Internet memes, the faces of the child stars on the covers of magazines, clothing ranges, Halloween costumes and a huge resurgence in love for Winona Ryder – just some of the ripple effects from this charming piece of 80s sci-fi horror nostalgia.
Not surprising, then, that it was granted a second season, and the hype amongst audiences around our return to Hawkins made it one of the biggest TV moments of the year.
But could Stranger Things 2 deliver?
We pick the story back up with the gang – now reunited with Will (Noah Schnapp) – a year after the Demogorgon rampaged the small town. They’re a little older but retain the spark and enthusiasm that made us love them the first time; and though Will managed to escape the Upside Down, he definitely did not do so unscathed.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) seems lost without Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), whom he grew so close to in the first season; Hopper (David Harbour) forms an unlikely companionship that provides some of the best moments of the show; and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still (seemingly) loved up with Steve (Joe Keery).
There’s some new characters in the mix – Sadie Sink plays Max, a master of the arcade that joins the group and comes between Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and her animalistic brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) becomes the human antagonist of the piece.
In a recent Empire feature, the Duffer brothers talked about how they always approached Stranger Things as a two parter, that the second season would be an extension of the first, rounding off the story – and that’s definitely how it comes across.
We see a lot of the same motifs from the first season – childish language to describe monsters or sci-fi concepts, the continued ramsacking of the Byers house, references to Dungeon & Dragons – but done in a bigger and better way. Whilst it all still works to suck you into the world as it did the first time round, you are aware of the show hitting the same beats.
The story may feel familiar, but the performances have majorly stepped up. Noah Schnapp as Will is remarkable, delivering some really intense and emotional scenes with the gravitas of a much older actor. He evokes fear and vulnerability and even dissociation so clearly, and his connection with his mum and Mike is palpable.
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven is terrific yet again, and gives Schnapp a run for his money as to who steals the show. We learn a lot more about her character, which is great context for the story and the world as a whole, though can make for some of the weaker moments in the series. Her and Mike are separated for a fair while, and both Brown and Finn Wolfhard (Mike) show the emotional impact that has on them brilliantly.
All of the characters develop incredibly – Steve Harrington’s progression has become an internet and Twitter meme sensation, particularly his relationship with Dustin and how he becomes a caring figure for the kids.
Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) have a subplot that is necessary but less gripping, but done really well by the two actors.
There’s various love triangles going on throughout the generations of the characters which makes for a interesting romantic spin on the plot, but it’s all done in a heartwarming way rather than cloying.
Just like the first season, there’s true, creepy horror in here too – episode 6 is a masterclass in scares, not to mention violence and themes of possession dotted throughout the story.
The verdict? We loved it. There’s ways that Stranger Things 2 is better than the first, but the familiarity and retreading of the plot means it’s 4 stars rather than 5. Whilst the characters most definitely have legs and fans will be delighted, we need to see something new story-wise if we’re to return to Hawkins.
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