The Buzz: 'Stranger Things 2' Is a Fun & Predictable Sequel
There are few things in cinema more difficult than making a great sequel. To not only retain the elements that made the original such a success, but to expand upon them in ways that feel both organic and wholly satisfying to watch is a virtual impossibility. It’s an uphill battle that Hollywood has fought for decades, and it's one that Matt and Ross Duffer were keenly aware heading into season two of their popular series Stranger Things. “It’s hard. You don’t want to get caught trying and failing to top yourself,” Ross told EW, “It’s not necessarily that bigger is always better.”
Unfortunately, this hindsight hasn’t kept the Duffer Brothers from succumbing to the same mistakes as their beloved ‘80s influences. Currently available for streaming on Netflix, Stranger Things 2 is the classic example of a sequel that’s polished and enjoyable, if not as captivating as what came before.
Set in 1984, the series finds the ragtag quartet of Michael (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) as they ease back into their normal lives in Hawkins, Indiana. Each kid has their lingering traumas after the events of season one, and the most welcome surprise of the first few episodes is how tactfully it explores this trauma. Michael is struggling to get over the loss of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), and his torch-carrying adds a resigned, lonely quality to his status as team leader. Will’s character allows for even deeper insight, as his time in the Upside Down dimension has led to him becoming the town freak, or “Zombie Boy”, as he’s known at school.
These early flourishes of brilliance extend to the other returning characters, including Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), who struggles to rebuild their emotional connection, and Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who develops a tender relationship with Eleven as he hides her from the public. It’s here that the Duffer Brothers’ ability to weave subplots and overarching themes is at it's most impressive, as well as developing the characters in unexpected and satisfying ways. The scenes between Hopper, a failed father, and Eleven, an abandoned daughter, are some of the emotionally poignant of the entire series.
Where things gradually lose steam is when the season’s central conflict comes into focus. Will suffers from ominous visions as a result of his ordeal, and the supernatural door he opens is what pushes Stranger Things 2 into glossy rehash territory-- albeit with higher stakes and bigger monsters to contend with. Once again, Will is put in danger, and forced to communicate through eccentric means (a series of drawings, as opposed to season one’s Christmas lights). Once again, there’s a shady government agency run by a popular ‘80s actor (Paul Reiser, as opposed to season one’s Matthew Modine). And once again, it falls to Eleven to save mankind with her psychokinetic powers (sealing a portal, as opposed to season one’s destruction of the monster). There’s nothing broken that needs to be fixed per say, but it definitely make one wish the Duffers had taken a few more storytelling risks.
Another thing that may rub fans the wrong way is the clunky introduction of new characters. The seventh episode (“Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister” ) has already divided plenty of fans and critics, due to the fact that it’s essentially an Eleven standalone joint. The largely silent Eleven bumps into a group of wannabe rebels who use their powers to commit theft and murder those who’ve supposedly done them wrong in the past. It’s promising in theory, except for the fact that the episode itself is oppressively boring, and filled with characters that are a shade away from caricature (if it is in fact a backdoor pilot to a future spinoff, let’s hope there are some drastic changes that get made).
Then there’s Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), the former a moderately welcome addition to the team and the latter a head-scratching, mullet-wearing meme in human form. The biggest mystery may actually be why he was written into the narrative, given how little he seems to affect it.
Stranger Things 2 does manage to regain momentum in the homestretch, and the final two episodes are some of its most kinetic and thrilling. Characters are pushed, relationships are developed, and though it rehashes the climax of the original, it's at least having a fun time doing so. It’s hard not to choke up when Michael and Eleven are finally reunited, or cheer when the team comes together and discovers how to save the town. Likewise for the epilogue-- a sappy, heartwarming scene that hits all the right emotional notes.
So, like a pillow case of Halloween candy, Stranger Things 2 is ultimately a mixed bag that's a lot of fun to sift through. The Duffer Brothers decided to play it safe and give fans what that they wanted, and for the most part, it works. That said, if the duo wish to continue drawing viewers in with a third season (which was recently green-lit by Netflix), they’d be smart to ditch some of their formulaic crutches and take the Stranger Things crew into newer and stranger territory.
Stranger Things 2 is currently available for streaming on Netflix.