Home Arts & Entertainment Tying it all together, a ‘Stranger Things 4’ review

Tying it all together, a ‘Stranger Things 4’ review

Courtesy of IMDb

It has been three years since we last had new episodes of “Stranger Things” to watch. Now, the revolutionary science fiction thriller series from the Duffer brothers is back in full force, bringing all of that 80s aesthetic fans have come to love.

This season is ambitious; there are quite a few new characters, some who exist on the outskirts of the plot, and others who are so close to the ethos of the story that the importance of their presence is not revealed until the final minutes of the last episode.

This season does a lot of things right, it brings back our classic core of characters, while also injecting some new blood. Notable newcomers include Jamie Campbell Bower as One and Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson.

Quinn’s character is a lovable dork, a super senior who welcomes new students into his group, the “Hellfire Club,” a Dungeons and Dragons playgroup featuring himself as the game master. He is forced to go on the run when he is framed for the death of a local cheerleader, Chrissy Cunningham, played by Grace Van Dien.

Eddie Munson is already a fan favorite by the end of the first episode, primarily for the way he stands up to the bullies and defends his friends, especially Mike, played by Finn Wolfhard, and Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, respectively.

The other big new character is One, the prototype for Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven. His backstory is gradually revealed as the season goes on, but suffice to say his onscreen time with Brown made him a quick fan favorite as well. Once Eleven is recaptured by Dr. Brenner, diabolically portrayed by Matthew Modine to perfection for the fourth season in a row, One serves as the elder brother figure who guides her to retrieve her psychic powers and escape from the clutches of the U.S. government.

The scope of this season is ambitious but effective. In separate storylines and settings, we follow Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, and Murray Bauman, played by Brett Gelman as they make their way through Alaska to a Russian gulag in order to free Sheriff Jim Hopper, who has long been thought dead by his comrades.

Their storyline plays out with the most action, including much more violent gunfights and hand-to-hand combat than any previous season. David Harbour, who plays Hopper, shows why he was nominated twice for an Emmy in this role, as he battles the entire Red Army in Siberia for a chance to reunite with Joyce and his foster daughter Eleven. 

At his side is another newcomer, Russian guard turned friend, Dimitri “Enzo” Antonov, played by Tom Wlaschiha. This character shows perhaps the most growth of any, as he goes from antagonizing Hopper to fighting alongside him against his own countrymen who have condemned them both to death.

In a separate setting, we see Eleven’s life in California, as Jonathan and Will Byers’ family have taken her in to keep her away from the ever watchful eye of the U.S. government. Jonathan, played by Charlie Heaton, is having a crisis of conscience, as he has discovered marijuana in California and become despondent with the fact that he may not be good enough for his girlfriend, Nancy Wheeler (played by Natalia Dyer), who is still back home in Indiana.

For Nancy’s part, she is taken up again by the reignited attraction to her first season boyfriend, Steve Harrington, who is played by the very memorable Joe Keery. Their bond grows this season as Jonathan and Nancy are separated by over three thousand miles and an army of government goons. 

This season has more of an evil theme than the previous. The violence is on a new scale, what was once a borderline children’s thriller has now turned into a full on adult action series, with drugs, cursing and gory sequences that may shock viewers. 

In fact, the new season is so violent, that the first episode comes with a warning to anyone who has been affected by the recent gun violence in the U.S. This is new for this season, and once it is finished, the warning makes sense.

Everything has been turned up to eleven for this season, pardon the pun. The Duffers intend to go out with a bang and this is only the first part of the season. The show was also just renewed for a fifth and final season as well.

The soundtrack remains exceptional. Its cohesive mesh of 80s pop and rock anchors the viewer in 1986 American culture with such efficiency that it will have you scrambling for your father’s old records. It is so impactful in fact, that a particularly lauded scene centered around Max, played by Sadie Sink, and featuring the 1985 single by Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill,” has prompted the song back onto the Billboard charts after a 40 year hiatus.

Critics will complain that the plot in this show is unbelievable; they will say that a new monster haunting this town every season is ridiculous.

However, the fourth season of “Stranger Things” offers something once thought elusive by the fans and critics alike: an answer. This set of episodes provides an origin story and some background on why the town of Hawkins, Indiana is haunted.

The new antagonist, a dark wizard called Vecna, perhaps the most repulsive of any of the monsters to haunt Hawkins, is incredibly scary. His connection to other major characters is revealed through flashbacks as he hunts down teenagers and sucks their life force from them to feed his own demonic desires. His background is explained in great detail.

The solution is simple, regardless of a long-winded explanation. The episodes are all over an hour long and some border on feature film length, with the final episode clocking in at one hour and 40 minutes. What these episodes do have is enough action to keep the die-hards entertained while also giving the skeptics enough information to keep the story logical.

While other seasons of “Stranger Things” were released in their entirety, this season is broken into two parts. This allows for more episodes, more action sequences and more character development. While critics might not appreciate the increased fleshing out of the story, someone who has seen all the previous seasons will be relieved by the revelations.

I would counter that the show is Spielbergian in nature. It showcases action and drama on a grand scale and the payoffs are real and earned. There are monumental sequences here that are both heartfelt and entertaining because you have lived with these kids for four seasons.

“Stranger Things” is not trying to be a realistic thriller, it is a science fiction fantasy of grand scope and it is at its best when it accepts that and indulges in breathtaking moments. 

If you have been a fan of “Stranger Things” from the beginning, this season is a must watch. Of course, any potential viewer should take into consideration the magnified violence and the increasingly dark nature of the show. 

The show is a bona fide U.S. cultural landmark by now, and spoilers and memes are unavoidable. “Stranger Things” has evolved over the years, and the fourth season is the crescendo of this screeching train coming to the end of its wild ride as one of the most beloved shows of the last 10 years.

Rating: 8/10

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