When placed within the context of Hawkins, Indiana, Tears for Fears was wrong in their 1985 hit single when Curt Smith posited that "everybody wants to rule the world." In the universe of Netflix's Stranger Things, aspirations of dominating the entire planet fall under the sole purview of the "Mind Flayer," a malevolent entity from the Upside Down.
Why are we talking about 1985? Well, for one thing, it was an extremely influential year for pop culture. For another, it serves as the main temporal setting for Season 3 of the hit sci-fi series (created by the Duffer brothers), whose review embargo is now lifted, albeit with the minor caveat of keeping spoilers to a minimum.
Even so, it's not hard to see that Stranger Things 3 (premiering Thursday, July 4) is, despite a few minor bumps along the way, the biggest, scariest, and most bombastic season thus far. Not only that, but the eight new episodes apparently switch up the expectations laid out by the last two installments to give audiences a fresh well from which to drink the nostalgic Kool-Aid. One reviewer even described Season 3 as "an 8-hour summer blockbuster."
Transpiring over the summer of '85 (aka the summer when Back to the Future was released in theaters), our adolescent protagonists are starting to grow up and explore the pangs of young love espoused by the rush of those pesky chemical impulses we call hormones. It's not easy juggling puberty and the fight against a monster from another dimension, but hey, no one ever said things were easy for Hawkins.
Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Charlie Heaton, Natalia Dyer, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Dacre Montgomery, Cara Buono, Brett Gelman, and Priah Ferguson all return to play their characters from the last two seasons.
New blood includes: Cary Elwes, Jake Busey, Francesa Reale, and Maya Hawke.
Take a trip back in time and find out what critics are saying below ...
"While Stranger Things will always have its diehard fans, this season has far more to prove about the show’s overall longevity than any other ... 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." -Caroline Framke, Variety
"It takes a couple of episodes to really get going, but ultimately, Season 3 of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things is so awesome that it would’ve been worth the wait even if that wait had begun all the way back in 1985, the year in which it’s set. Heck, the premiere alone delivers chills (seriously — actual goosebump-inducing chills), laughs aplenty (especially as Hopper attempts to parent a teenager in love) and harbingers of heartache (as the kids begin to find out that the worst kinds of growing pains aren’t physical)." -Charlie Mason, Yahoo! Entertainment
"Overall, Season 3 leaves the franchise in a good place. If Season 2 was too serious, too dark, and too fractured, than Season 3 is pretty fun, very bright, and streamlined to deliver sensory overload ... As far as 2019 blockbusters go, Stranger Things 3 delivers in a lot of the ways Game of Thrones did not — like a candle in the window, after a cold, dark winter’s night. And in terms of just plain ol’ liking Stranger Things for what it is, I’m getting closer than I ever thought I might…" -Ben Travers, IndieWire
"Matt and Ross Duffer have figured out how to make Season 3 its own beast. Except for a few cheesy moments here and there, the new episodes are exuberant and excellent, nearly surpassing the creative heights of the first season and providing a path to keeping things strange for years to come." -Kelly Lawler, USA Today
"After every episode of Stranger Things 3, you’ll find yourself eagerly skipping the credits to jump into the next one. So, in that way alone, the new season works. Almost all of the characters get denser storylines to play out. The action is exponentially bigger than the previous seasons. It’s funny, gross, sweet, and fun, and by the end, the whole thing gets so massive and exciting, you’re likely not to remember a few of the hiccups along the way." -Germain Lussier, Gizmodo
"All is calm, until it isn’t. The action takes a while to ramp up, as the Duffers luxuriate in summery vibes. Pop hits from the likes of Madonna and Foreigner are dropped in at an alarming rate as the camera slinks through the town breathing in the fresh air while the going is good ... Throughout the new episodes storylines take unexpected turns and difficult decisions are made, all building up to a heartbreaking conclusion that stands in stark contrast to the previous two finales." -Ben Allen, Radio Times
"Netflix kicks off its third Stranger Things season with a fabulous episode that focuses its attention on the Hawkins kids as they struggle with the process of growing up while trying to retain their established friendship. It's quickly apparent that creators Matt and Ross Duffer have a strong understanding of their characters and how best to use them. The only worrisome aspect is the ever-expanding ensemble and whether or not there's enough compelling story to go around." -David Griffin, IGN
"Like the family-friendly ’80s horror and sci-fi touchstones they brazenly plunder—er, celebrate—eight new episodes juxtapose coming-of-age arcs and life-or-death consequences, real relationships and fantastical monsters, the sweet and the gross ... Though it still doesn’t have the freshness of the first installment Stranger Things, the new season marks an improvement over its predecessor." -Judy Berman, TIME
"If Stranger Things 2 took its cues from 'the bigger, the better' sequels of the decade, Stranger Things 3 is the ’80s action movie Stranger Things, with all the automatic-weapons fire, car crashes, and stars-and-stripes patriotism that implies. It doesn’t make for a deeper version of the series, but it does make for a more entertaining one." -Erik Adams, A.V. Club