Sunday, December 3, 2023

Stranger Things 4, Volume 1 review: Changing up the formula

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It starts to feel like the residents of Hawkins, Indiana, just can’t take a break.

For three seasons of Stranger Things, the characters in the fictional town of Hawkins dealt with child abductions, murders, and even a secret Soviet invasion – all while fighting supernatural threats of a terrible alternate dimension known as the Upside Down. At this point, it feels like a mitigation Stranger Things 4 – as the fourth season of the Netflix series is called – finally takes the adventures out of Indiana (far, far away in fact) to deliver the darkest, most comprehensive chapter of the saga to date.

Returning for the fourth season of Stranger Things are series creators of The Duffer Brothers, who write and direct five of the nine episodes of the season, along with most of the series’ core cast, which grew with each season. All the expected characters return, both confirmed and alluded to in the nearly three years since the debut of the third season, and the adventure leads them both across the United States and into the snowy desert of Russia as they both try to reunite with each other and stop. a new, otherworldly enemy.

Stranger Things has been one of Netflix’s biggest hits – critically, commercially, and in terms of the size of its rapidly expanding budget – since its debut in July 2016, and while the second and third seasons were certainly well received, they received some critical acclaim. familiar ground. Relationships between characters changed and new characters were introduced (and in some cases killed off), but for the most part, each season of the series followed a similar formula, pitting the group against leveled variations of the same enemy.

That ends with season 4 out Stranger Things, which contradicts tradition in various, mostly positive ways. This time, the season will arrive in two parts, for example, with Digital Trends getting an early look at the first five episodes of the season.

Along with changing the way the season is released, Stranger Things 4 also resumes the tone of the series with a much darker, deadly threat that feels separate from the Mind Flayer and its army of demogorgons and demodogs that had plagued Hawkins across previous seasons. It would seem difficult to raise the omen after a season involving a monstrous creature made of liquefied human flesh and bone, but somehow the new season does so, offering an even more disturbing threat that feels more closely aligned with paranormal horror in this arc than. the kind of science fiction roots of the main antagonists of previous seasons.

Winona Ryder and Brett Gelman stand in front of a crashed plane in the snow in a scene from Stranger Things 4.

The new season blasts the geographical boundaries of the series as well, with much of the action in the first half of the season unfolding in the sun-baked Southwestern United States and frozen Siberian wilderness, in addition to the necessary frightening events among the remaining characters. and Hawkins. Those two elements alone give Stranger Things 4 a surprisingly unique feeling within the overall series, and makes the moments when the story does return to Hawkins and pleases in earlier, Upside Down-related events feel more like a welcome return to the familiar than a cheap retelling of old material.

However, with almost six years since the series’ debut, Stranger Things indeed he finds himself saddled with a frustrating and somewhat inevitable elephant in the room.

Any series with a young cast is destined to run into problems when delays occur, as the actors continue to age even when the cameras don’t roll. Previous seasons of Stranger Things did a relatively good job of continuing production of the series at a fairly fast pace to make their young actors look a bit credible as high school students. Certainly, some of the older cast members have put a bit of pressure on their ability to be credible (nothing new for some audiences who have grown up watching). Beverly Hills 90210of course), but the gap between the actors’ perceived age and actual age was rarely so apparent as to be entertaining.

Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, and Sadie Sink stand in a crowd during a high school rally in a Stranger Things 4 scene.

Unfortunately, this also ends with the new season, which has found its production period delayed several times due to the pandemic and the kind of backstage floor conflicts that come from having a required ensemble cast.

At this point, most of the core of the series, younger cast members are hard to sell as high schoolers, no matter how much era-appropriate makeup, hairstyle, and costume (and even subtle visual effects) are put to work on them. . Reconciling their perceived age with where they are meant to be in the story, regarding both the timeline of the series and their emotional and physical age, needs a bit of getting used to, and it’s easy to forget that most of the cast members are supposed to be high schoolers during the show. rolls. This visual disconnect isn’t so powerful that it prevents you from immersing yourself in the story over time, but it can pull you out of scenes from time to time – especially when the story brings them back into high school settings.

If you are able to fool your mind into believing that the cast is years (or in some cases, a decade) younger than they are, however, the fourth season of Stranger Things offers a level of entertainment and world-building storytelling that offsets the long wait that fans have endured.

Sadie Sink's character rises above a group of characters in a scene from Stranger Things 4.

Despite the show’s large cast, each of the characters gets a surprisingly satisfying amount of time in the spotlight, with some characters who felt overlooked or underused in previous seasons even getting extra time to shine in the new season. The events they experienced in previous seasons of the series would strike even the strongest personalities, and Stranger Things 4 It’s a great job to explore how they grew emotionally and psychologically, along with another year’s visual evidence (in Stranger Things time) passing. To his credit, Stranger Things 4 spreads the love of their characters well, serving great moments and narrative twists and turns for their characters individually without ever losing the sense of community and family they formed, saving the world over and over again.

This is not an easy balance to achieve, and despite the events taking place around the various groups of characters taking place thousands of miles apart, the fourth season of Stranger Things preserves a cohesive, single story that doesn’t lose momentum across its first set of episodes. Whether your favorite character avoids sinister American agents, a sadistic demon, or a Soviet secret police, their stories feel intertwined with the rest of the cast, and build on something bigger than their individual adventures.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since the last season of Stranger Thingsbut if the final four episodes of the season are as satisfying and entertaining as the first five, Stranger Things 4 worth the wait.

Season 4 of Stranger Things premieres May 27 on Netflix streaming service.

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