REVIEW: Stranger Things: Season 2
– By Stephen ‘Folklore’ Harper
Picking up exactly a year after the first season’s shenanigans, Stranger Things 2 kicks off with a car chase action sequence that at first seems miles away aesthetically from the nostalgic imagery we came to adore from season 1, but fear not as this is just a glimpse of what is promised to be a far grander and more expansive world that its creators, The Duffer Brothers, will no doubt be able to utilize in future seasons.
There’s no point in me getting people up to speed with what happened in Season 1 as I’m guessing everyone has watched it (and if not, WHY NOT?) but Season 2 takes no time at all jumping back into the action of eerie goings-on in the town of Hawkins. We now find Will (Noah Schnapp) even more haunted by the Upside Down to the point where he’s experiencing black-outs and feeling the strain of his over protective mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The rest of the gang of Dustin, Mike, Lucas seem to be getting back to normal. They’re now more focused on getting to the bottom of figuring out who Max (Sadie Sink) is? Max and her bully stepbrother (Dacre Montgomery) are two new main character additions, but I’ll admit I’m still trying to figure that out myself as I’m still unsure how necessary they were to the overall story? I’m not saying I disliked them, but if they weren’t included in Season 2 I’m not sure how many people would miss them?
Chief Hopper gets possibly the biggest storyline of the season due to his father/daughter relationship with Eleven, who he’s been hiding for a year in an Evil Dead styled cabin in the woods. Hopper for all his flaws is a sympathetic character who you really care for throughout the season. For all his good intentions trouble seems to follow him, but he is the hero you root for and David Harbour’s performance is a pretty darn good one.
Another of the new character additions is Bob played by Sean Astin. I thought this piece of casting was genius. I’m a big fan of Astin and this is probably the nearest he’ll ever get to a Goonies sequel. Even throughout his successes in The Lord Of The Rings I often thought he was an underrated actor and deserved more decent roles other than the brief snippets in comedies. His portrayal of good guy Bob is a lovely balance to the overall piece and even though slightly predictable I couldn’t help but smile whenever he took to the screen.
Another was Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens. At last a scientist who isn’t a bad guy! I’ve always liked Reisner since starring in Cameron’s Aliens. He’s a versatile actor that deserves better material than he often gets.
All these guys are nice additions, but it’s the established cast that continue to shine, especially the kids. Eleven (Millie Bobby-Brown) is undoubtedly a megastar in the making. Noah Schnapp’s unassuming performance as Will steals almost every scene and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin has just evolved into a comedic gem. These child actors are growing and evolving before our eyes and for me there’s so many similarities between the Stranger Things kids and the Harry Potter franchise kids. Given the right material and care they could grow and entertain fans as these characters for multiple seasons and years to come.
Although most performances and the cinematic feel of the show is on the money there was unfortunately a few drawbacks for me with Season 2. Its Wow-Factor has gone, which is understandable with a sequel and can be forgiven, but its overall nostalgia seemed a little sporadic. I’m a sucker for nods towards the classic films of days gone by, but unlike the first season there didn’t seem as many. It seemed Season 2 wanted to break out on its own feet and establish itself which is cool, but it just seemed to take an age to get anywhere. In fact it wasn’t until episodes 7, 8 & 9 that I really began to enjoy myself. Up until then we had to endure a repetitive Joyce Byers storyline which was identical to Season 1 and Dustin befriending a slug which was just unnecessary. In fact when I said there weren’t many nods to the classics, that’s because they’re was no room as the overall nod was a storyline reminiscent of Gremlins. Dustin befriends a slug-like Gizmo and the town becomes overrun by Upside Down demon dogs. The only break in narrative came in the form of Eleven tracking down her mother and finding her supernatural sister in the big city. Stranger Things in the city was a refreshing surprise and I loved the way the creators stayed authentic to 80’s trash and shot everything at night and shooting scenes on rooftops and alleyways. I loved how Eleven went from dirtied dress and sneakers to oversized cuffed jacket and slicked back hair, like something from Dream Warriors.
The main problem I’ve had with both Seasons 1 & 2 is the reliance on CGI. I just wish they’d truly payed homage and stayed authentic to its 80’s roots by using some dodgy prosthetics, which would have been great, but that’s just me.
These are just minor gripes really as overall I adore Stranger Things. They’re unlike anything else around and capture the feel, style and humor of the 80s. There’s been a few recent films that have come close, but Stranger Things has the foundations to build and get bigger and bigger. The overall atmosphere of dread was extremely well executed throughout the season and it just whets the appetite even more so. Bring on Season 3!