Stranger Things 3 is the third season in the highly successful Netflix original series from Matt and Ross Duffer. Set in the summer of 1985, this season once again follows a group of friends in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana as they battle evil monsters from another dimension known as the Upside Down.
Like many fans of the series, I love the first season of Stranger Things for taking classic 80s movie influences and making them their own all while having great performances, stellar writing and a killer synth score. Season 2 was able to further distance itself from those influences but was not as strong in the writing department; it was still an enjoyable season nonetheless. Because of the two-year wait after season 2, I was excited that season 3 would retain all the best qualities of the first two seasons and more and I’m happy to say that it mostly does.
Stranger Things has always excelled on a filmmaking level and season 3 is no exception. The costumes, make-up, and music choices already scream ’80s, but credit should absolutely go to the production designers who excellently capture the look of a Middle-American town in that decade. This aesthetic carries over to Hawkins’s new Starcourt Mall, which does in fact look and feel like an actual mall.
Direction and cinematography for this season are also top-notch especially for scenes that involve colorful neon lights. Every episode for season 3 has a warning for photosensitive viewers and after watching this season, I can totally understand why. Speaking of the rating, I was surprised that these episodes were rated TV-14 with how gross they were at points. As for the nostalgia itself, it is usually not overbearing and only present enough to add to the setting’s authenticity.
Obviously, I have to mention the signature synth score from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein who are still able to keep their compositions fresh and innovative in the mood that they want to convey with each track. Even the editing is great with several stellar scene transitions and a cute ’80s montage.
Thankfully, this nostalgic period piece would not be quite as watchable without the terrific performances and fleshed-out characters. Winona Ryder and David Harbour have excellent chemistry as Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper respectively. As for Hopper himself, he is not as likable this season as he was in the first two, but his constant anger does become more entertaining in the latter half especially during a scene that involves a Slurpee.
Moreover, all of the relationships in Stranger Things 3 are engaging. Season 2’s Max (Sadie Sink) has more to do this season and I loved her scenes with the psychic child Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who once again is excellent. Joe Keery is also wonderful as Steve Harrington who now works at an ice cream shop in the mall called Scoops Ahoy. Watching him grow from an asshole to a hero has always made a favorite for myself and other fans. He shares compelling interactions with his younger friend Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and his Scoops Ahoy co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke), one of the show’s latest additions and a major standout this season. There is so much to wrap but my mind around in regard to the characters of Stranger Things 3 that I cannot cover them all without delving into spoilers. I will say that some character arcs are underdeveloped but at least they still have memorable moments.
Stranger Things 3 is not perfectly written but it is still very strong. The first two or three episodes are about getting re-accustomed to these characters, which I understand is necessary but makes the beginning of this season feel slow. After the fourth episode, however, Stranger Things 3 kicks into high gear and becomes a delight to watch. I watched eight episodes in two days with four episodes per day. Once the fourth episode ended, I was excited to see where the rest of the season would go.
It tackles social and political themes that make the season more than simply entertainment even when it rightfully embraces the cheesiness of the ’80s. This season is also more emotional than I initially thought. Stranger Things has always balanced multiple genres well—particularly drama, science-fiction, and horror—but I am glad this season leans more on body horror than the last two.
My only other issue, which is small yet understandable, is that the season follows a similar structure to the last two because there is only so much a show can do with the premise of otherworldly monsters attacking a small town.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Stranger Things 3 is yet another great entry in this long-running series. Stellar filmmaking, exceptional character development, and effective writing make this season worthwhile. It is actually growing on me the more I think about it.