Stranger Things 4 – which is now streaming on Netflix – is bigger than before, that’s for sure. Almost every chapter in Volume 1 of seven episodes is longer than 70 minutes, with Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 7 taping at 100 minutes. Thanks to the three-year gap between seasons, kids are more mature than ever. I can imagine that some viewers were thrown at them by how some of the actors outdid their characters. They are so conspicuously larger that Stranger Things 4 end up using de-aging tech on teens for flashback scenes, usually a tactic reserved for older actors like Robert De Niro in The Irishman or Samuel L. Captain Marvel. While it revisits some old-fashioned horror in places, Stranger Things 4 is also throwing more CGI monsters at us.
But in an effort to be bigger, scarier, and longer than ever, Stranger Things 4 — still run by creators Matt and Ross Duffer aka The Duffer Brothers, as lead writers and principal directors — ends up feeling a lot like standard-type things. Like her. The biggest problem isn’t that the new season of the hit Netflix series has a formula. He lacks joy and humor. Stranger Things 4 is so engrossed in its plot that he forgets what made previous seasons so exciting. No loud mall signs (Stranger Things 3), nor any Ghostbusters nostalgia (Stranger Things 2). Attempts to activate actions in Stranger Things 4 are few and far between.
The highlight comes early in the season, when a new character wonders how they plan to kill the giant and new menace – once again inspired by Dungeons & Dragons – from the Upside Down. Season 3 entrant Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) points out that they’ve been through this kind of thing before, with some more than once, unlike her. “I had human flesh associated with smoke,” Robin says. Stranger Things 4 is basically making fun of itself, and how there’s something crazy new every season. Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) adds that they usually rely on this girl with superpowers, but that’s out now. To someone on the outside, the gang looks totally crazy. Stranger Things 4 could have done more of these self-referential moments.
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Unfortunately, there are bigger problems. Due to the writing choices that have been made this season or the last, some characters don’t have much to do in Stranger Things 4. Others are completely on their own, or stuck in completely episodic subplots. The Netflix show world has expanded a lot — but instead of being a blessing, it’s a curse. As a result, Stranger Things 4 feels disjointed. It takes a while to get the gang back together, and those parts appear as spinning around the wheels. I wouldn’t go far to call it the table setting for the fifth and final season, but it definitely bloated. I enjoyed parts of Stranger Things 4, and fell asleep through others. Unfortunately, the latter significantly outperforms the former.
At times, Stranger Things 4 seems more interested in subverting audience expectations than in providing a coherent story as their group regroups as a whole.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the loops are too long. And while the first seven-episode volume might seem like nearly 80 percent of the way through season four, it isn’t. The final two episodes are full length, with director and executive producer Sean Levy revealing that they are longer than the two Ryan Reynolds films — the action-comedy Free Guy and the science fiction adventure The Adam Project — made during Stranger Things. Three years off. This means that Volume 1 may be closer to two-thirds of the way. It is a long end game. But critics have not been given access to it, so this review is only for Volume 1.
After the first eight minutes already revealed by Netflix — a media issue that was later resolved in the new season — Stranger Things 4 jumps to the present day. And nowadays, I mean 1986. It’s been six months since the Starcourt Mall fight, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) counting the days she was away from boyfriend Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard). Via a message to Mike, she gives us inside information about what’s going on with everyone in the family. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), who transports Eleven and her children Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) to California at the end of Stranger Things 3, works from home. Will gets into painting, and Jonathan and his new friend Argyll (Eduardo Franco) love to “smoke smelly plants together.”
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Meanwhile back in Hawkins, Mike is preparing to fly to California for spring break to see Eleven. Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) hacks into his school grades with his estranged girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) split up, the latter deeply affected by the death of her brother Billy at the end of Stranger Things 3. Max appears to have returned to her cold self, while Lucas gets himself on the basketball team, tired of being bullied. The girls laughed at him. Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) has girl issues of his own, while his platonic friend Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) tries to ask a girl out, though she’s not sure she’s a lesbian, too. The main newcomer to the gang is Eddie Monson (Joseph Quinn), an outgoing senior Hawkins and founder of Hellfire Club, a Dungeons & Dragons playing group.
A series of deaths in Hawkins began to be investigated – by the police and our gang. But this time the group is divided, you can tell, with (less than) half of them in California. Stranger Things 4 also brings the demonic panic that gripped America in the ’80s, with a group of players hunting Hawkins’ students because they are involved in D&D. (It would be stupid and funny if it wasn’t based on something real.) There are easy parallels to draw here to the cultural struggle in the United States today. Meanwhile, Joyce begins an investigation of her own, after getting a scary doll in the mail. And for the second year in a row – after the Marvel movie Black Widow David Harbor finds himself in a Russian prison. However, he is neither a superhero nor his savior.
In addition to the many adventures that propel the gang into, Stranger Things 4 also wants to examine Eleven’s painful past. Born as an experience, she responds to any stimulus with physical violence. Having lost her power in Stranger Things 3, Eleven tries to get her back in the new season. But Stranger Things 4 doesn’t really let Eleven wonder if she needs the powers. Her violent reactions are evidence of her need to get away from her past. Instead, Eleven does the opposite on her own in Stranger Things 4. On some level, it seems Eleven has a lifesaver complex. Additionally, Eleven’s Stranger Things 4 contributes more to the narrative needs of the season, rather than a deeper examination of its formative years.
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In fact, the plot takes great precedence in Stranger Things 4, and at times, it seems like the Netflix series doesn’t have time for conversations. The characters will have their honest and revealing moments, before the other character they were listening to resets to bring the focus back to the story.
And while Stranger Things 4 does get bogged down in the early run, it loses its steam even deeper in the first seven-episode part. Stranger Things 3 has put itself in a corner, it seems too late. He has expanded his world beyond Hawkins, though I’m not sure how much sense I see in him now, having watched seven episodes of a show struggling for momentum and forward momentum, outside of Hawkins’ plot threads. Hawkins still has a lot of weird stuff going on, but there’s a lot going on outside of it, too. It obviously doesn’t help that some of these threads are meandering.
Mike, Will, and Jonathan were basically removed from the show. Joyce and Murray (Brett Gilman) set out on an adventure, while Eleven is pretty much the same. And Hopper was isolated from these people at the end of Stranger Things 3 itself. While the bulk of the gang still work together at Hawkins, it’s not as exciting, exhilarating, or fun as previous seasons. What we’re left with – at least in Volume 1 – is the presentation of the poorest disintegrator, unfortunately. Someone who tries to go in different directions, but does not always have room for that, despite the insane runtimes mentioned above. I’m afraid Stranger Things 4 is getting too big for its own good.
Stranger Things 4 premieres on Friday, May 27 at 12:30 PM IST / 12 AM PT on Netflix in India and around the world.
Cover Image Full Caption (LR): Eduardo Franco as Argyle, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler as Stranger Things 4