Stranger Things 2 takes everything about the first show and kind of amps it up to eleven (no pun intended). It's like the first show on steroids, in a good way. The performances are great, the story is better, and it was just a lot more satisfying for me than the first one. I liked the first one a lot, mainly for the atmosphere, but I didn't love it- but I can clearly say here that Stranger Things 2 is at times pretty awesome.
This post will be spoilery. So it's a year later, roughly, and Eleven is still missing (although Hopper's been hiding her), the Hawkins lab is still operating, and the kids are trying to come to terms with what happened the previous year. Mike of course was smitten with Eleven, so he's carrying a lot of sorrow for that as she is presumed lost after the battle with the Demogorgon. Will is messed up too from his encounter, so it's almost like the group has PTSD. Hopper of course made an arrangement with the lab to keep things quiet, as long as they agreed to keep bad things out of Hawkins. When it's clear that bad things are back, however, is when everything begins to unravel.
Some kind of shadow monster is bleeding through from the Upside Down, the other dimension where the Demogorgon was from, and Will starts having weird dreams or whatever that show a link. Between that and the ending of last season, we know there's something there, some connection. I thought everything was creepier and scarier this time around, more intense- they definitely ratcheted up the suspense. The characters were about the same for me- the kids were at times great and at times irritating, Hopper and his choices are problematic for me, Eleven is as enigmatic as ever . I felt like the story was advanced well and I liked some of the riskier things they did- for example the Kali storyline in which we meet another lost child and see how she is making her way after the lab. I was skeptical of that angle but that storyline kinda won me over.
I'm just going to list some things I liked and disliked for the rest of the review.
Mad Max was a great new addition, a breath of fresh air.
Paul Reiser as Dr. Owen. Finally, we have a villain who is nuanced, and not just one dimensional- although to be honest, he's not really a villain. He actually cares what happens to the people of Hawkins, and while he seems a bit sinister or smug initially, he's actually not a bad guy. So refreshing.
The atmosphere- as creepy as the first time around, maybe more so.
The music- great choices.
Winona Ryder as Joyce- I liked her a lot more this time.
Kali's crew- I groaned initially when I saw we were getting an entire epsode of them (can you say spin-off?) but I felt like that episode worked, and actually enjoyed it a lot. With a lot of runaway type shows happening lately (The Runaways, Cloak and Dagger, as well as other spinoffs of superhero franchises) it was interesting to see the Duffer Brothers' take on that angle.
"She's never wrong," Lucas's dad tells him when he asks how he keeps his mom happy. That was a fun exchange.
Eleven treated Mad Max like shit, which I know initially was a smidgen of jealousy, but I felt like that was douchey and she should have gotten over that. I'm not always a big fan of Eleven anyway, though.
The kids- yeah on the one hand I love 'em, they're fun, but they can be SO irritating too. Especially Dustin. He just does some of the dumbest things. Dart, anyone?
The Billy storyline. So annoying, and pointless. All of his scenes were a waste of time.
Hopper and Eleven. He keeps her in a cabin alone for a year?? And only realizes at the end that maybe that was, um, bad?
The whole Murray storyline. Murray was the slightly paranoid investigative journalist who pushed the conspiracy theories, and while he had a little good dialogue with Jonathan and Nancy, he felt mostly unneeded?