Review: Angsty superheroes reign in 'Umbrella Academy'
Like "X-Men" crossed with "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Umbrella Academy" is a pre-apocalyptic superhero story with family issues on its mind.
The Netflix series (its 10-episode first season hits the streaming service today) is much like the music of its creator, My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. It's dark and brooding yet accessible and poppy, tied together with sweeping, operatic grandiosity.
In other words, if you dig superhero stories, it's easy to buy in.
The set-up takes all of three and-a-half minutes. On a fall day in October 1989, 43 women around the world, who were not pregnant at the start of the day, spontaneously gave birth. An eccentric, reclusive billionaire, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), adopted as many of the babies as he could. "He got seven of them," we learn.
And those seven are your Umbrella Academy.
When Hargreeves mysteriously dies, the Umbrella Academy members, long since estranged from one another, reconvene at the mansion where they were raised. Among them: Luther (Tom Hopper), an astronaut who's built like a brick wall; Klaus (James Franco look-alike Robert Sheehan), a telekinetic drug addict just out of rehab; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), now a celebrity, who is able to manipulate people by telling lies; and Vanya (Ellen Page), the only member of the family with no apparent superpowers, although she does play a mean violin.
We catch up with the gang (as well as Pogo, their chimpanzee butler) and their reunion is far from joyous. No one can agree how to memorialize their father, who was tyrannical to them when they were children, or even if he should be memorialized. Late to the party is Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), a time-hopper who arrives baring unfortunate news: he's just back from the future, and the world is ending in eight days.
Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton show up in the second episode as Cha-Cha and Hazel, a pair of assassins sent to take out members of the Umbrella Academy. There's also a team of cops, lead by Detective Patch (Ashley Madekwe), investigating the sudden strange happenings.
That's a lot to chew on, but "The Umbrella Academy" successfully makes its case to viewers, even if early on the characters — especially Hopper's Luther, whose body prosthetics make it look like he's wearing an inflatable torso — lean toward the bland side. But there's enough angst and unresolved family strife between the members of the group to keep them, and the audience, hanging on.
Executive producer Steve Blackman (TV's "Fargo") brings Way's gloomy, glammy sensibilities to life; the first episode gets an "I Think We're Alone Now" dance break, and episode two features a department store shootout set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." The music cues alone are worth the investment.
Introducing a new family of superheroes into a world overflowing with groups of misfits with special powers is a tall order, but "The Umbrella Academy" is worth the enrollment. As creator Way once sang, welcome to the black parade.
'The Umbrella Academy'
Now streaming on Netflix