Seven super-powered siblings reunite to save the world, only if they can put aside their dysfunctional upbringings in Netflix’s new series.
The plot begins with 43 women miraculously becoming pregnant and giving birth at midday on 1st October 1989. A Phileas Fog looking gentleman, eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreaves (Colm Feore), adopts seven and proceeds to train the children in how to use their powers. Whether or not Hargreaves knew they would have powers, or it was just a happy coincidence is never fully explored – a common theme with the series.
Regardless the children are moulded into a crime fighting team.
Fast Forward to the present and we are reintroduced to five of the seven children now deep into adulthood, forcibly reunited by the death of their adopted father. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is now a junkie determined to dull his ability to talk to the dead. Diego (David Castañeda) is now a violent vigilante with, aside from his ability to control knives he has thrown, not a whole lot going on. Alison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) with the ability to influence people, is in the middle of a messy divorce after manipulating her power to attain fame. The stoic Luther (Tom Hopper) is the one remaining member of the Umbrella Academy, stationed on the moon where, to be honest, his super human strength is completely wasted. Then there’s Vanya (Ellen Page) a professional violinist and teacher who never developed powers, and yes, I know… Or did she?
Both Ben (Justin H. Min) and Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) are initially missing from the line-up, ominously referenced by oil paintings and statues erected in their memory. We soon learn that Five, who has the power to traverse both time and space, time-travelled as a child and never returned. Ben, who could transform himself into any creature from any dimension, died although the how remains a mystery. Despite their initial absence, both reappear within the first episode; Ben now shadows and converses with Klaus although the rest of the team are unaware, and Five manages to time-travel back – although it doesn’t quite work out as he is now trapped as 50 odd year-old man in an eleven-year olds body.
Five’s return coincidentally coincides with the death of Sir Reginald – or did it? Ok, I’ll be honest, the plot isn’t the subtlest– but it’s a comic book not Dickens, so I think we can forgive that. The world will end as we know it in the next few days, and Five has returned armed with a few clues to find out; How? Why? And, who? Simultaneously two time-travelling assassins, Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), have also appeared, with the intention of stopping Five at the bequest of a mysterious agency. And there in a nut shell is the plot, a quirky bunch of has-been superhero’s must reunite to save the world, if they can overcome their own afflictions.
If you want answers to the many questions the series raises then prepare to be disappointed, like; whatever happened to the other 36 children whom we presume would have developed super powers? How did the alien Sir Reginald Hargreaves know the world was going to end? Or that these children would have powers? And, how is that ape talking? This does not prove to be to the show’s detriment however, not everything needs to be explained to the audience – sometimes we are more then capable of making imaginative leaps, especially in a world where super-powered beings exist.
The show suffers with pacing issues, with episodes four till six feeling extremely slow. At roughly 50 minutes an episode, and whilst I appreciate the complicated relationships of this dysfunctional family is a major aspect of the show, I would argue it lacks a little on the action side by comparison. In a similar vein, not enough time is spent on the exploits of our characters childhood adventures. This is a comic series that focus’ so often on the banal over the exciting, a little more could have been done to remind us we are watching a comic book adaption. Furthermore, despite the considerable time spent developing our characters, its somewhat disappointing that few of them grow or change in any significant way reverting to type at crescendo of the piece.
Despite this it looks fantastic, never missing an opportunity to flex its productive muscles. From wonderful set designs including the house where they grew up, especially one shot that dissects the building to reveal all our characters dancing alone in their bedrooms to the same song, Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now, to the immaculately shot if not a little scarce action scenes. The soundtrack that accompanies The Umbrella Academy is another strong feature too, obvious parallels with Guardians of The Galaxy abounds. However, how the show subverts the context of the song is more akin to Tarantino, feeling less gimmicky than GOTG. Overall, the production values go a long way to making this series ultimately feel like a ten-hour movie, if you can get past the tedious middle act.
Klaus and Five are undoubtedly the reasons you will make it through those clunky slow scenes, where even our psychotic time travelling assassins procrastinate and lose focus.
Five’s uncanny impersonation of a man late in life is both unrelenting and flawless. His facial expressions, mannerism’s and vocal performance drive the entire piece, and even his relationship with a mannequin is believable . Klaus provides the roguish glue that holds everything together as it threatens to come undone. Meehan’s performance here is sensational, both hilarious and sad in even portions – a pirates of the Caribbean style Jack Sparrow, but with real depth.
With the torrent of big budget original content from Netflix showing no sign of letting up, it can be tricky to determine what’s worth spending valuable downtime on. I would recommend at least giving the Umbrella Academy a watch – and if you get over the mid-season hump, you will not be left disappointed by how it concludes. Room for a second season is very obviously left but with Netflix’s recent culling of superhero franchises, it remains to be seen whether they will pursue the story.