Gone are the days of tights and cowls. Today, superheroes have evolved to become: emotionally unstable with a lot of daddy issues. What might this look like? Well, The Umbrella Academy of course.
On one fateful day in 1989, over 43 children were born to women who had previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Seven went on to be adopted by billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves, six of which turned out to have extraordinary abilities. One of these six didn’t reach adulthood, another disappeared as a child. And the seventh was nothing exceptional.
After their father’s death, five of the children return home only to be confronted by their lost brother who doesn’t look to have aged a day. What’s more, he comes baring news of the world’s demise.
In short, The Umbrella Academy is a warped view of what the X-men would have become if Charles Xavier wasn’t a humanitarian but an apathetic father.
The characters have been superbly cast and maintain a strong chemistry throughout the series. And this chemistry doesn’t stop at the adopted brothers and sister but continues to two Time Assassins that often steal the show.
Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton) are the best at what they do, but it doesn’t always mean they like it. The pair deliver an amazing dry sense of humour based on Hazel’s disenchantment with the job while also creating some intense fight scenes and wild arson trips. They’ve taken the mundane nature of every day work and crammed it into this high-stake environment which leaves the audience equally entertained by their work related squabbles and gun slinging job.
But it’s the children from the Umbrella Academy that are the real focus of this series. They were: Number One aka Luther (Tom Hopper), Number Two aka Diego (David Castaneda), Number Three aka Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Number Four aka Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), Number Six aka Ben (Justin H. Min), and Number Seven aka Vanya (Ellen Page).
Although the cast indeed worked wonderfully together, there were varying levels of skill in their performances. It was Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan, and Aidan Gallagher who all proved themselves as formidable actors and although the other siblings were admirable, they lacked the captivation that these three delivered.
Gallagher, who is currently 15, spends the majority of the series portraying a 50 year old stuck in an adolescent’s body. But the young actor does such a convincing job that the audience doesn’t bat an eyelid at him blending up an icy cocktail or commandeering a van to stalk a doctor.
Then there’s Robert Sheehan who was born for the scallywag role (which we’ve already seen him accomplish in Misfits). But as the series progresses we see that he has the potential for so much more. He starts as the family’s black sheep, addicted to drugs and stealing from his deceased dad to fund the habit. But the perfect and slow peeling away of his character reveals a torturous past and a lonelier present. Sheehan pulls the audience into the character’s grief and before you know it, the laughter at Klaus’ antics turn to hearth break.
The last character dissection worthy of note is Ellen Page. She plays the unextraordinary seventh child named Vanya. While growing up she was excluded from lessons and games, and as an adult she is near completely isolated. The simple lack of confidence at the series’ beginning is very evident, only highlighted more by her gradual progression towards confidence throughout the series. In an attempt to not spoil the plot, you can rest assured that Page has helped develop a very intriguing character.
The story itself does deviate from the comics but, in the page to screen transition, the changes have been for the best. Gone are the evil orchestra and Luthor head-transplant. Instead we get super serums and a more realistic evil. Well, as realistic as you can make super powers.
However, the story isn’t quite perfect. Each Member of the Umbrella Academy has their own intentions and goals which are all, to an extent, pulled together by the series end in their attempt to stop the apocalypse. During their adventures, they occasionally come together to contemplate a mystery that is often solved by Pogo conveniently strolling in with the answer. It’s this convenience, which happens more than once, that annoys me. There’s so much build up of mystery with the audience trying to pull together the puzzle pieces only to be given the answer by a character who had always been in the know. In short, it creates a pointlessness to the journey and undermines the value of each character’s conflict.
The design of the show seems to pull from a style between Gotham and Legion where turtlenecks are cool, no one has a mobile, and a dance number could happen at any moment. It’s a difficult style to keep a handle on, and unfortunately The Umbrella Academy doesn’t stay consistent with its look. The series is visually at its best when the characters are walking the halls of their childhood home (or should I say mansion?) or in Vanya’s grimy apartment. But when the scenes move into the suburbs or a local bar the magic is momentarily broken.
There was, however, a brilliant consistency with the academy’s assistant, the chimpanzee named Pogo (Adam Godley). Yes, he may be a thorn in the side of the story, but he is visually amazing. Seeing this level of digital design available outside of the movies gives me high hopes for the future of visual effects in television.
Although the actors vary in talent, each have amazing chemistry in portraying the dysfunctional family that is The Umbrella Academy. You won’t find a perfect story and the aesthetics aren’t always on point, but the character development and emotional growth that they experience make for an exciting addition to the world of Super Heroes.
The Umbrella Academy is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Review by Brittany Howarth