Tag Archives: Winona Ryder

Stranger Things Season 3 Review

First Half of Review is spoiler-free. Second Half has full spoilers after warning.

Stranger Things is easily Netflix’s most popular Sci-Fi show. Black Mirror may be better, but Stranger Things seems to grow in popularity year on year. This is in large part to its fabulous cast, including the established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but also the incredible young cast (no weak links among them). Millie Bobby Brown has shot to stardom because of this show, and rightly so. The cast are as good as ever here. The show plays around with some of the established pairings and focuses on new ones – seeing Eleven (Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink)’s friendship blossom is one of the most entertaining parts of the early episodes, as well as a key part of Eleven’s character development (first female friend she’s really had). Dustin and Steve’s comedy bromance also returns, and is only enhanced by their adventures with snarky newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica, Lucas’ precocious younger sister. While I took to Robin immediately, I wasn’t sure about Erica’s inconclusion till about the halfway point, where I began to warm to her (pairing her and Dustin up as a team really worked). Lucas and Mike get their share of moments too, but Will has the standout ones amongst the boys with Noah Schnapp nailing Will’s PTSD and struggles to adapt to the fact his friends has changed since previous seasons. If any characters are poorly served, its arguably Nancy and Jonathan – their storyline at the Hawkins Post newspaper may have a political point to prove, but it isn’t that entertaining or even interesting. Fortunately, by episode 5 they’re back helping the youngsters and instantly get better material to deal with.

Visually, the show looks as good as ever (has Netflix ever hired a bad director? Yet to see it – BBC take note) and the special effects are great throughout. The new monster is far more imposing and memorable than the Demodogs in Season 2, but is somewhat undermined by the fact it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many as the less-powerful Demogorgon in Season 1 managed. Still, its horrific in its design and inventive in how it gets created, so I won’t criticise it too much. Arguably the season’s human villains are more memorable, particularly the grizzled, Schwarzenegger-esque thug who has several brutal fights with Hopper over the course of the season.

The humour can be hit and miss (Dustin’s group gets the best of it, Mike and Lucas less so) but mostly it works well and establishes a lighter tone. Arguably too light – while the writers were clearly deliberately drawing a line between the light-hearted, hormonal teen dramas and the horrific mind flayer plot, it ends up slightly jarring – seasons 1 and 2 were more consistently dark in tone, but with great lashings of charm and humour to lighten the mood. I have to say I preferred that approach – this season is entertaining, but it lacks the persistent tension of earlier sessions (at least for the first four episodes – the last four were definitely better balanced and to my mind, more effective). Ultimately though, the writers do a good job – the character arcs all make sense and feel realistic and earned, and while there are undoubtedly plot holes and conveniences, they tend to be minor blips rather than irritating missteps.

Overall, its an entertaining, visually splendid instalment of one of Netflix’s best shows. The writers keep the plot grounded for the most part, and showcase the talent of the wonderful actors involved. However, for all that, its probably my least favourite of the three – but given how good the first two were, that doesn’t mean all that much. Just don’t make us wait as long for season 4, okay Duffer Brothers?

For those of you wishing to avoid, spoilers, my season rating is below, so stop there.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FINALE!!

Kudos to Dacre Montgomery – he made Billy someone you could empathise with and even feel a bit sorry for – which isn’t easy when he was so unlikable in season 2 and helped the mind flayer (unwillingly or not) kill a lot of people in S3. Sadie Sink in particular helps us care about Billy’s fate – whatever the issues between them, its clear that Max wants to save her step-brother if she can, which only makes his heroic sacrifice to save Eleven all the more tragic. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – I’d called well before the season started, but it hit hard nonetheless.

Somewhat surprisingly, so did Alexei’s. Given that he was working for the bad guys and seemed quite a dick in episode 6, the show did well to make us care about him. His banter with Murray and his obvious joy at experiencing an American Fair did much to humanise him – which made his callous execution all the more horrific.

But obviously, the big hit is Hopper. He wasn’t particularly likeable this season, but ultimately, he was there to do the right thing, and this time, his decision to risk all in the final episode cost him. At least, we think it did. The post-credits scene in Russia cast some doubt on his death, but Hopper isn’t the only possibility for the American prisoner. Who knows – maybe the Russians snatched Murray after their base was shut down. Or maybe, just maybe… Eleven’s Father from S1 isn’t dead. Hell, if they know about Eleven, it might even be her Mother they’ve kidnapped or maybe her ‘Sister’ 8 from Season 2. To be honest, any of those options is preferable to Hopper – its too obvious and too easy a way out. Besides – could you imagine the effect on Eleven if she believes its Hopper they’ve got and it turns out to be Father instead? That would really be a great twist for S4.

Next: Reviews of other Netflix titans, such as Jessica Jones, Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black will follow in the next few weeks – along with Spiderman: Far from Home.

 

Stranger Things: Season 2 Review

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.

TV shows tend to hit their stride a bit more in their second season than they did in their first run. This is true for everything from Doctor Who to Arrow to The Grand Tour. This tends to be because showrunners have the chance to look at the first series and iron out any obvious issues that annoyed fans or critics the first time round. The only reason shows can tend to be worse in their second season is if there have been substantial cast changes or there wasn’t a good enough story arc/idea to merit a sequel in the first place. Stranger Things’ cast remained consistent from Series 1, so its continued success was always going to be down to whether the showrunners had a good, clear idea of what the show should do going forward. Good news – they absolutely did.

The show hits the ground running pretty quickly compared to season 1. While the first two episodes mainly serve as exercise in introducing new characters (such as Max [Sadie Sink], a love interest for Dustin and Lucas, and Joyce’s new boyfriend, played by Sean Astin aka Samwise Gamgee) and seeing how the land lies after the events of the season 1 finale (Mike still waiting for Eleven, Nancy’s guilt over Barbara’s death, Will suffering from PTSD etc.) things pick up pretty quickly from episode 3 onwards. The cliffhangers feel more meaningful this time, particularly the ones in episodes 6 and 8. Episode 6’s cliffhanger is exacerbated by the fact that you have to wait a whole chapter to see the resolution, since episode 7 purely focuses on Eleven’s journey (yet still remains extremely engaging). There’s less annoying character moments this time as well (apart from Mike being a dick to Max, though given how much Eleven’s disappearance and Will’s trauma put him through this season its understandable). Paul Reiser (aka Burke from Aliens) also joins the cast as a government doctor at Hawkins lab, and it is pleasingly unclear for most of the season what his true morals/motivations are.

The shows’ production remains largely faultless. The music fits perfectly. The direction and effects mesh together nicely. The dialogue is never clunky or cringeworthy. There are more humorous moments than in season one. Their are less genre-based clichés this time (the government agency isn’t wholly evil for once). The storyline is engaging. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can see where most of the character arcs are headed (i.e. Eleven’s decision at the end of chapter 7/which of Dustin or Lucas that Max will end up with) and the sense that most of the characters are too important for the show to kill off (Will is the only one of the young cast you ever feel is in real danger, ditto Steve amongst the young adults) I’d have no issues with this show at all. However, while the predictability is a shame, rather like in Game of Thrones season 7, you’ll be having too much fun to really care.

Overall Stranger Things 2 is an improvement on the first series in almost every regard. The new cast members slot in seamlessly, the music and direction remain a standout, and the season hits its stride much earlier than the first one did. Only its predictability prevents me giving this a perfect rating.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My next review will probably be Jessica Jones season 2, followed by Black Panther when I finally get around to watching it.

Stranger Things Season 1 Review

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown.

Minor Spoilers only. Everything mentioned is given away by an episode title or trailers.

So I finally got around to watching it. I don’t tend to binge watch many series (House of Cards and Orange is the New Black aside) but I watched the entirety of Season 1 on Tuesday and didn’t regret a thing. With my interest in Doctor Who and Star Trek flagging (Who’s last series sapped my enthusiasm and I can’t seem to get into any Trek series other than Voyager) I’ve been looking for a new sci-fi fix. Black Mirror is up there, but Stranger Things is even better. It’s mix of teen/coming of age storylines, sci-fi, horror and fantasy makes it appealing to a wide audience and, for anyone who is sick of everything in film and TV being set in New York, London or Los Angeles, its small country town setting is refreshing. Also, its only 8 episodes, which means it avoids the normal Netflix trap of being stretched out several episodes beyond its natural runtime (see Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders and House of Cards’ last 3 seasons).

For those yet to watch it, the series is set in Hawkins, a small sleepy town in Indiana, USA. It revolves around the disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy, and the appearances of both Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a young girl who has escaped a nearby government lab, and an unknown Monster terrorizing the local woods. The focus is split between Will’s family (his older loner brother Jonathan and his increasingly hysterical mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder), Will’s best friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin and Lucas, local cop Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Mike’s sister older Nancy.

Most of the time is spent with Mike, Dustin and Lucas, who take it upon themselves to find Will, while also trying to keep Eleven hidden from both their parents and the government agents looking for her. Hinging a series on young actors always carries some risk, but the quartet are all well-acted and, for the most part, relatable and engaging characters. Winona Ryder is also a great asset to the series, in a role that in the hands of a lesser actress might come across as irritating, as she starts to realise her son’s disappearance is not due to anything natural. Nancy’s story looks predictable at first as she falls for local bad-boy Steve, but after she becomes entangled with Will and his hunt for his brother’s kidnapper, she becomes one of the stronger parts of the show. Local cop Hopper likewise could have come across as a cliché, but David Harbour plays the role with such charm and understated turmoil that you can’t help but root for him.

It isn’t a flawless series. There are genre-based clichés everywhere you look (shifty government labs, terrible father figures, easily resolved cliffhangers etc.) but that’s probably inevitable given the amount of things Stranger Things is a homage to. The show is also largely predictable and plays out pretty much the way you expect. But, to be honest, if you can see past these issues, there’s precious little else that will annoy you. The direction and effects maintain a very high standard throughout, while the soundtrack is extremely effective and the 80’s songs that play intermittently are as well chosen as Guardian of the Galaxy’s were. The dialogue is never cringeworthy or clunky, and all of the actors put in good performances.

Ultimately, that’s the main reason this show works so well: the characterisation. Even supporting characters that seem irritating in the first few episodes (such as Mike’s friend Lucas and Nancy’s love interest Steve) have character arcs that make them more likeable later down the line. The antagonists, whether school bullies or heartless government creeps, aren’t exactly developed much as characters but serve their purpose well enough, and you will feel immensely satisfied when they get their comeuppance in latter episodes. Arguably its the Monster that works best out of the shows villains, as it feels suitably scary and animalistic without straying too close to creatures from other sci-fi or horror series.

Overall, the first season of Stranger Things is engaging throughout, but only really starts to grip you in its second half where the various plotlines start meshing and bringing the characters together more. The production is fautless, even if the plot utilizes too many genre clichés to be considered particularly original. The acting is universally strong and the characterisation is of a higher standard than at least 90% of other TV shows, and that’s the real reason I’d recommend this above most of Netflix’s other shows.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve already binged Season 2 so expect a review of that to be up soon (probably Saturday). Like this one I’ll keep it spoiler free. Good news: its even better than season 1.