REVIEW: ‘Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2’ Caps A Supersized Season

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Stranger Things Season 4 Vol. 2 - But Why Tho

Stranger Things Season 4 Vol. 2 continues to push the boundaries of the Netflix Original Series – in both the horrors its ensemble cast faces, as well as the length. Episodes 8 and 9, titled “Papa” and “The Piggyback,” pick up immediately after the end of the first volume. With the origin of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) revealed, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is determined to stop the skinless menace from completing his plans to open a series of gates and let the Upside Down consume the world. To do that, she intends to reconnect with her adoptive family as well as her boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Back in Hawkins, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery) and the rest of their friends resolve to take the fight to Vecna and end his reign of terror. And in Russia, Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) attempt to escape from the clutches of the Soviet Union.

Similar to Vol. 1, Stranger Things Season 4 Vol. 2 boasts runtimes that are lengthy even by Netflix standards. “Papa” clocks in at an hour and 25 minutes while “The Piggyback” is a whopping 2 hours and 30 minutes. For those wondering, that’s about roughly the length of two feature films—or the entire runtime of Zack Snyder’s Justice League when combined. Series creators Ross and Matt Duffer, who wrote and directed both episodes, weren’t kidding when they said that Vol. 2 would feel more like movies. But unlike Vol. 1, the length actually feels earned, as all of the multiple plotlines finally collide.

It also helps that the majority of the cast is on their A-Game. Once again, Brown is the standout as Eleven, particularly in her conversations with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). When Brenner tries his usual manipulative tactics, Eleven calls him out on it. She refuses to be a lab rat. Likewise, she comes up with a plan to help combat Vecna. Also, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) get a major focus in “The Piggyback” as Max opens up about how she’s been struggling with depression and survivor’s guilt after her brother died. Sink’s been the major MVP of this season, and that really shines in “The Payback” as she taps into the underlying rebelliousness that’s made Max a fan-favorite character.

Continuing a trend of side characters stealing hearts, Eddie (Joseph Quinn) and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) have their own standout moments during the battle against Vecna. Argyle, despite partaking heavily in the kush, actually comes up with a genius way to help Eleven re-enter the Upside Down. And Eddie gets a big musical moment that involves Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” which not only appeals to my inner metalhead but also rivals the use of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” Fret not, Stranger Things fans, the latter song does play a major role in the finale. I also remain impressed by the level of malice that Bower infuses into his performance as Vecna. He’s seriously up there with the great horror villains including Jason Voorhees and his direct inspiration Freddy Krueger.

Where the episodes stumble is the Russia subplot. When it was first announced that Hopper had survived, I was genuinely interested to see where the series would go. But it quickly succumbed to the Netflix bloat, as Hopper’s capture and Joyce’s efforts to spring him from prison seemed to drag on forever. The only time this subplot flares to life is when Hopper battles a Demogorgon, and those are few and far between. Hopefully, the former Sherriff will have a more substantial plotline in Season 5.

The Byers family, once the bedrock of the series, has now fallen to the outskirts. While Joyce drove most of Vol. 1’s plot with her determination to find Hopper, Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are… just there. This leads me to a few questions: is there truly nothing for Will to do now that he’s survived his brush with the Mind Flayer? And is Jonathan such an uninteresting character outside his relationship with Nancy? The other characters have grown by leaps and bounds over the season, so it’s frustrating to see these two seemingly stuck in place. Even Schnapp’s biggest scene, where Will convinces Mike that his relationship with Eleven isn’t in jeopardy, feels more or less designed to drive Mike’s story forward.

Despite these quibbles, the visual quality of the series is as movie-level as the episodes’ length. Whole sequences set in the Upside Down have the foreboding look of a big-budget horror film, with bats circling the skies and a cold blue glow permeating everything. The Duffers also make use of inventive camera angles, showing the difference between the real world and the Upside Down as well as the destructive effects of Vecna and Eleven’s powers. Netflix clearly threw enough of its seemingly bottomless well of money at the series for this season and will probably do so for the next, even if the streamer’s attempting to tighten its belt.

Stranger Things 4 Season 4 Vol. 2 places a cap on the series’ biggest and most ambitious season yet, setting the stage for a fifth and final season. It isn’t clear how long the wait for Season 5 will be, but hopefully the Duffers—along with the cast and the rest of the crew—deliver on the promise of the final scene.

All episodes of Stranger Things Season 4 are currently available to stream on Netflix.


Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Stranger Things 4 Season 4 Vol. 2 places a cap on the series’ biggest and most ambitious season yet, setting the stage for a fifth and final season. It isn’t clear how long the wait for Season 5 will be, but hopefully the Duffers—along with the cast and the rest of the crew—deliver on the promise of the final scene.

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