“Stranger Things 4” Volume 2 Review – Action-Heavy Fight Against Vecna Sets the Stage for Final Season

Horror

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The first volume of “Stranger Things 4” ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, seven episodes deep into a super-sized nine-episode season. The characters remained splintered, this time on a global scale, but significant reveals behind the season’s big bad, Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), laid the groundwork for the final confrontation. Volume 2 may pick up immediately where the first left off, but, spread over two feature-length episodes, it takes a while to get to the final fight. While ambition and massive scale remain at the forefront of “Stranger Things 4,” Volume 2 continues its struggle against predictable storytelling.

The 90-minute penultimate episode devotes itself to setting the stage for the even more extended finale. It somehow moves the characters forward on the playing field while holding them in place. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Argyle (Eduardo Franco), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are on a quest to find Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown). Hopper (David Harbour) has reunited with Joyce (Winona Ryder) at the Russian prison, which also happens to have a Demogorgon problem. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Eddie (Joseph Quinn), Max (Sadie Sink), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Erica (Priah Sinclair) remain at ground zero to Vecna’s apocalyptic plan.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Tom Wlaschiha as Dmitrti, Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman, Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, and David Harbour as Jim Hopper in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Various government factions or rogue citizens compound the Upside Down woes for every group spanning the globe. The more prominent the fight against Vecna becomes, the more these secondary antagonist subplots fade into the peripheral or disappear altogether. It’s one of the more glaring examples of how the sheer scope of the story and its ensemble cast is becoming more difficult to wrangle into cohesion. Components that foreshadowed a larger payoff go out with a whimper as the series’ familiar patterns emerge once more. It stretches some plot threads too thin. That means you’ll likely guess how certain arcs will conclude long before Volume 2 gets there.

While Volume 2 falls into more predictable territory, it does at least attempt to address the lack of stakes that pervaded Volume 1. The complicated plan to thwart Vecna doesn’t go off without a hitch. That’s expected. What isn’t expected is the way it creates ripple effects and repercussions. It leads to some poignant and heartfelt moments that effectively hit you in the feels, even the ones you saw coming.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

“Stranger Things 4” favors spectacle over finesse. Volume 2 boasts impressive set pieces, explosions, a ton of action, and a darker edge to the horror, at least where the adult storylines are concerned. Every character gets at least one hero moment, but the season belongs to Sink. Her arc and performance as Max, tortured in more ways than one, lends needed gravitas and depth. Matarazzo also stands out as the beating heart of the cast; the actor can boost or engage with any scene partner with earnestness and infectious affability.

It’s the cast’s emotional range and their characters’ extensive history that anchors a season so ambitious that many threads slip through its cracks. So many unaddressed questions remain by Volume 2’s end, only some by design. It presents a clear path forward for the final season and a sense of foreboding and fortitude. Volume 2 relies on the same battle structure from previous seasons, diminishing its impact. From a character standpoint, however, it’s impossible not to root for them as they’re put through the wringer, furthering their harsh transition into adulthood. That sums up “Stranger Things 4” overall; it’s a penultimate season for the grand finale, wrapped up in scale and spectacle.

“Stranger Things 4” Volume 2 is available now on Netflix.

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