Now that the summer movie season is over, and has given way to possible Oscar contenders, let’s look at the best movie of the summer….that was not in theaters.
People wondered what would be the top movie of the season: female Ghostbusters, bad guys trying to do good, or sequels hoping to be just as good as the original.
It turned out the best summer movie lasted about seven hours, and was only available on Netflix.
Yes, you could consider the eight part series Stranger Things as one long movie, as people binged-watched the story of some Midwestern kids who get caught up in a mystery that was a combination of The Goonies, E.T., Stephen King and The X-Files. A boy named Will Byers mysteriously disappears, and the search for him leads to a meeting to a unique girl named Eleven, who is somehow connected to Will’s disappearance.
Why did Stranger Things succeed where Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse and Independence Day: Resurgence did not? The reason, of course, is the kids: Will (Noah Schnapp), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb MacLaughlin). These guys are just normal kids in Hawkins, a small Indiana, in 1983, living their lives and enjoying Dungeons & Dragons. They never thought they’d be in a real-life version thanks to some evil experiments at a “Department of Energy” lab outside of town. When they meet Eleven (who they call “El”) and learn how she brought the “Demogorgon” from an alternate world she calls the Upside Down, these kids really step up for each other. The best part was when Dustin accuses El of trying to keep them from finding Will, and he’s right, in a way. She’s just downright scared of the lab where she was raised to be a Cold War weapon, but she has to overcome that to help Will.
However, this scene really shows their true friendship, after El saves Mike from being forced by two bullies to jump off a cliff in to a lake.
Another real hero is Police Chief Jim Hopper, played by David Barbour. When we first meet him, he’s a wreck. He lost his daughter and his wife, and he’s just trying to stay comfortably numb. The search for Will, though, and why it happened, gives him new purpose to do his job and protect the town.
He becomes a rock that Will’s mom, Joyce, holds on to. While Winona Ryder portrays Joyce as high-strung and frantic, she is steady in her belief that Will is alive somehow (despite what the Feds do to fool her). Ryder has gotten a lot of praise for her performance, just as Kirsten Dunst did in the second season of Fargo.
There are flashbacks Joyce has of Will, and Hopper has of the daughter he lost (and sometimes pretends is still alive). While they cause heartbreak, those memories also motivate them to not give up on the search for Will.
As we said, there’s a bit of E.T. in this show in the form of El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. She is a weird girl who was raised not to be a woman, but to be the final blow against the Soviet Union. Just look at the flashbacks she experienced with her “papa” Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). He doesn’t see her as a girl, just a thing; a weapon to use to get secrets from the enemy. When his experiments wind up creating a gate to another dimension, the Upside Down, he’s not worried about what could be at the other side… just as long as he can stay clear of the danger he’s unleashed. That, of course, doesn’t happen, especially when El flips one of the military’s cars with her mind when Brenner finally finds her.
However, the boys see El as just a girl, and treat her as such. They even show her how tasty Eggo waffles can be, just like E.T. discovers the wonders of Reese’s Pieces. The kids hope that somehow, if they all live, they can give her a normal life. Fate, though, would decide El’s destiny… maybe
The first sign that audiences were really connecting with the show is how shocked people were by the death of Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser). She was the best bud of Mike’s sister, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who’s attracted to the most popular boy in school, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Barb warned Nancy not to fall for the guy, and some may have felt bad for Barb as she was sitting by Steve’s pool while he and Nancy were up stairs about to have sex. However, when the Demogorgon suddenly took her away to the Upside Down, and eventually killed her, fans were very upset. They were hoping she would get justice somehow, and the Duffer Brothers (who created the show) say she will not be forgotten. Then again, maybe she already got justice when Brenner found the Demogorgon.
Barb’s death had a big impact on Nancy. Instead of being the swooning girlfriend to Steve, she and Will’s brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), become monster hunters. Nancy enters the Upside Down through a tree and nearly gets killed by the monster. But, that makes her even more determined. For Jonathan, he’s doing this for his family, especially Will.
Stranger Things ends with a typical Christmas family scene, but it gives plenty of hints that another journey could be coming. Will is alive, but he’s not the same. He thinks the Upside Down is now in him. And there’s some doubt about what really happened to El.
It’s a good thing we’ll be able to go back to Hawkins next year, with new people who might be connected to stranger things, too.
Stranger Things is still available on Netflix, which is expected to get major attention again when Marvel’s Luke Cage begins on September 30th.