With all the media hype of a blockbuster campaign, Stranger Things Season 4 part 2 was unleashed on Netflix from 1 July.
Welcoming Vecna into homes around the world, while Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) steps up to take another swing at her oldest adversary, the final two episodes of the extended fourth season deliver a sucker punch south of the border, which will leave many reeling following that cliff hanger conclusion.
In pulling this off the Emmy award-winning Duffer Brothers have delivered one of the most ambitious television runs in history, with a finale which hits home hard.
It not only offers this outstanding ensemble cast a closer with real substance, but gives each one their own moment to shine. It's a trick which offers a more sustained sense of drama, whilst proving these writer directors really know how to push our buttons.
With Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Will (Noah Schnapp), Hopper (David Harbour), and Joyce (Winona Ryder) separated, things look dire in these final two episodes. In quick succession, Hawkins’ lab is brought down, Dr Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) proves his mettle and Pappa (Matthew Modine) comes unstuck.
Obstacles stack up thicker and faster against our isolated teens as well, landing Max (Sadie Sink), Robin (Maya Hawke), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery) and Eddie (Joseph Quinn) in some serious hot water. Running in parallel to them are Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), his brother Will, Mike and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) a stoner dude – all on a singular mission themselves, which seeks to unite Elle and Mike.
With Hopper barely free thanks to Murray (Brett Gelman) and Joyce, they stumble on some things in the Russian prison which will rock audiences to their core. The true nature of the institution is revealed to be a testing facility, where everyone is shown to be a victim.
As that first ninety minutes fades, our disparate family are preparing for war against supernatural forces, intent on eradicating them from the earth.
Piggyback carries on where Pappa left off, by offering up some serious hero moments alongside undeniable levels of cool. Standouts beyond the main cast including Yuri (Nikola Djuricko), a cunningly gifted slice of comic relief, who injects this final episode with some much needed levity.
People die here and face off against some truly horrific things, thanks to bogeyman Vecna (Jamie Campbell Baur) and his inverted hellscape which is Hawkins. Yuri is crucial in making those tougher scenes more palatable, with some truly inspired character work.
Beyond the innate chemistry of our veterans, who exude a camaraderie borne of growing up on television, both Papa and Piggyback expand this series by affording them more screen time as a result.
This is perhaps one of the minor failures in these concluding parts, as exchanges and monologues tend to go on too long. Action set pieces are excellently handled, while there is a real sense of threat and redemption at various points — unfortunately, these are ruined by some overindulgent emoting from a select few.
However, there is a real sense of control in the narrative which smacks of detailed planning and non-existent oversight. This policy from Netflix has created as many successes as failures, but has been adhered to regardless.
On this occasion, giving the creators to space to make the finale they want to has resulted in an overly long but hugely ambitious game changer — where a truly exceptional group of young actors have become inadvertently iconic.
Read more: Critics praise Stranger Things finale
Finn Wolfhard (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and Millie Bobbie Brown (Enola Holmes) have successfully channelled their notoriety into fully fledged fame. Both showing tremendous presence of mind, by fluctuating between interesting projects including When You Finish Saving the World (Wolfhard) and the forthcoming Electric State (Bobby Brown).
What Stranger Things also succeeds in doing here, is celebrating practical effects over computer generated alternatives. There are the flamethrower moments, broadsword flailing decapitations and selfless emotional sacrifices, but that Vecna suit is something else.
Combining the best elements of early Hellraiser (Clive Barker) films with more contemporary creature feature franchises like Alien: Resurrection. It's a choice which also ties in some Stephen King creations like Pennywise, or more abstract motifs from the author, such as the inclusion of doorways from The Talisman and The Dark Tower.
In truth, after four seasons spent in Hawkins with these people, it is hard to look at the show objectively. It has become so much a part of the cultural landscape, that criticising it for being too ambitious or too long-winded feels like sour grapes.
It remains one of the most inventive shows out there for a reason, still capable of harnessing public interest without trying. How many of those can you count on one hand?
Stranger Things S4 Part II is streaming on Netflix now.
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