In 2016, Stranger Things arrived on Netflix and quickly became one of the streaming site’s signature and most popular titles.

The supernatural, yet grounded, setting of Hawkins, the rich selection of characters and the heart that held it all together made for a television sensation. Fast forward 12 months and the Duffer Brothers have brought us the show’s 2nd season, titled Stranger Things 2

The pressure was on the creators to deliver a season that expanded on the mythology established in the 1st season. Whereas Stranger Things arrived on the season with little expectation last year, Stranger Things 2 had to satisfy the people that fell in love with one of Netflix’s finest show to date.

Thankfully for fans of the show Stranger Things 2 lives up to its billing and then some with a heartfelt, emotional and thrilling entry to the Stranger Things series.

Stranger Things 2 follows our chief set of protagonists, Will (Noah Schnapp), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) as they fight against the mysterious dimension ‘Upside Down’ a year on from the events of the 1st season. Along the way, they are assisted by the likes of Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Jim Hopper (David Harbour), as well as a crop of other supporting characters.

While season 2 does not boast the level of scares that audiences saw with the 1st season, it does add more of and emotional depth to the characters and setting that the show is based in. The 1st half of the season does establish a haunting atmosphere that hangs over our heroes, but it doesn’t rely on horror for its thrills.

This is achieved by some of the finest child acting this year. All four of the main characters are exceptional in their roles but special recognition goes to Noah Schnapp for his terrific performance as Will.

Fans will know that Will spent most of the 1st season stuck in the ‘Upside Down’, which meant that it was going to be especially interesting to see what Noah Schnapp could do in the role with more exposure this time around. He is extraordinary. He brings such emotion and gravitas to the character. Will’s story is a tragic one, which Schnapps portrays incredibly well.

Elsewhere Dustin is, once again, a scene-stealer whenever he is on screen. He retains the humour and heart that made his character so appealing in the 1st season. While there are numerous excellent characters on the show, Dustin remains the standout.

Of course, the 4 boys are not the only characters on the show. Stranger Things 2 boasts a terrific supporting cast. David Harbour and Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers) are fantastic again, as are Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton. On top of them, the show introduces various new characters to the show, as well as building on characters we got a glimpse of in the 1st season. Additionally, we see various character pairings that are hugely entertaining to watch.

What this season also does incredibly well is the aesthetic appeal of it. The visual effects are more refined and crisp than what we saw in the 1st season, while retaining their retro feel. In fact, from a cinematography point of view, this season looks a lot better than what we originally got.

Unfortunately, as is the case with any show, Stranger Things 2 has some issues.

First of all, the show collaborates the #JusticeForBarb craze that arose from the 1st season into the story. This plot point detracts from the central story and is nothing more than service to fans of a character that never needed that attention.

The other issue with the season involves 1 of the show’s best characters: Eleven. She is kept largely apart from the main cast for much of the season, which is great, but her own story is largely filler, especially in the 2nd half. The purpose of her own little subplot is to add to her character and to explore her origins, which can be commended, but too often comes across as needless fodder despite Millie Bobby-Brown’s brilliant performance.

Overall, Stranger Things 2 is a thrilling continuation of the Stranger Things mythology. The characters are as charming and lovable as ever, and the story carefully balances its emotion and drama to its sci-fi horror backdrop, thus successfully expanding on one of Netflix’s very best titles.

Andrew Ryan