So says one of the new characters from “Stranger Things 4,” but we know better. El, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, and all the other characters, young and old, have never run from a challenge and have always saved one another in the name of love and friendship, never heroism. Always resourceful, always mindful of what they learned from the past, and always aware of what’s at stake, our heroes keep us coming back and this season has the distinction of merely being the set-up for what’s coming July 1st. What’s here has few clean endings and fewer certainties, which makes it all the more difficult to review it as a finished piece. Many story and character arcs have yet to be truly fulfilled.
Still, we waited a long time for its arrival, so how is it (so far)? “Stranger Things” is still damn good summertime entertainment. The Duffer brothers have done well for themselves in taking their time to make sure they have not just reheated the same meal once more. They still have a passion for this series and that is evident throughout most of the running time. The show is still loaded with smartly placed pop culture references from the era, stand-up-and-cheer moments of showmanship, and emotional crescendos, one of which remains one of the finest sequences in the show’s history and one that I hope will jumpstart a particular artist’s work and become of the signature songs of this coming summer. It’s been in my head all weekend and it’s welcome to live there anytime.
So, of course, I’m duty-bound to not reveal spoilers (I wouldn’t want to), but I can give you the basic set-up. First, you would do well to revisit maybe the last two chapters of “Stranger Things 3,” especially if you haven’t viewed them since they first dropped back in 2019. I did and couldn’t help notice a lovely visual pay-off that introduces Eleven/Jane (Millie Bobby Brown), who now lives with the Byers family—Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Will (Noah Schnapp) in Lenora Hills, CA. Eleven and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) have been penpals since the move and are on the verge of seeing each other again during spring break (1986) when Mike travels to see them. Back in Hawkins, IN, Mike and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have been playing D&D with a group of social outcasts called “Hellfire Club,” run by a new character, the burnout metal head, Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn).
Meanwhile, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has been slowly separating himself from the likes of Mike, Dustin, and D&D and has started playing basketball for the Hawkins Tigers, stuck between being friends with the jocks and the geeks. In “Stranger Things 3,” we met Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), who worked at Scoops Ahoy with Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). They remain “just friends” as Harrington pines for Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who works for the school paper with her truly ‘80s geek-with-glasses editor, Fred Benson (Logan Riley Bruner). Finally, Max (Sadie Sink) still mourns the death of her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and hasn’t tied herself to any of the social circles while her relationship with Lucas begins to fall apart.