The Umbrella Academy is the latest attempt by Netflix is make its mark on the superhero genre. Having been adapted from graphic novels, Umbrella Academy is a dark, yet comical spoof/twist of the more popular superhero stories. If I told you about a creepy, rich, and eccentric old man who collects children with superpowers, you might think of Prof Charles Xavier, but in this case, you would be wrong.
Whether you’ve seen Umbrella Academy yet or haven’t even heard of it, this review will contain a spoiler-free and a spoiler-full section, so you don’t need to worry about the show being ruined. Let’s dive right in!
One of the major selling points of The Umbrella Academy is undoubtedly the cast. Many of the characters are blatant caricatures of common superhero tropes e.g. the big tough guy who is essentially a naïve and stunted man-child with the emotional understanding of a toothbrush. At first, this gives them the appearance of ‘just another superhero show’ with little to no imagination. As the story progresses, we get to see each and every character develop, and the actors do a tremendous job of showing this evolution.
I have to raise my hand in salute to Aidan Gallagher who plays number 5. I think he’s only 15, but his acting ability is just incredible. Some may disagree with me, but I view him as the star of the show. Others are great as well: Robert Sheehan, who plays Klaus, is always fun to watch. If you’ve ever seen Misfits, which I believe is also on Netflix now but originated on the UK’s Channel 4, then you’re basically watching Nathan with an American accent. The rest of the cast includes Tom Hopper, David Castandea, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Mary J. Blige, Adam Godley, Colm Feore, and Cameron Britton.
The only actor I really had an issue with is Ellen Page. She stars as number 7 A.K.A. Vanya. It’s hard to tell whether it was Page’s acting or the character herself that I’m not really a fan of. I’ve never been a huge fan of her work, even in similar roles such as Kitty Price in the X-Men franchise.
The plot is weird, but in a good way. There are twists and turns here and there to keep you on your toes, and random moments of comedy hidden away within intense fight scenes work incredibly well. I found myself on the edge of my seat while also laughing out loud on a number of occasions. The show doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but that’s something we need. It’s got a sort of Deadpool vibe to it, but in a more successful way. Each episode is jammed full of goofiness, emotion, science fiction, intensity, and a range of other words that people would use to describe a dark, but funny superhero show.
My advice would be to give it at least 2 episodes. The first episode doesn’t do a great job of represting the rest of the season.
It’s difficult to discuss The Umbrella Academy without mentioning any spoilers as some of the content is just too good to not discuss. Don’t read any further if you haven’t watched the show yet, it will ruin the experience.
I already mentioned this in the ‘spoiler-free’ section, but I need to bring it up again. Aidan Gallagher’s performance in The Umbrella Academy is just incredible. As you’ll be aware, number 5 accidentally travels to the future where he discovers that the world has ended. The problem is, he can’t travel back. He ends up trapped there for 30-odd years (I believe), until he is recruited by an agency that works to keep things “according to plan” and uninterrupted by time travelling beings.
When we first see number 5 in the present day, he has just travelled back after deciding not to assassinate JFK. The gun he leaves in the past is a rather funny nod to the “conspiracy theory” that there was a 2nd shooter. Yet the amazing thing about 5 is that he’s an older man trapped in a child’s body. This is something I totally believed, thanks to Gallagher’s performance. The way he talks about theories, physics, time-travel, and just his general attitude towards the petty troubles of his family really came across as maturity and immaturity combine within one man/boy.
Of course, when we’re talking about interesting characters, it’s impossible not to mention Klaus, played by Robert Sheehan. At the start of The Umbrella Academy, I felt that Klaus was just going to be an American Nathan (Misfits), and in many ways he is. His “fuck it” attitude to life and those around him is incredibly comical within such a show. His need to be high all the time just seems like the attitude of a junkie, and when you learn that his power involves communicating with the dead, you sort of understand what led him down that path.
However, the truth of Klaus’s backstory is much, much darker. I mean Jesus Fucking Christ! To start with, you learn that his dad used to lock him in mortuaries for hours at a time, with no light, no food, and no way out. Klaus would have spirits screaming at him: white eyed, pale faced, and creepy as fuck! This is when he was just a child as well. We get brief glimpses of this whenever he starts to sober up.
However, after being kidnapped by Hazel and Cha-Cha, where ‘s tortured and eventually learns to talk to spirits in a manner that benefits both them and him, Klaus’s story takes a crazy turn. He accidentally travels to the 60s and ends up fighting in the Vietnam war for a year. Here, he falls in love, and watches his partner get shot in the chest and die, right in front of him. The way this sub-plot unfolded was brutal, and you really began to feel that Klaus has every right to be completely fucked up. I mean all of the kids do, but him especially.
I’m not going to talk too much about the plot. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, so what would be the point? What I will say, is that while being somewhat predictable and a little cliched, The Umbrella Academy manages to keep you entertained and intrigued. I said from episode 1 that Vanya would have stupidly crazy power and would be the one to destroy the world. That doesn’t make the journey to that point any less interesting.
The use of time travel in order to mix things up works really well. We get to see certain characters make crazy discoveries or developments, only for it all to be undone by the time-travelling number 5. This is an element that I hope they use in the next season, which I’m 100% sure they’ll greenlight any day now.
There are some super whacky moments within the show that sometimes feel a bit misplaced, but actually work to break the tension up a bit. For example, when Hazel and Cha-Cha accidentally eat Klaus’s weed chocolate, they end up burning down a building while dancing to music. It’s absolutely ridiculous but you just laugh and say, “what the fuck?”
As I already mentioned, The Umbrella Academy doens’t take itself too seriously. We never question how Luthor (Tom Hooper) gets to the moon or survives there for 4 years. There’s a whole alien scene that is completely glossed over without any real explanation. Not to mention why “The Handler” (played by Kate Walsh) doesn’t use her time-stopping power, which in itself isn’t really explained, to simply take what she wants. The last one might be understandable since she does constantly talk about how all the cogs in the machine serve a purpose. Anyway, these “issues” aren’t really issues, they are just moments that the show doesn’t focus on. If it tried to explain everything, it would get over-complicated.
I do have the odd criticism here and there. The Umbrella Academy, in many ways, is a spoof of the superhero genre. Think of moments in Deadpool where he just makes fun of the clichés that happen in every superhero movie. The Umbrella Academy is sort of like that. Most of the time, they are funny, but some of the jokes are just a bit much.
Take Luther and Diego (David Castaneda) for example. They are both just examples of your typical superhero characters. Luther is the big brute whose sole purpose is to save the world. It’s his duty and gets priority above all else. He doesn’t live his life, he doesn’t grow up, and he can’t handle the idea that his “purpose” isn’t really his purpose. Diego is just the hot-headed vigilante who doesn’t play by the rules. Both are ultimately just testosterone-fuelled idiots who let their ego make most of their decisions. Sometimes this is funny, but when it ties in with the main plot too often, I found it a little dull.
Other than that, my only criticism is that season 2 isn’t already released and ready for me to watch!
Thanks for reading! What are you thoughts on The Umbrella Academy? Let me know down below!
Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!
If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!