tue 16/07/2019

Stranger Things 3, Netflix review - bigger, dumber, better | reviews, news & interviews

Stranger Things 3, Netflix review - bigger, dumber, better

Stranger Things 3, Netflix review - bigger, dumber, better

Netflix’s retro adventure plays to its strengths in latest season

The gang are back,looking older and sharper than ever

It sometimes feels like an age between Stranger Things seasons. Blame Netflix. The binge-watching trend that it helped solidify means that most people consume all eight hours of content in a single weekend. It comes and goes in a flash. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a disposable snack, the TV equivalent of those famous Eggo pancakes. Stranger Things 3 is blockbuster television, full of the laughs, jumps and exaggerated nostalgia that made it such a hit in 2016.

After a mixed-bag second season, creators The Duffer Brothers have returned to their winning formula. Gone are the convoluted character arcs and superhero training sequences – Mystery Inc. is back in business. The growing cast once again split into separate teams, all investigating separate occurrences, and inevitably join back together for the big finale. It was witty combinations and big conspiracies that won over fans originally, and those are back in spades.

Life in Hawkins has changed since season two. Forget demodogs and the upside down, the new threat to town is that most American of staples: the mall. Starcourt is the big, neon shopping centre that draws all to it: Eleven and Max scour The Gap for new abstract prints, Mike, Will and Lucas sneak into Day of the Dead screenings, and Dustin distracts Steve at his new ice cream parlour job. These early scenes are such a joy to watch that one longs for a season where there’s no big bads, just teen drama and Back to the Future references. Riverdale with psychic powers, if you will.

But there’s no keeping those bads down, and this series has another combination of familiar horror and conspiracy threats. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Alien, The Terminator, you name it, it’s here. These occasionally skirt close to plagiarism, but there’s always enough charm and reverence to keep things fresh. While nothing quite reaches the same threat levels as the Demogorgon, there’s plenty of stand-out moments, including some shockingly gruesome melting effects.Priah Ferguson in Stranger Things 3Millie Bobby Brown continues to stand out as a heavyweight actor. Whether she’s screaming in pain or desperately holding back the tears, there’s a level of maturity in her performance that beggars belief. But there are also some eye-catching performances from less expected places. Dacre Montgomery is mesmerising as the troubled teen Billy, bringing both danger and sympathy to a role that seemed one-dimensional in the previous series. There’s also newcomer Maya Hawke as the Robin, the sardonic foil to Steve “The Hair” Harrington, and Lucas’s younger sister Erica (Priah Ferguson, pictured above), who has completed her journey from sassy side character to full-time legend.

Long-time favourite Hopper, played by recent Hellboy David Harbour, has a harder time. Before, his anger and deception were routed in trauma and a desire to protect the ones he loves, but here his actions are less excusable. He's controlling solely to serve to his own self-interests, and becomes emotionally manipulative when Joyce apparently rejects his advances. It’s not meant to come across as abusive behaviour, but if you saw someone in real life act that way, it would be a definite red flag. These issues are ironed out as the season continues, but it still leaves a bitter taste.

Also, for a series about dimensions and monsters, the latest narrative does stretch believability to breaking point. Without giving too much away, it seems near-impossible to have such a strong Russian presence (men, money and equipment) in Indiana at the height of the Cold War. It makes for a fun adventure, but requires shutting down parts of the brain.

That said, Stranger Things 3 is still a massive success. The scale of it is truly mindboggling, with Hollywood-level effects and the single best reference to The Neverending Story ever (and I say that with supreme confidence). The finale is shocking, hilarious, and downright devastating, and so begins another long wait for season four.

@OwenRichards91

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