Will Put a Smile on Your Face and a Twist in Your Heart
Superhumans with daddy issues, an apocalyptic prediction, a mysterious Monocle, a talking chimp and the best soundtrack of the year, which I’m confident enough to declare a month and a half into the year. You’ll have fun with this one or you’re not watching it in the right mindset, but it will probably pull you into it, regardless of where your brain was starting out.
From the weird and wonderful mind that brought us the most influential alternative bands of recent times comes The Umbrella Academy, a thoughtfully adapted ten hour film that managed to keep the spirit of a very interesting comic book series alive.
The basis of this story is that the estranged adult versions of a child superhero family gather for their adopted father’s funeral and find out that the world is about to end. I don’t know how your family reunions tend to go, but it does manage to get more interesting from there. You’ll be rooting for them to save the world just as hard as you’ll want to shake some sense into them- again, just like most family reunions.
For those who are expecting outright dark and morbid scenes when the name Gerard Way gets thrown around, you’ll have to rely on the particularly peculiar undertones and deep storylines to get your fix. The Umbrella Academy doesn’t rely on steady footing or letting you get comfortable with a genre, rather jumping into the fun with a variety of excellent music juxtaposed against strained family drama. The music plays a character almost as real as the actual cast, while the heaviness of the actual storyline plays out practically clandestinely, as though it were normal.
Slow to start, but expertly paced, once the backstory is set, The Umbrella Academy quickly grabs your attention with stunning scenes and clever dialogue. Consequential actions and feelings are always well thought out, making this world a full experience. This show does not feel the need to spoon feed information to you; the audience is trusted to figure out what is going on at the rate information is being given. Only occasionally is a piece of inferable information spelled out, such as the fact that Sir Reginald Hargreeves never bothered to give his adopted children actual names, instead giving them the monikers of Number One through Seven, being stated flat out as a point of contention during a funeral scene.
Thoughtfully crafted in many small ways, this complex family shows realistic relationships in an unreal setting. From the minor alterations in the CGI effects to show how their powers advance as they gain increased control to the overall character arcs making natural flows from their unusual youths to adulthood. It would be too easy to compare these superhuman children in their masks and school uniforms to the mutants at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but for anyone who remembers and misses Pushing Daisies, you will get delightfully reminiscent vibes to that type of fantastical world.
The characters come to life in ways that make you genuinely care for them. You can easily feel the results of their unusual upbringings, full of expectations, but lacking in childhood comfort and normalcy, and the years they spent apart, becoming themselves. There are a few flat performances littered throughout, but the acting is mostly strong. Robert Sheehan’s performance is particularly well suited for this production- a video game character of a superpowered derelict who happens to pull off a skirt better than your girlfriend does, he’s the guy Tyler Durden would be apprehensive of. His over the top personality makes up for the accent that slips every now and again as he acts as a reflection for how normal most of the other characters learned how to appear. Playing dangerous rival siblings, Tom Hopper and David Castañeda bring some classic fight scene energy to the screen. The beautiful, telekinetic Emmy Raver-Lampman, Ellen Page, as the often underappreciated Vanya, and Aidan Gallagher, who does reasonably well as a character who basically plays two roles, unencumbered by spatial or temporal boundaries, filling the older and younger mental versions of himself in a consistently 13-year old appearance, round out the main cast. It is often difficult to take younger actors serious as mentally older and his method has an odd reminiscence of another aged-beyond-appearances character, Bernard the Elf from The Santa Clause. Even when the age isn’t believable, the stark snarkiness makes the character too likeable to actively notice it. Nothing is out of balance in this series that doesn’t seem to have an intent to its displacement, which results in a wonderful and beautiful level of absurdity and levity this creation makes the audience accept, even while they are trying to ward off the end of the world.
Lest you forget this is an adaptation of a comic book, there are villains with absurd mascot heads, a robot mom in early stage hardware dementia (Trigger Alert), and Dr. Pogo, a highly intelligent chimp, the later often ushering the story along and adding key pieces of information.
It’s weird and fun; it might not be for everyone, but I would advise you to give it a chance. Give this show a real chance, get into it, and just have a blast enjoying the ride and the superb music choices that go along with it. I bloody love it and you might just, too!
Easter Egg Theory: Don’t Stop Me Now