Stranger Things has returned with its penultimate fourth season. In the creators’ own words, it’s the “beginning of the end” – according to critics, it’s the most ambitious chapter we’ve seen yet.
It’s been three years since the third season of Netflix’s flagship series, following a sleepy American town’s ragtag gang of friends and family facing off against interdimensional monsters from the Upside Down.
While the first teaser for the new season – revealing David Harbour’s Hopper to be alive and somewhat well in a Russian prison after his apparent death – arrived in 2020, fans have had to wait a bit longer than intended due to global restrictions.
Stranger Things S4: What to expect from the Netflix show’s return
The streaming platform’s official synopsis reads: “It’s been six months since the Battle of Starcourt, which brought terror and destruction to Hawkins. Struggling with the aftermath, our group of friends are separated for the first time, and navigating the complexities of high school hasn’t made things any easier.
“In this most vulnerable time, a new and horrifying supernatural threat surfaces, presenting a gruesome mystery that, if solved, might finally put an end to the horrors of the Upside Down.”
Fans can expect to see all of their favorite characters, including Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Will (Noah Schnapp), Max (Sadie Sink), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Robin (Maya Hawke), Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (Harbour).
What critics are saying about Stranger Things S4
The early reviews have been vastly positive. Eric Francisco of Inverse praised the show for “recapturing the magic” of the first season, marking “a new level of sophistication in its technical and creative visions.”
Kristen Baldwin of Entertainment Weekly, who expressed skepticism from the outset of the season in her review, was “delighted” to have been proven wrong.
She wrote: “Fresh locales, appealing new characters, and a rewarding expansion of the mythology give the new season of Stranger Things a jolt of joyful energy, just when the series needed it most.”
Stranger Things S4 runtimes have divided critics
The fourth season attracted apprehension for its beefy runtimes: each episode is longer than an hour, with the final episode set to boast a jaw-dropping length of two hours and 30 minutes. This, plus the three-pronged story approach with characters scattered across Hawkins, California and Russia, has invited some criticism.
Ben Travers of IndieWire wrote that “longer does not equal better,” believing the long runtimes to be “no favor to fans… characters stagnate while clunky puzzle pieces are given priority; repetitive visual effects are overemphasized to mask the missing emotional impact; episodic structure is abandoned.”
Coming after Netflix reported its first-ever drop in subscribers, Travers also noted how the fourth season feels as if it’s been “designed to produce good data rather than quality entertainment.”
Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone said the first seven episodes weren’t “promising” when it comes to supporting the runtimes. “There is a very good – if increasingly formulaic – season of Stranger Things here, but it is jockeying for space with what feels like an entire additional, much less interesting season of television,” he added.
On the other hand, Chris Bennion of The Telegraph was far more supportive, acknowledging the “coast-to-coast” lengths but writing: “Too much? Not a bit of it. Stranger Things is a 1980s Americana theme park, and it is all the better when it embraces that fact.”
Vicky Jessop of the London Evening Standard described season four as “bingeable television at its best” and wrote: “Though some parts drag, on the whole the finished product is cohesive and compelling, filling every second with nail-biting tension or chewy plot material.”
Stranger Things may have found its scariest villain ever
While reviewers have praised the not-so-young-anymore cast, hype has surrounded Hawkins’ new big bad: Vecna, described by several critics as a Freddy Krueger-esque villain who feeds off the guilt of local teenagers.
Sophie Butcher of Empire wrote that Vecna is a “chilling” antagonist who “uses your worst nightmares as his most terrifying weapon.”
Kelly Lawler of USA Today took a dim view of the “depraved” tone, but stated: “This season is by far the most steeped in horror, and it is deeply, viscerally frightening, from jump scares to worming psychological terror that will stick in your mind long after your binge-watch is completed.”
Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter also wrote that it’s “the most violent and frequently gross Stranger Things season to date.”
However, he also highlighted the season’s true villain: time. “Another problem is the kids. They’ve all grown far more than the story’s timeframe can justify, and one could argue that puberty, along with the monsters in the Upside Down, is the season’s Big Bad,” he wrote.
The first volume of season four of Stranger Things arrives on Netflix on Friday, May 27. The first seven episodes will release in volume one, before the final two episodes are released as part of volume two on July 1.