The following review may contain unwanted, minor spoilers for “Stranger Things 2.”
After its first season unexpectedly exploded in popularity last fall, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was quickly renewed for a second season, which began production in early November, less than four months after the show’s initial release. After nearly a year of teasing and releasing trailers, Netflix released “Stranger Things 2” to the public last Friday, promising a bigger and bolder experience than its predecessor had offered. Put simply, “Stranger Things 2” was very entertaining and enjoyable for fans of the show; but while it was bigger and bolder than before, the show fell victim to an unfortunate case of sequel-itis, where bigger isn’t always better.
The new season finds the classic crew 11 months after the events of the first season, struggling to find a new normal; the normal that was so overwhelmingly disrupted the previous year. For “Stranger Things 2,” the plot and pacing felt all-new.
The season starts off slowly, with more than half of the episodes being dedicated to slow, progressive introduction of new elements, characters and mystery. After that, though, things picked up and stayed uncontrollably rapid until the last two episodes, where that pacing doubles. The back half of the season leaves much to be desired in the way of character development, but makes up for it with near non-stop action. Many plot points of that nature were intentionally left open to create tension for season three, which will debut sometime late next year. Some events and, in one case, entire episodes, feel out of place and awkward, though, and could have been written to produce the same result without an unnecessary detour. Overall, the season’s plot felt out of control, which was perhaps a conscious decision, as the characters themselves often feel very much out of control. That is an optimistic viewpoint, though; the more likely scenario was a rushed creative process out of a desire to continue the hit series.
Season two also introduces a host of new characters, most of which, despite appearing in nearly every episode, feel almost entirely useless and unnecessary to the plot. While some of them grow to be tolerated by the end of the nine-episode run, the rest simply distract from the established stars of the story. Will Byers, whose disappearance was the main focus of the first season, felt like less of a character and more of a plot point, which felt like little departure from his presence before. The cast which plays the characters, however, is impeccable. Even Sean Austin’s new character was convincing and entertaining, but felt awkwardly light in the midst of the darkness of the seasoned cast. Gaten Matarazzo, who plays the returning character of Dustin Henderson, has clearly mastered the art of comedic timing; almost all of his one-liners throughout the season land perfectly in context, and his fellow actors respond accurately and effectively.
The new, brilliantly-designed, terrifying monster staring down Hawkins, teased in trailer after trailer throughout 2017, was one the season’s greatest disappointments. The creature had mere seconds of screen time throughout the entire season, and left the audience believing it to be more of a trailer-gimmick than an actual threat, with other plot points being dramatically more dire to the characters than the shadow monster itself. In fact, the main enemy of the season seems impossible to pinpoint, and could have been any number of characters and monsters from the second half of the season and the audience would have been none the wiser.
Along these lines, the use of CGI, while understandable in context of the plot, is taken to a new extreme in “Stranger Things 2.” Although relatively rare, some garishly poor or just generally awkward moments of CGI seriously detract from the realistic, terrifying ambiance the show works so diligently to craft. For the most part, though, the CGI is mind-blowingly massive and does a good job of visually overwhelming the audience.
In stark contrast to the season’s distancing of new elements, the show takes viewers in for a look at new sides of some well-known locations from the first season, expanding the mythos of both Hawkins, Ind., and the haunting Upside-Down.
All-in-all, “Stranger Things 2” was an enjoyable, binge-watchable adventure and an adequate continuation to its breakout predecessor, but failed to bring back the gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat intensity of season one. With new characters, new plot points and new twists and turns, the season is certainly worth watching–but don’t expect to be blown away.