Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, based on the Eisner-winning comics by My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way and Brazilian artist Gabriel Bá, takes dysfunctional family drama into the big leagues of superhero action.
The high concept: seven children, born at the same time, on the same day, are adopted by an eccentric entrepreneur and trained to become superheroes. It’s a story that mixes multiple storylines as you breathlessly try to keep up, and it spices up scenes with just the right amount of pop music.
The Umbrella Academy begins at the funeral of said eccentric entrepreneur, with the said sibling superhero squad that’s broken up.
While it’s not really revealed what caused them to drift apart, it’s clear the siblings’ antagonistic and crusty relationship with one another hides a familial love. This becomes a lot more obvious as the series goes on, especially when Number Five, who’s been missing, returns as his 12-year-old self right at the first episode.
Oh yeah, all of them have numbers for names, but everyone got real names except for Number Five.
Unlike Marvel shows like Iron Fist or Jessica Jones, Umbrella Academy doesn’t shy away from showing superpowers in action. You’ll see characters time travel, teleport short distances, conjure up dead ghosts, and even throw very accurate knives.
And while knife throwing seems pretty mundane, and talking to dead people isn’t altogether new, it’s the way Umbrella Academy puts it all together that makes you squeal with glee. One scene, which takes place between the dead and the living, had me almost forgetting to breathe. You’ll know it when you see it, and I daresay you’ll love it.
Tom Hopper plays Luther, Number One, who has a small head on a huge hulking body and unlike his siblings has a more mundane power in the form of super strength. He plays the character carefully, like a gentle giant, almost afraid of conflict, but knuckles down when the action calls for it.
Luther’s the leader, and he has to take care of his other siblings, like Diego, a knife-wielding vigilante played by David Castañeda, who thinks he should be the boss. Meanwhile, Luther’s affection for Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison, is clearly growing (remember, they are siblings, but technically unrelated).
Ellen Page‘s Vanya lacks any powers, and gets off looking pensive and sad while playing her violin. Robert Sheehan‘s Klaus gets away with everything by playing the fun drunk druggie who can see ghosts. Number Five, played by an ever-so-serious Aidan Gallagher, quickly became my favorite. He does a great job acting out the trope of the old man stuck in a kid’s body.
On the villain side of things you have Cameron Brodeur, who’s a blast as conflicted time-traveling assassin Hazel. His partner in crime Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), is a sassy killer. Both are hunting Number Five, for reasons that will be unveiled as you dig into the series.
The story builds slowly, making ample use of flashbacks (and some flash forwards) to tell the tale. Even by the fifth episode, I still wasn’t sure where the plot was headed, despite the looming apocalypse that’s about to take place.
What I did love, however, was the clever use of music — there’s a scene in which all the siblings retreat to their own rooms after the funeral, a record starts playing (Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now) and everyone starts dancing to the music. It’s a poignant moment of solidarity that reflects the familiarity found in a family unit. It’s clever and the choice of music really sells it.
Other memorable moments include a shootout scene with Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now blasting alongside gunfire, as Number Five teleports and dodges bullets to escape out time travelling hitmen while also escaping with the love of his life.
Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve heard anything from My Chemical Romance yet, but to be fair, I really only know one song from the band (that’s Helena, in case you’re wondering). Perhaps that will come later in the second half of the series, which Netflix did not make available for review.
With the first five episodes set up, the series looks set to end with a bang (hopefully not the apocalypse). Closing out with 10 episodes feels just right, and hopefully we don’t feel any of the slowness of some Netflix Marvel series. You’ll love the fast paced action, the use of pop music, and most of all, superheroes who aren’t shy to use their powers to kick butt.
The Umbrella Academy on Netflix streams globally on Feb. 15.