This review is spoiler-free.
Stranger Things is back! And nothing will be the same ever again…
The series’ main theme is ‘change’ and they explore this with multiple characters, with varying degrees of success. We got glimpses of this in the trailer, and to see our characters so spread out and out of sync with each other was a little frustrating. Probably more so than it was intended to be. They did this, to some extent, in Stranger Things 2, and it was only when they joined forces were they able to overcome their obstacles. This time around it has been done to hammer home this notion of change and growing up and growing apart. They just about got away with it, but next time around they cannot repeat this formula for the third time. It won’t work. That being said, this ‘wedge’ did give us some wonderful moments, interactions and new pairings which are going to be very well received.
The formula of the show is pretty much still there, and while they are working outside of a stable framework, as a school term, they manage to keep the story focused and moving forward without too many distractions or tangents. While there are many familiar and repeating tropes in Stranger Things, the show never takes itself too seriously and instead has fun with its expectations. This season is also the goriest it’s been so far, which actually works well given that it is also the most humorous and self-aware season to date also.
This being our third Stranger Things review, what else can we say about the likes of Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown and the rest of the main cast? Once again the performances across the board are fantastic, with the child cast improving season after season. Joe Keery (Steve) remains my favourite character on the show, and his character development continued again in Season 3. This is mainly down to the introduction of Maya Hawke (Robin). The show has introduced another strong female character to its ranks, so wherever you look or whatever group of characters you are following, there is a lot of positive female representation. And given the new pairing of Max and El, the female characters were definitely the focus of the series. But with all these great characters, the show MVP for me was easily Priah Ferguson (Erica). She has been a cameo character previously, but her introduction into the main cast fold here was a welcome addition. In many ways, she stole the show. She is sassy, intelligent and just a joy to watch.
They say your heroes are only as good as your baddies, and once again Dacre Montgomery (Billy) is phenomenal. His character got a lot of stick in the second series, but that scene with his dad in his bedroom really flipped the entire character on its head. I was desperate for them to explore these things further in Stranger Things 3 and boy did they! I was extremely satisfied with how heavily he was involved this time around. Montgomery is an incredible actor and his multilayered performance is truly one of the show’s strongest aspects. I also thought Cary Elwes introduction into the show was another masterstroke. Every year they gang go up against some secret government organisation, but this time they are up against something that has already been seeded in the past two seasons. While it goes a little bit Austin Powers, overall this new threat worked well within the show. Speaking of threats, they have gone all out with the monster this time around, it is something very spectacular!
So what are the not so good things about Stranger Things 3?
For starters, I struggled to enjoy the episodes, as a whole, at the beginning. They each had great little individual moments, but it just took me a little longer than I would have liked to get back into this world. From episode 4 onward tough, the episodes are perfect. This may be controversial, but while I enjoyed her in the first couple of episodes, I did start to grow tired with Sadie Sink (Max). I understand what they were trying to do, I just don’t think it worked out the way they had intended. I also found her ending to be very, very frustrating. I would say that my biggest issue with Stranger Things 3 is the size of the cast. I’ve praised the new additions, and rightfully so, but we are now seeing core characters pushed further to the side, thus leaving them very underdeveloped. Prime example? Natalia Dyer (Nancy) and Charlie Heaton (Jonathan). While there were some key moments for Nancy’s character development, overall they were very underused. I think the main cast is really at its limit now and they need to address this next time around. I also have some real concerns about how this could negatively impact the show, but that will be explored further in our Spoiler Talk review.
Stranger Things 3 takes a few episodes to find it’s rhythm, but once it does there is no going back. Some wonderful character performances, coupled with an exciting story arc helps this season easily surpass Stranger Things 2, but still not quite managing to hit that first season sweet spot. The series explores themes of change and growing up, and when Stranger Things returns for Season 4, nothing will ever be the same again.
Stranger Things 3 is available on Netflix now.