The Umbrella Academy Review – Bastard Superheroes With Lives… Nice

Graphic novels always make for difficult adaptations, but they are an undeniable draw for those hoping to snare audiences. Not only do they have a starting base of fans, but they frequently provide the kind of storytelling that hooks people with complicated (if odd) characters and arcs that defy guesswork.

Truth be told, if comic book movies got a more authentic treatment, as opposed to a mix of generic “Hollywoodization” and an attempt to appeal to the expectations of people who don’t read comic books, they would look a lot more like The Umbrella Academy than The Avengers. Though that covers a lot of ground, it largely comes down to inverting the ratio of fight scenes to plot progression.

The Umbrella Academy, only because the simplicity of the comparison is unavoidable, is something like a darker, slightly more bonkers, version of The X-Men. There are actually few similarities between the two, except that a bunch of kids with powers grow up under the tutelage of someone extremely smart… and there’s kind of a Beast, but it feels a lot like The X-Men, because everyone is screwed up and they wander the halls trying to figure themselves out all the time.

On the same day in 1989, 43 children were born to women who showed no signs of being pregnant the day before. Billionaire industrialist, and all-around weirdo, Sir Reginald Hargreaves adopts seven of them, learns they have powers, and proceeds to train them into a force to help protect the world. As we enter the show, the now estranged, adult, brood returns home when Hargreaves dies, and it turns out that they may need to save the world after all.

The Umbrella Academy Review
photo courtesy Netflix

The show’s tagline is “Super Dysfunctional Family,” and just as we step into figuring out why this is the case, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) inexplicably returns home as well, after having been missing in time for the last 17 years. That’s its own long story, but the relevant point is that he knows the world is going to end in about a week, because he’s been there, and people are after him because they want to stop him from stopping it.

Where The Umbrella Academy really shows off its belief in its source material is in the fact that it takes very little notice of its characters powers, despite showing them off. Luther (Tom Hopper) isn’t the guy with superhuman strength, he’s the loyal, older brother who can never really figure out his place in the world, because he defines himself by his relation to others. Diego (David CastaƱeda) isn’t the guy who can move objects he throws at will, he’s the guy who can’t get out of his brother’s shadow and tries to break free from his father’s will by doing the very thing his father tried to force him to do. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) isn’t the woman who can control people’s minds, she’s the woman battling the loss of self that comes with the realization that she has never really done anything in her entire life.

Now, Klaus (Robert Sheehan) actually is just the guy who sees dead people, thus spending his entire life with the siblings’ dead brother Ben (Justin H. Min), but that isn’t really a superpower that gets you out of a jam… and will mess you up. Number Five is also the guy who can teleport and time travel, but he’s also a cranky, old man. Finally, there’s Vanya (Ellen Page), the one who never developed any powers, which perhaps gave her the weirdest upbringing of them all.

Sure, the end of the world is coming, but it isn’t because of the devious machinations of a lunatic. Our siblings are ultimately fighting against the people who are simply trying to make sure what happens is what’s supposed to happen, and the world is supposed to end. The premise is a little goofy, and the things this group of overseers travel through time preventing don’t make a lot of sense, but the result is that all we’re really fighting is fate. The consequences of actions that have set in motion a chain of events.

The struggle becomes mind-bending, and though this odd band of irregulars are faced with the weirdest events in history, they can hardly get through all the family drama and secrets that come to a head just by being around each other.

Amid the goth setting of a house that becomes a character and the surreal revelations of powers, robots, and hyperbolic parental craziness, the characters have to pull you in, and not only does The Umbrella Academy manage a cast that delivers, you almost hope everyone gets their own spin-off.

At a time when everything related to comics or graphic novels are especially hit or miss, and have largely gone for spectacle over substance, The Umbrella Academy is a fun, engaging showcase of what the medium is about.

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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