This review is spoiler-free.
Stranger Things 4 has been broken up into two parts, and this first review will cover the initial 7 episodes, with the review of the final two episodes landing in July upon release.
The one thing I have always enjoyed about Stranger Things is the show’s ability to keep the overall theme consistent but also slightly re-invent itself with every season. The last time around we had a Cold War body snatchers plot to deal with, however this time around, for Stranger Things 4, they have really turned up the horror elements of the show to eleven! (No pun intended). This is easily the most mature the show has been, be that the increased gore and horror aspects of the more story-based elements such as dealing with grief, sexuality, and change.
In addition to the split season, the most noticeable difference, this time, around are the episode runtimes – if you usually like to binge all the episodes, you’ll be better to spread your viewings out a bit! The shortest episode, Chapter 3, is one hour and four minutes, whilst the longest, Chapter Seven, is a whopping one hour and forty minutes! If that seems lengthy, Part 2’s final two episodes are one hour and twenty-five minutes and two hours and 30 minutes, so we are essentially getting a Stranger Things movie trilogy with the last three episodes of Stranger Things 4! But here’s the thing, the longer runtimes are actually improving the show! There is so much more time now to allow the episodes and storylines to breathe, which I found was a bit of an issue with Stranger Things 2. They don’t rush any of the plots and are able to perfectly divvy up the allotted time spent on each sub-plot across the different episodes. Basically, don’t be put off – the increased runtimes improve, not deter the enjoyment and quality of the episodes.
As I have already mentioned, the horror aspects of Stranger Things 4 are really dominant and prevalent throughout and there is so much to unpack, I cannot do it justice in a spoiler-free format. But I am confident you will be extremely surprised, and satisfied, by the show’s maturity and tone this time around and this is reflected in the enjoyment I had watching this first batch of episodes. The scale has also been vastly inflated as this, at times, very much felt like a cinematic experience rather than a TV show! The small, confined world of Hawkins has been expanded to a globe-trotting adventure, with a plethora of sub-genres and their accompanying tropes that really makes Stranger Things 4 feel like a totally different beast – yet it doesn’t lose what we love so much about the show, and these values remain at its core, regardless of the show’s new epic scale!
In terms of the cast, there are excellent performances across the board from this hugely talented ensemble cast – but that’s been the case since the show’s first season, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone! The groupings, just like in Stranger Things 3, really work well and I think the right characters are matched up to the most fitting storylines. I found in Stranger Things 3, that the main group was split up for far too long, but given the cast numbers now, they have found the perfect ratio, so that frustration of separation has been removed altogether. In terms of standout performers, in this first part, Sadie Sink (Max) is an absolute powerhouse from start to finish and her arc is one of the strongest and most compelling out of all of them. Sink’s ability to seamlessly navigate from fragile victim to a powerful warrior was a joy to behold and she commands your attention in every single one of her scenes. She is also at the core of one of the greatest Stranger Things moments of all time – trust me, you’ll know like hell when you get there! An epic moment of television. Noah Schnapp (Will) is another one who I think deserves to be singled out for praise as what they do with Will this season is very subtle, but you feel like it is building to something that they have seeded in previous seasons.
As for new additions to the cast, last time out we had the outstanding Maya Hawke (Robin) – who is once again brilliant – and reaching those high debut levels this time is Joseph Quinn (Eddie). Quinn is a brilliant addition, not only in terms of acting talent but also just his character and his involvement in the story.
Thankfully, we only have to wait a month before the conclusion of Stranger Things 4, and if they manage to stick the landing with the last two episodes, then this could turn out to be the best season since Stranger Things! All we have to do now is sit patiently and wait…
Stranger Things 4 is bigger, better, and more terrifying than ever! From incredible performances to enthralling storytelling, Stranger Things 4 Part One delivers across the D&D board with the increased episode runtimes allowing the different stories to breathe and develop organically resulting in greater satisfaction overall. Part 2 cannot come soon enough!
Stranger Things 4 is available to stream worldwide right now on Netflix.