumably injected with a heftier budget. The kids’ chemistry is as electric as ever, and their individual stories are, as they were in Season 1, patiently developed.
But honestly, was it the best idea to devote an entire (season-long) subplot into investigating the disappearance of Barb? Was it an intelligent decision to keep the kids separated for what seems like an inordinate amount of time? No. It wasn’t. Did the Duffer Brothers not learn anything from Scooby Doo: Splitting up is the worst.
Even at 9 episodes long – and that’s still shorter than most dramas, which usually extend to 13 – Stranger Things 2, particularly towards the latter half, feels agonizingly slow. And I remember feeling exactly the same way about Season 1.
While Season 2 offers a deeper look into the larger mythology of the world, the pacing is a very real, and obviously very difficult problem. It’s clearly designed to be binged in one go, with episodes melding into each other, like a really long film – and that is probably how it will be consumed. Neither is it lost on me that most people would, despite my frankly indecipherable inability to understand this show, love it anyway.
Let’s just chalk this down as one of those things.
Stranger Things 2 begins streaming on Netflix on October 27
Watch the Stranger Things 2 trailer here