Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Following up on my YouTube review, it’s time to share a more in depth review of Stranger Things‘s second season.

Season 2 picks up almost a year after the first. The lab and the upside down are still active. The gang (almost called them the Losers Club) are moving on in the absence of Eleven, although Mike is still struggling with the concept. Will is still haunted by visions of the Upside Down and it soon becomes clear that his visions aren’t all in his head. Meanwhile, Eleven has returned but is confined to one of Hopper’s cabins, for her own safety.

As with season one, the performances are one of the show’s most consistent and powerful redeeming qualities. Winona Ryder and our new Hellboy, David Harbour, return stronger than ever but the kids (or teenagers) continue to shine here. Millie Bobby Brown deservedly gets a lot of attention for her role as Eleven in season 1. Although her lines were limited she was still able to convey great emotion.

In season 2, Hopper has been teaching Eleven more english so the character gets to be more verbally expressive. We still have the facial expressions and other cues from season 1 combined with a character arc that sees Eleven acting on her desire to be free. She has gone from a system with no freedom (the lab), to more freedom with friends, and now she must try to adjust to Hopper as a parental figure who is trying to protect her from men who still want to find her. The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is actually one of my favourite parts of this season and their fight in episode four is one of my favourite moments. It is a conflict where you can empathize with both characters. Eleven understands why she must be kept hidden but after almost a year she is wondering when she will finally be free, and vague declarations of “soon” start to wear thin. Meanwhile, Hopper realizes the danger she places them in by leaving the cabin. His attempts to discipline her are met with pushback that makes you realize how dangerous Eleven could be without a conscience.

 

Despite my love for Eleven, Noah Schapp steals the show here as Will. Although the first season revolved around Will’s disappearance, Will had few lines and relatively little screen time. Here, Will is truly part of the group. For lack of a better term, Will is possessed and his conflict with the monster inside him is a lynchpin of the plot but also allows him to shine. I don’t think people are exaggerating when they say he deserves an Emmy nomination.

Let’s move on to some of the show’s weaker points.

Episode seven, which focuses on Eight and her gang, gets a lot of hate and I can understand why. The episode comes after a cliffhanger in the previous episode, serving as a full 40 minute cutaway that takes us away from Hawkins and the approaching demo-dogs. Due to its timing, the episode can almost come across as filler. Filler is exactly what made me stop watching The Walking Dead. 

I don’t consider episode seven filler, but I must say that it would likely have been better received if Eight was mentioned or referenced a few more times before episodes six and seven. We see Eight in episode one and then she is pretty much MIA until episode seven. I liked the episode itself since it offered a great view of what Eleven could have become. Eight never found the same type of friends and family Eleven did. Eight found other outcasts who stay on the fringes of society, sticking to a limited circle either out of choice or necessity. Eight is guided purely by vengeance, while Eleven’s search was about finding family and getting closure.

Aside from the lesson of the episode I found the episode itself entertaining. I will say that Eight’s gang wasn’t as interesting as Eleven’s. Of course I could be biased since we don’t get as much time with them, but even for an episode the characterization seemed paper thin e.g. the big one, the crazy one etc.

I remember watching season 1’s sensory deprivation scene and thinking that Barb’s death was somewhat glossed over, “gone”. It was great to see the impact her death continues to have on Nancy and Barb’s parents. Barb’s death also provides the plot lynchpin for the group to attack the lab publicly, without having to mention the upside down or anything else that might make them look insane.

For the people who hated that Nancy and Steve stayed together at the end of season one, your prayers were answered this season. I was actually happy that Nancy and Steve were still together at the start of this season. It would have been far too cliched for Nancy to switch that quickly from the jock to the quiet, nerdy guy the jock picked on. Steve was a tool at times in season 1 but he proved himself to be a good person by the end of it. Season 2 gives Steve more heartbreak but also lets his character develop more. Like Will, he is one of the biggest benefactors of this season.

An even weaker point of this season?

Now, the Duffer Bros. said they wanted to introduce a new human villain who wasn’t connected to the lab. Okay, but I think this kind of conflict works best if it also drives the plot forward. For example, perhaps Eleven could have come across someone who begins to threaten her anonymity. Max and Billy’s actors are competent enough, but their impact on the plot is miniscule. The love triangle that started early on in the season between Max, Dustin and Lucas fizzled out pretty early. Billy’s conflict with Steve culminates in the fight at the house, and the ultimate outcome of that fight is that Steve is forced to escort the kids into the tunnels. Steve could have been forced into this some other way. Originally I thought that Max and Billy may be Soviet spies, since Cold War conflict was hinted at throughout the season. If season 3 offers no further revelations about their characters then it seems like their characters were truly random editions.

Their screen time also detracts from more screen time for other characters. Lucas was defined by his relationship with Max this season and it would have been nice to see more of the group together helping Will.

The climax wasn’t boring but I would actually argue that it wasn’t the season’s most exciting point. No main characters died throughout the show’s run so it was clear that Sean Astin’s Bob would likely be a red shirt. Sorry superhero.

Thankfully, Barb’s death was enough to get the lab shut down.

Although Joyce Byers has her boys back, looks like she still needs some luck with men.

Watching Hopper mow down demo-dogs was pretty awesome and Eleven’s brief moment of “flying” made me wonder if she’ll go full Neo in season 3.

We’ll see I guess.

While Max and Billy are proof that more is not always better, season 2 delivers for the most part. It builds on threads from the previous season, develops characters more, answers more questions, raises more questions, and offers more thrills.

Binge Missions

As I start my weekend I was sitting in front of my tv, with Netflix up, wondering what show to watch. In a way, I felt like Don Jon: so many choices making it hard or near impossible to pick something.

Pictured above: Me, but with clothes, I guess.

I have been meaning to finish season seven of Suits for months now, along with season five of Bates Motel. Then I got sidetracked by season (or series) 3 of Luther, which I finished watching this week. Now the question is do I move onto four or try to find more time for all the other shows I have already started, such as season 2 of Attack on Titan.

Not to mention the ones I have been meaning to start for a while now, such as Rick and Morty, because all my friends talk about it. Or Hemlock Grove because of Bill Skarsgard, who nailed his role as Pennywise the Clown in It. 

Let’s not forget all the movies I want to watch as well. My appetite for horror has increased after It and I now want to see Sinister and The Strangers.

All of these shows and movies only scratch the surface. I accept that this is a first world problem at it’s finest. I also accept that I simply can’t, or shouldn’t, make enough time to see all of them.

IT and Stranger Things

For anyone who follows me on Instagram, you will know that IT is one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The book is one of my favourite Stephen King novels, I am currently debating between “IT” and “The Shining”, and I was excited to see another adaptation that would hopefully be closer to the book. Any long-time readers (the few) will also know that I do not hesitate to write about the level of stupidity that can be found online, whether it is the rising scourge of the “I’m not racist but” brand of bigotry or simple issues of reading comprehension.

IT brings up another realm of stupidity. When the first trailer was released, people began comparing the film to Stranger Things. I didn’t mind this comparison originally since I thought most people were still capable of reading the “From Stephen King’s Terrifying Novel” banner that accompanied the trailers, but apparently I was wrong. There are YouTube reactions and plenty of online comments that make it clear people don’t understand the film is based on an older book (1986) or that IT is another adaptation of the book, like the 1990 miniseries.

I have already discussed the people who are comparing this version of Pennywise (or what we have seen so far) to the 1990 version, and criticize the 2017 version because it is too different. These people make it clear they never read the book, and so do the hordes who keep comparing 2017’s IT to Stranger Things. Let me rephrase. What bothers me most are the people who insist that IT takes visual cues and inspiration, in terms of filmmaking, from Stranger Things. 

It (1986) inspired works that came after it. That is how time works. I saw influences from IT” and “Firestarter” in Stranger Things. People may say the filmmaking techniques or the visuals for 2017’s IT could be drawn from Stranger Things. Fair enough. Let’s take a look at the most common similarities people point out:

A group of kids fighting a monster. That can be traced to “IT”.

The older time period, especially the 1980s.  That can be traced to “IT”, which cuts between 1957/1958 (when the main characters are kids) and 1985 (when they are adults) . The film is updated to cut between 1989 and the present day. I can easily argue that the decision to put the kids in the 1980s is a decision meant to modernize the second film, where the kids will be adults. Either way, the characters were going to live in the 1980s for some part of their lives.  How can the 2017 adaptation of IT, then be inspired or influenced by Stranger Things?

Yes, the productions share an actor, Finn Wolfhard. Does that invalidate all the other influences that I just pointed out? One common actor invalidates the flow of time? If you think so, comprehension is your issue, not mine.

Unless you have actually seen the film already via an advanced screening or a country where it was released earlier, you can only go off the trailers that I have seen too. I have avoided watching any clips or tv spots, so if there are some other similarities I am missing feel free to point them out.

Stranger Things and Pirates of the Caribbean

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, this time we got to see the Falcons choke and give away a pretty substantial lead so that Tom Brady could get a record- tying 5 Super Bowl Rings.

Anyway, us film geeks were also treated to new footage of this year’s upcoming films and tv shows. There are three main ones I will focus on here. I completely lost interest in the Transformers series after the third film. I should have given up after the second but I’m a glutton for punishment I guess. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favourite MCU films but I am not that excited about the second. The teaser pushed the film near the top of my most anticipated list, but the subsequent trailer, with its focus on Baby Groot, made me lose interest. Yes, he’s cute. Can we move on from selling toys?

I know Logan had some new footage but I don’t want to spoil anymore of the film before I see it. The first two trailers were more than enough for me. With that said, let me begin with my most anticipated.

Stranger Things

I did not realize that season 2 was so far off, with a Halloween release. However, this teaser does the perfect job of building excitement for the second season without giving too much away. Starting off with the old eggo add was genius, and leads to a great reveal of Eleven. Many fans and outlets speculated that she would return, especially since the end of the last season showed Jim Hopper delivering eggoes to a location in the woods. Nevertheless, it is still great to see it confirmed. Not only is Eleven a great character, but Millie Bobby Brown’s performance is one of the best on the show. We also get to see the shot of the kids in their ghostbuster costumes.

Some people see this as anachronistic, but the first season was set in 1983, and Ghostbusters was released one year after. If some time has passed between the first season and this one, then it makes sense for Will and the gang to dress up as the main characters for Halloween or some other occasion.

The teaser also ends on an exciting note, revealing a glimpse of a new creature from another dimension. The teaser makes reference to the upside down, so it appears something else has made its way through. Perhaps it was freed the same way Eleven returned.

This brings up more questions about the plot but I am happy to have that revealed to me gradually, and finally get the answers for myself with the finished product on Halloween. I haven’t truly binge-watched a show in a while so I think this will be an appropriate occasion.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I loved the first two POTC films, but was underwhelmed by 3 and 4. The first trailer didn’t excite me much, and not because Jack Sparrow wasn’t in it. The special effects looked poorly rendered, and they don’t look that much better in this new footage. A great ending to the first trailer was ruined by the need to add “fun”, taking away the new villain’s menace.

However, Bardem’s involvement still made me curious about the film, especially after his performance in Skyfall. His crew looks like they will make interesting villains, and I loved the shot of them running over water as they pursue a woman on the beach.

However, Johnny Cash did help to add to the excitement for this one. The music obviously might not be in the film, but it did help to build excitement as I watched. I’ve already heard people complaining about Johnny Cash being “everywhere” now but two trailers over the past 6 months doesn’t count as everywhere.

We see Barbossa again, and it looks like he may die (again) in this film.

There are brief flashes of new characters but not much is revealed about them so far. I have also avoided looking into the plot more online since I don’t want to spoil too much of it for myself.

We get a brief glimpse of Will, who we can see is starting to become part of the sea. The second film stated that the crew of the Flying Dutchmen only begin to mutate if they fail their duty to ferry lost souls to the underworld, so it appears Will as been slacking on his duties somehow.

We don’t know if we’ll see Kiera Knightley again but I can live without seeing her face again. I was happy to see that this footage didn’t rely on Jack Sparrow too much. The first trailer made it clear he has angered yet another pirate, and this footage makes it clear they are looking for him. We already know the story revolves around Sparrow so there is no need to spread him all over the promotional material. With that being said, it was great to get a brief shot of a mud-covered Sparrow.

Pirate’s Life.

 

David Harbour and Stranger Things

Stranger Things was one of my favourite shows of 2016 and I was happy to hear that it received a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for “Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble Cast”. Of course, the award was overshadowed online by memes targeting Winona Ryder’s facial expressions.

It appears that Ryder actually stole attention away from David Harbour’s speech, which is also one of the most discussed events from the SAG Awards. Firstly, the speech is generally about fighting injustice and accepting “outcasts and freaks”. The speech can refer to the events of Stranger Things but is of course a parallel to Trump and his presidency.

Like any political comment, it has attracted a wave of support and plenty of criticism. I previously discussed how people forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword in my Patton Oswalt article.

“I also find that people often forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. For example, President Trump said the Hamilton cast was out of line for criticizing Vice President Pence, but he also supported the unfounded allegations that Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Trump had no problem using his freedom of speech to assert that a President’s birth certificate isn’t valid, but he was also insulted that the Hamilton cast would have go off-script to address his VP. People invoke freedom of speech as an excuse when people express views they do not agree with.”

I’m not bringing this up again as shameless self-promotion. I bring it up again because I believe that it captures an issue that is central to the criticism directed towards Harbour and Stranger Things as a whole. I first came across the criticism of Harbour’s speech due to an announcement about season 2. While I was just excited to see some new pictures, a few of the users (who use Facebook to comment) were quick to comment on how much Harbour’s speech turned them off the show.

Bill Michael writes: “I love the first season but after the SAG award political rant/meltdown on stage by the cast I doubt my family or I will watch season 2 now”

And Jim Culver follows up with: “I was right in the middle of binge-watching season one when they did that, and it totally soured the experience for me. All I could think about was what a pretentious jerk the guy who played Hopper is, and what a ditz Winona Ryder is.”

So maybe Culver has a point about Ryder, but what bothered me was the animosity generated about Harbour daring to express an opinion.

I have come across some people who believe that celebrities shouldn’t make political statements of any kind, since they have so much influence and can sway people negatively. However, we have to remember that celebrities are human beings. They have a stake in the world just as much as we do.

If an actor or actress I respect makes political statements I disagree with, I don’t chastise them for having an opinion, I criticize them for the views themselves. I like my bigots out in the open, and I want to know what is going on in the minds of people who I am indirectly giving money to. The people criticizing Harbour, for criticizing Trump, come across as Trump supporters who don’t want to hear their hero denigrated by what they view as “libtards,” or “commies” judging by the comments on the Youtube video. I have to wonder if they would be as upset if Harbour made a speech talking about the need to support Trump.

As expected, plenty of the comments criticize the left for being intolerant. After all, Harbour does advise that people should be punched in the face. When Trump said he wanted to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and establish a Muslim ban, people said it was only a metaphor. I’ll use the same excuse here, Harbour was just referring to what his character would do, not what he is seriously condoning others to do.

So, the same right-wing that is convinced most Muslims are terrorists, that Obama is a foreign born Muslim etc. are now upset that the left dares to make a speech about accepting outsiders. Does anyone else see the problem with this mindset? While one side continues to defend whatever they say as the politically incorrect truth, or  “telling it like is”, any comment that does not support Trump is viewed as proof that liberals aren’t tolerant. Liberals don’t tolerate bigots, it’s as simple as that.