One of the most highly-anticipated TV events of the summer is finally almost here thanks to the July 4 premiere of Stranger Things on Netflix. Season 2 debuted all the way back in October 2017, so fans have been waiting a very long time for Season 3. The third season will be set in the summer of 1985 and pit the folks against threats new and old while also changing relationships.
Obviously the stakes are very high for Stranger Things Season 3, and fan expectations are even higher after waiting so long for new footage. Netflix has kept a tight lid on spoilers, and one Stranger Things star even shared with CinemaBlend some of the serious precautions that have kept secrets from leaking. Fortunately, the streamer did release the full third season to press to review, and critics have weighed in with their thoughts on the newest batch of Stranger Things.
Read on for a rundown of critic thoughts, including my own, after watching Stranger Things Season 3! Let's start with what Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone has to say:
In terms of spectacle, this is by far the most impressive season, even if the action sequences are — like the threat of the Upside Down itself — a bit repetitive. (You can set your watch to Eleven’s conveniently-timed arrival whenever a good guy is facing certain death.) But the growth of the characters — whether through age or, like Hopper and Joyce, through learning to deal with past traumas — means that they feel different and surprising, even when the story is traveling paths we’ve been on many times before.
Alan Sepinwall was impressed by the spectacle of Season 3, and it's clear from the brief glimpses of the monster in the trailer alone that the special effects to deliver the scares are epic. Considering Season 2 was already somewhat a repeat of Season 1 when it came to Eleven unleashing her powers to save lives, it's not too surprising that Season 3 will do more of the same.
Still, the development of the characters could keep the story fresh, even if the action is repetitive. It's not like fans didn't like Eleven telepathically destroying her enemies in the first two seasons, right? Alan Sepinwall also weighed in on the finale:
The finale blows up the show in ways that could make the inevitable fourth season feel like a huge departure, or that can be undone within an episode or two if the Duffers feel more comfortable sticking to a formula that works. With sequels, the audience is often happy to watch more of the same — and that’s just as true for the latest installment of a blockbuster movie franchise as it is for the newest season of a successful television show like Stranger Things.
There will be plenty to speculate about when it comes to the Season 3 finale, so at least fans probably don't have to worry that a gargantuan hit like Stranger Things will get the axe prematurely. David Harbour also has been hyping the finale, and all signs point toward fans seeing the truth behind his words.
In my critique of Season 3, I also compared Stranger Things Season 3 to a blockbuster in a franchise, but that's not necessarily a wonderful thing:
If Season 1 was the indie horror that blew up and Season 2 was the surprisingly solid sequel, then Season 3 is the blockbuster that pulled out all the stops to do something new without resetting the formula. At the same time, it feels like the latest installment in a franchise that knows it’s going to be a hit no matter what, and some of the subtleties of previous seasons were missing.
For me, Stranger Things' third season delivered all the action, scale, and scares that anybody could want out of a blockbuster, but falls somewhat short on delivering the characterization and exposition that there was definitely time for in the eight-episode season.
That doesn't make it bad by any means, but it will likely leave you wanting more in good and bad ways. Season 3 is very effective with the horror, as I went on to explain in my review:
The bad news for the characters and the great news for viewers watching safely from home is that the Duffer brothers and the rest of the Stranger Things team turned the horror up to eleven, and the season may leave you dreaming sweet dreams of the Demogorgon from Season 1 that doesn't seem so terrifying in hindsight. Unfortunately, the mind-blowing boost of horror came at the cost of some of the heart. Did I laugh, cry, and/or gasp at various parts of Season 3? Yes. Did I feel it as deeply as I could have? Not quite.
Tom Gliatto of People was satisfied with Season 3 and its climax, even moreso than Season 2, and he also gave a shout-out to one of the Stranger Things newcomers:
This all makes for a very satisfying season — better than Stranger Things 2 — with a long, roaring climax that’s both funny and moving. The standout performer this time is newcomer Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as Robin, a no-nonsense dispenser of ice cream who’s also a font of ingenious, evil-fighting suggestions. Hawke has the beguiling, uncanny self-possession of the early Scarlett Johansson.
Robin was always bound to be a fun character by virtue of the fact that she's teamed up with Steve and always featured in the trailers wearing her Scoops Ahoy sailor costume, but she has even more going for her.
Jen Chaney of Vulture is another critic who enjoyed the season but noted some flaws as well. Here's how she put it:
Returning after a nearly two-year break, Stranger Things 3 is as Stranger Things-y as ever, which is both good and bad. It’s nice to see all these characters again. It’s also fun to once again be immersed in the supremely retro setting — this season takes place during the summer of 1985 and, for large portions, in Hawkins, Indiana’s brand new Starcourt Mall, home to a Waldenbooks and a Sam Goody and _a Time Out arcade. But the familiarity of the series, created by the Duffer brothers, is also what makes it seem a bit boilerplate at times. If you plan to play a drinking game every time a classic _Stranger Things plot development or detail arises, your blood-alcohol level is going to rise quickly.
If you play a drinking game with Stranger Things Season 3, you may want to either substitute a non-alcoholic beverage or take sips rather than full drinks or chugs. Hey, you want to remember all eight episodes after this long wait, right?
As the third season of a series that Netflix will undoubtedly want to keep going for as long as possible, a big question going is whether the show ran out of steam after Season 2 or if there's still room for growth. Caroline Framke of Variety weighed in:
Beyond that, there’s not much more I can say without incurring the wrath of Netflix’s Spoiler Upside Down. But rest assured: if I went into season 3 wondering how long 'Stranger Things' can possibly keep this up, I left it assured that as long as the series keeps pushing beyond what initially made it work, it will have more story left in the tank yet.
Jennifer Bisset of CNET compared Stranger Things Season 3 to another TV phenomenon: Game of Thrones. In her critique, however, she doesn't focus on the widespread disappointment with Thrones' final season, but rather back on the good old days when everybody seemed pretty enthusiastic about the show:
This season's sense of fun, along with its relationship drama and multiple odd pair-ups bring humor and touching moments that recall Game of Thrones at its best. While the story flows in tighter spaces and everyone has a part to play in grander events, the conspiracy is simply a side project. It's a fun excuse to spend the summer in the warmer-than-ever world of Stranger Things.
Matt Roush of TV Insider is another who notes that Season 3 is more than a little repetitive, but the season isn't just darkness, doom, and redos. For him, the characters are still a highlight of the series despite some less than revolutionary twists:
While the mayhem over eight episodes can grow repetitive and tiresome — I lost count of how many times bodies were hurled against and sometimes through walls — there's a light touch even in the darker moments. Because above all, and beyond the screams, scares, last-second rescues from subterranean fortresses, and occasional gruesomeness (rarely extreme), Stranger Things wants you to love and care deeply about its characters.
That's what the critics think; you can decide how Stranger Things Season 3 ranks against the first two seasons for yourself when the new episodes finally go live on Thursday, July 4 at 12:01 a.m. PT on Netflix.
Be sure to stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more Stranger Things coverage in the coming days, and swing by our 2019 Netflix premiere guide for some viewing options once the wait for another season of Stranger Things begins again. The cast suggests that only one or two more seasons should happen, but I'm just hoping that the next hiatus lasts for fewer than 20 months.