This review of Stranger Things 4 Part II is spoiler-free.
Hawkins will never be the same. Neither will we. Throughout the nearly four-hour runtime of Stranger Things 4 Part II, it was an emotional heavyweight. Far more emotional than I anticipated, even with plenty of teases from the cast and crew. With such a fantastic start, did it stick the landing? Yes and no. There are some issues that Stranger Things 4 runs into especially with the conclusion. The season seemed to figure out a nice balance between marooning the various characters in Russia, California, and the Upside Down/Hawkins. It gave people time to shine that has sorely needed it like Nancy, Jonathan, and Murray. That quad-fold storytelling allowed for scenes to breathe, plotlines to develop, and the intrigue of how it all fits together.
This season was an emotional heavyweight. Like a sledgehammer hitting a brick wall, it obliterated any preconceived notions of what this series was capable of. The performances from actors like Sadie Sink, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Matthew Modine were the real highlights of this second part. Those five all got some major emotional beats to sink their teeth into and the season is better for it.
The length of this season greatly benefitted Stranger Things 4. However, that same length led to some somewhat glaring pacing issues and characters that felt forgotten in Part II. Even after you get past the fact that these final two episodes are nearly four hours long, this season finale was grueling. That’s not to say that there is plenty of great stuff here though. When Stranger Things 4 Part II is humming, it’s fantastic.
Heavy Metal Storm
What was promised with Part II was a war coming to Hawkins. This whole season was much like a version of The Empire Strikes Back. An evil from the past returns in Vecna/001 and we get the backstory on how the evil came to be. Part II subverts some of those expectations with the story. Vecna is just as terrifying after you know his motivations and his beginnings. This finale was filled with tense moment after tense moment. Those long breaks between each storyline help out as a way to relieve the tension. They don’t quite get rid of it, which is a great storytelling device by The Duffer Brothers. Any time you think that it’s safe, the thought creeps back into your head about what could be around the corner. The characters feel real peril in this season and it shows in those who remain.
Without delving at all into spoilers, the performances listed above rise to the top. Other performances in Part II are forgotten even more than in Part I. The conclusion of the episode compounds this problem with three characters that helped greatly, being forgotten entirely. It’s a shame too because they’re integral parts of the overall story. With a cast this huge, some are bound to get better material and luck than others, but it’s not as satisfying as the conclusion could have been. The runtime was long, but they couldn’t fit in some extra scenes with the forgotten characters.
The big moments of Part II are thrilling and emotional though. This season, particularly the ninth episode was a gut-punch at times. Several of the biggest moments hit harder than any before them. The use of soundtrack, score, and especially the performances all made this an episode where tears are shed.
Where We Go From Here?
Again, without going into spoilers, this is not the end of the Stranger Things story. Anyone truly expecting that is naive. This is Netflix’s biggest show of all time. It’s their AAAA title on the platform. This whole entire season was decadent, gargantuan, indulgent, and sometimes bloated. Part of that feeling comes from the release pattern and episode length. Feature-length episodes are cool, but the finale being 2 hours and 20 minutes long was almost too much. If it was split into a couple more parts, this would have felt much better. It was an emotional marathon when it could have been punchier portions that are easier to digest.
Those issues don’t take too much away from the fact that the season was awesome though. The Duffer Brothers made this the scariest season yet. Throughout Part II, it goes from haunted house horror to monsters, to slasher movie, all the way to an action flick, with some weighty emotional scenes threaded throughout. It’s a titanic effort on their part to have written this all together cohesively. There was even some Western sort of feelings in the eighth episode.
There’s very clearly going to be a season five of Stranger Things. It depends on how they do the story because they can’t just repeat this one and call it a day. They verge incredibly close to just copy/pasting story beats from the past, but those similar beats feel more like callbacks and continuing the story than just retreads. We’ll have to see where they go in the future.
Almost A Slog, But So Damn Worth It
Stranger Things 4 feels like it’s teetering on the brink at points. Right when you start thinking, “damn, this is kind of long”, they capture you with some sort of action that carries you through to the end. Things in the season were set up and they pay off a good portion of the time. Things that were set up in previous seasons see payoffs here in Part II. The issues with pacing and length aren’t small, if they did a better job of splitting the episodes up, this would feel like a better cohesive story. As it is though, this is a thrilling, fitting, and satisfying conclusion to the season. It sets up for the future, while also feeling like the closing of a chapter. Plus, it has plenty of heavy metal references, which goes a long way with this writer.
Stranger Things 4 sticks the landing and offers up some utterly heartbreaking performances alongside some major triumphs from characters you love.
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