‘Umbrella Academy’ review: Wes Anderson + Superpowers

With the advent of the superhero genre taking over movies and television, many are either same-y soap opera, or for everything else, they seem to be cancelled, within some contract limbo. However, some wonderful adaptations of graphic novels have come about, with SyFy’s adaptation of Grant Morrison’s miniseries “Happy!,” and this year, “Doom Patrol” and “Umbrella Academy,” with the latter’s first season already being available to watch on Netflix. 

At first, Umbrella really seemed like a strange beast to me. The pilot wasn’t my cup of tea. Most of the characters were unlikable and unrelatable, and there really wasn’t much of a breakneck interesting plot to move things forward. However, it really got going with episode 2 of 10.

Based on a Dark Horse Comics series written by Gerard Way, “Umbrella Academy” a group of young individuals all born on the same day under mysterious circumstances, are adopted by billionaire Reginald Hargreaves, who founded the titular school. Hargreaves dies under questionable circumstances, so years later the siblings are brought back together. Portrayed by Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan and Aidan Gallagher, this group of siblings all have unique superpowers that set them apart. Whether that be teleportation or super strength, they all have something that make them unique and set them apart. Then there is Vanya (Ellen Page) who is the black sheep of the group, demonstrating no superhuman abilities aside from being very good at the violin. 

The cast is certainly where the series shows the most strength. While none are spared from the strange and off-putting pilot, the characters almost immediately click. Hopper’s Luther is a cartoonishly musclebound gentle giant that is immediately likable, as well as other standouts, particularly Sheehan’s Klaus, and Gallagher’s Number Five, whose strength lies solely in leaning into the intensely unlikable brat stereotype but puts a meaningful spin on it. All the characters are written and acted perfectly. 

One thing I appreciated about the series was the leaning into that crucial comic book atmosphere. It has that particular aesthetic of older decades mixing seamlessly with the modern day cold war-ish feeling to it, and while at sometimes a bit too self-indulgent, for the most part it has that fun feeling that is somewhere between “Happy!” and “Fargo.”

The story, when it finally kicks off, is great fun. Pairing a group of siblings, some likable and some intensely unlikable, who all lived under the tutelage of an incredibly flawed patriarch that damaged their characters in various ways. 

Now comes the time where I talk about a problem that is almost always a discussion point on tv series, especially streaming platforms, and that is pacing. Interestingly though, while some of it is definitely annoying when it appears, a lot of it is justified. There are several characters that needed to be fleshed out, and I can’t think of a character driven series that doesn’t have a problem with that volume of detailed characters.

Overall, if you get past the first episode, “Umbrella Academy” is a lot of fun. It builds episode by episode, all led by some fun characters that motivate you to keep watching.