Review: ‘Stranger Things’ High School Heroes Face Real-Life Monsters In S4

Review: ‘Stranger Things’ High School Heroes Face Real-Life Monsters In S4
STRANGER THINGS. Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

The thrilling and poignant first part of the fourth season of Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.

The nostalgia-charged, 1980s-set, sci-fi drama picks up about a year after the events of Season 3. The quirky, lovable main characters, most of whom are now navigating the treacherous waters of high school society in addition to saving the world from monsters, have separated into two separate groups.

Byers matriarch Joyce (Winona Ryder,) her sons Will (Noah Schapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton,) and her adopted daughter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) have moved to California from the supernatural show’s trouble-plagued locale in Indiana. Back home in the idyllic-looking town of Hawkins — where government scientists work on secret projects that involve terrifying man-eating, soul-sucking creatures and children with extraordinary psychic powers — are Will’s best friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard,) Dustin (Gatan Matarazzo) and Max (Sadie Sink,) as well as Nancy (Natalia Dyer,) Mike’s big sister and Jonathan’s girlfriend.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Operating tangentially to both cliques are Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin,) who would rather hang out with his new basketball teammates than with Dustin and Mike; Dustin’s older, adventure-loving friends Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke;) and Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour,) who is locked away in a Russian prison.

The first two episodes of Season 4 largely focus on the human challenges the characters are dealing with after the traumatic events of the previous seasons. Max is still mourning the death of her brother Billy and keeping her friends at a distance, while Eleven has been stripped of her powers, is being terrorized by bullies in school and misses Mike desperately. A flashback scene suggesting young Eleven murdered numerous other kids and her adult captors at a government facility when she was a young girl — particularly disturbing to watch in light of the recent mass killings in New York and Texas — also hints at what violence she is capable of unleashing on her tormentors.

Meanwhile, eternal nerds Dustin and Mike are finding a sense of community and normalcy in Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing medieval, magical board game condemned by their more popular peers who think it’s weird and adults who fear it is the gateway to violence.

STRANGER THINGS. David Harbour as Jim Hopper in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

When Max’s teen neighbor is found dead, Max, Dustin, Steve and Robin are sure the otherworldly foe they vanquished a year earlier is responsible and try to stop it before anyone else gets hurt. They also attempt to clear the name of anti-social, small-time drug dealer and Dungeons & Dragons leader Eddie (Joseph Quinn,) who was the last to see the dead girl.

Fans of the show who are more interested in its sci-fi and horror elements than in the human relationships won’t have long to wait and likely won’t be disappointed. As usual, there is gore galore and dazzling special effects, set to a fantastic, 1980s pop and rock music soundtrack. But since the show takes its time exploring the personal demons the characters are facing and thwarting early on, it makes the audience appreciate their trials and triumphs all the more. The kids are older and the stakes are higher this time around. At the end of the day, it is impossible not to root for these young people we watched grow up on screen risk their own lives to protect others.

Grade A

Check out more of Karen’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the series.

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