Stranger Things Season 4: Vol 2 brings together multiple narrative threads together in a pitch-perfect symphony of television magic – establishing itself amongst some of the best TV series of all-time.
You’ll see that in my review of Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.1, I really appreciated the wider scope, clearer vision and the setup for Vol. 2 and beyond. However, I emphasized that a setup is meaningless without delivery in its finale. Well 5 weeks later and we have arrived for the debut of Stranger Things Season 4: Vol 2 which consisted of Chapter Eight: Papa (1 hour 25 minutes) and Chapter Nine: The Piggyback (2 hours 30 minutes). Stranger Things Season 4: Vol 2 exceeds upon its set-up as it ties together multiple narrative threads in an extremely compelling and emotional approach whilst setting up an exciting final season for the series.
Look, Stranger Things has always been great and I remain an avid supporter of both Season 2 and 3 but there is a sense of repetitiveness and predictability in those seasons as it treads on familiar territory, at least narratively. The Duffer Brothers bring us the fourth season with a clear direction that tells the audience that this series is coming to its conclusion and that there are real stakes involved. Evolving from a ‘checkers-like’ method of storytelling and shifting to tell its story in a more ‘chess-like’ fashion as the setup from Volume 1 shifted characters and storyline in different directions. Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.2 brings us towards the checkmate in all of this as there is a true harmony at play here with all the different narrative components all coming together. In all actuality, Stranger Things is becoming what Game of Thrones couldn’t be or moreso, everything we hoped it would be. The scope is almost the same, although the latter has some dense material to run off, as both exist in a world of deep lore and ethos, they contain an extremely wide array of compelling characters and they all have a common enemy that feels all too powerful. However, they tend to be polar opposites in execution to wrap up all the pieces it has established. Game of Thrones adopted a race to the finish line approach and Stranger Things does not care if it needs to make its finale longer than most films, as long as it carries its momentum appropriately. When all is said and done, there is true potential for Stranger Things to establish itself higher than Game of Thrones on the TV hierarchy.
One of the best things that Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.1 did was to finally establish a villain that had a compelling backstory that tied in with our central characters. Jamie Campbell Bower provided a masterful and commanding performance in the role as Henry Creel and even better, he remains in the role as Vecna with the help of an extremely impressive make-up and prosthetic team. The essence of having a captivating and more personal villain grounds the characters and raises the stakes in a more truthful way, rather than just a supernatural presence causing havoc. The momentum that is built through its narrative structure and editing is cut with accurate precision as it builds neatly towards its climax and actually keeps a strong pace throughout its extremely long runtimes. Despite that 2 hour and 30 minute finale, I can’t think of a particular moment where it could be broken into two episodes and I have to commend the decision to keep it all one episode. While I do have extremely high praise for this season and how it has uplifted the entire series, I must stress that its final season will need to have a greater amount of maturity than season 4. Stranger Things Season 4 is far more mature than what we have seen before and the stakes have been raised significantly but when you see characters escape death in unlikely circumstances, it gets hard to trust in its tension.
Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.2 features impressive performances from every member of this huge ensemble. A key standout in this would be Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair who required a lot of versatility in his performance to bring out the entire range of what the character goes through. Gaten Matarazzo also gives us some of the best work he has done as Dustin Henderson as he is required to undertake some emotional moments. I complained about the lack of Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.1 and we still didn’t get much in this one but Schnapp provides some excellent material in the little space he is in. Other series regulars continue to deliver fantastic performances such as Millie Bobby Brown, Sadie Sink and Joe Keery. Joseph Quinn provided such a unique touch to the new character Eddie Munson and while the character seemed destined to be annoying, Quinn provides some natural charisma to the role.
If there is one thing that feels undeniable at this point, it would be the production value of this series. In particular, Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.2 feels like the best we have seen from any series coming from a streaming service. Building upon the rich aesthetic of Volume 1, Stranger Things Season 4: Vol.2 sets its setting on a wider array of environments that provoke visual intrigue. Whether that is Vecna’s Mindscape, The Upside Down, The Void, deep within Russia or the town of Hawkins. Each environment is built with a different aesthetic and the show is continuously engaging on a visual level. The more impressive element of the production would be how the Duffer Brothers and crew have massively improved their eye for camera-work and capturing each frame. Each shot feels deliberate and effective – whether that be rack focus techniques or long tracking shots. Frame compositions are often really captivating and are only elevated with excellent lighting and contrast – particularly in moments that take place in The Void and Venca’s Mindscape. All this only immenses the viewer further into the show as it creates such a rich atmosphere. Stranger Things Season 4 has the best CGI work in any TV show – as it should since it is the most expensive show of all-time (Well.. until The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power comes out).
The prosthetic work done is just incredible and it stands with some of the all-time work in that category. It is refreshing to get a practical take with this character and all credit to Jamie Campbell Bower for enduring 7 hours to put on the make-up and prosthetics but it truly adds a bit of realism and intimidation for the villain. I mentioned in the Stranger Things Season 4: Vol. 1 review that I found the sound mixing to be flat as its soundscape doesn’t have much depth. However, it is quite clear that additional work was done in the sound and VFX department leading up to its later release. The sound mixing felt cleaner and applied depth so to combine that with its ambient electronic-based score truly elevates the viewing experience to another level. Whoever selects the songs to be used in this series deserves a raise because they elevate each moment in emotion and tension.
Stranger Things Season 4: Vol 2 builds upon what Volume 1 established and makes it one of the best seasons of television in a long time. The world of Stranger Things has never been so exciting and now that there is a clear direction at play, the final season can’t get here soon enough.