Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Stranger Things 2 Review

Stranger Things season 2 returns to Hawkins a year on from the events of the first series. Will (Noah Schnapp) is confronted with the anniversary of his being trapped in the Upside Down. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) nurses a broken heart, still not having come to terms with Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) disappearance. Meanwhile, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) compete for the attention of new girl Maxine (Sadie Sink).

The second series of Stranger Things is best described as a slow burner. With each character we revisit, there's a real sense of cause and effect. This time, we don't jump straight into the action. Not before getting insight into some of the emotional fallout of the events of winter 1983.

Maxine, or 'Mad Max', a feisty skateboarding tomboy is the newest addition to the gang. Rough around the edges with some baggage of her own, she provides a rift in the established dynamic of the group. Her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is the stereotypical hypermasculine high school villain. Predictable though he may be, he provides an emasculating counterbalance to former 'King of Highschool' Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). 

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Of the interesting character development this series provides, Steve's might be among the most satisfying. Somewhat redeemed is he from the special brand of douchery he inflicted last series, that he actually becomes likeable. Though already established as one of the more likeable personalities, Dustin is also given more room to grow. The addition of Max, as well as two new and unexpected friendships, allow him more opportunities to step up and deliver some of the best moments of the series so far.

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) are once again stolen away for a subplot. In line with the rest of the series, this time their mission lacks urgency. Their quest, in particular, feels more like a vehicle to further their onscreen chemistry than anything we should really care about. Despite being responsible in large part for the closure in the series finale, their subplot fails to carry the amount of weight it should.

Noah Schnapp pulls off an outstanding performance as Will Byers, more than making up for his lack of screentime last series. Embodying both his physical and mental trauma, Schnapp steals the scenes he's in with believable intensity. Interestingly, we are also able to witness a different side of David Harbour's Chief Hopper as he plays surrogate father to an isolated El. Almost a year captive in a woodland cabin has left her itching for some normality, as well as answers to the question of her parentage that was so briefly touched on last series.       

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The only lapse in tone came in the series' 7th episode. 'The Lost Sister' follows Eleven to Chicago where she meets fellow Hawkins lab-rat and gifted child-cum-criminal ringleader, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). Kali has the ability to make people see what she wants them to see, from an imaginary butterfly to a tunnel collapse. Despite this power, she doesn't make this episode look like anything more than a pilot for a potential spin-off. Her band of misfits felt like parodies of themselves, cookie-cut from the fabric of punk outcasts and rebels of 80s films past.

So what is the general consensus? Less derivative yet more predictable than its predecessor, Stranger Things season 2 lacks the iconography and urgency of its first series. Nonetheless, it delivers some excellent screenwriting and a brilliant soundtrack. A satisfying follow-up that culminates in two nail-bitingly tense final episodes, it's a series that wraps itself up neatly. Whether Stranger Things can maintain its consistency and charm for another two series is something else.