Stranger Things 3 is a return to form, critics say
Ahead of the release of the third series of Netflix hit Stranger Things, the reviews are in - and it's good news for fans of the supernatural drama.
The Stranger Things kids are growing up but the terrors of the Upside Down are still lurking in the third season, which drops on Thursday, 4 July.
Slash Film's critic Chris Evangelista said the series "moves things forward at a thrilling pace".
He added: "Stranger Things roars back more exciting and emotional than ever."
Many critics were careful not to give too much away - so don't worry, there are no big spoilers here.
"As for what actually happens in season three… well, it's almost impossible to say," wrote Caroline Framke in Variety.
"Literally. The list of 'do not reveal' spoilers Netflix sent alongside advance episodes is as long as it is strategic, prohibiting me from so much as hinting at who (or what) the determined citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are up against this time."
But that didn't stop her from heaping praise on the new series.
"By the time the final credits roll on season three (plus a post-credits scene you won't want to miss), it's made much more of a case for itself than season two ever did simply by trying to be something different.
"Rest assured, if I went into season three 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."
Kelly Lawler, writing for USA Today, also made the point that the third series was an improvement on the second.
"In season one, a self-contained tale of the vanishing of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the format worked, but trying to expand that same plot to a second season made for repetition and lazy storytelling."
But the cult show's return was an improvement, she said.
"The series builds upon its Steven Spielberg and Stephen King influences with an homage to alien invasion and zombie films, creating a genuinely terrifying (and really rather disgusting) new threat.
"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."
Michael Rougeau concurred in his Gamespot review, heaping praise on original cast member Millie Bobby Brown and also welcoming some new characters to Hawkins.
"She's always been at the show's emotional core, embodying both vulnerability and power, but the actor shows off more sides of Eleven in season three - including a newly confident side influenced by Max. Their scenes together are some of the most fun in all of season three."
He added: "The absolute best new character is Robin (Maya Hawke), who works at the mall's nautical-themed ice cream joint Scoops Ahoy with Steve (Joe Keery).
"For now, it's safe to say that Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer have pulled it off: After a lacklustre sophomore slump, Stranger Things is back at the top of its game."
There were more plaudits from Ben Allen of the Radio Times, who described it as "exhilarating"
"[It is] the equal of its predecessor in terms of pure enjoyment but still eventually devastating, with a shocking and emotionally-charged conclusion that will ring out on social media for weeks to come," he wrote.
He was also impressed with Hawke, the 20-year-old daughter of actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
"Hawke is by far and away the best addition, striking up an easy rapport with the rest of the cast," Allen wrote. "She has her mother's effortless cool, and the depth - or illusion of depth - of her father (she somehow looks exactly like both of them, too)."