There’s been a lot of comic book content coming out of Hollywood lately, and after setting the sun on the Defenders branch of the Marvel Universe, Netflix dropped their originally-produced adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series The Umbrella Academy. It may be easy to see this as “just another superhero story,” but after giving it a go, we’ve found eight reasons you might actually want to give this one a shot. And, bonus– this is all spoiler-free, so you’ll be able to discover all the juiciest bits for yourself.
1.The Source Material
The Umbrella Academy started as a three-edition comic book series penned by Gerard Way (yes, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way). Set in an alternate timeline where JFK was never killed, the story focuses on seven of 43 children born in a mysterious cosmic event where nearly 50 women (previously not pregnant at all) give birth at the same time. Those seven are adopted by an eccentric billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves, who raises six of them as superheroes and isolates the unremarkable but musically gifted seventh child, Vanya, from her siblings.
It’s a lot to unpack, but the Netflix series (which Way executive produces) streamlines this pretty well by focusing on the family and largely focusing on adapting the first volume, The Apocalypse Suite, which focuses on the family coming back together after the death of Hargreeves, and including some references to the second volume, Dallas. With characters that address issues of divorce and drug addiction, it finds a way to stay grounded even in its fantastic universe, and it tells a great story of siblinghood and growing up as a prodigy child.
2. Ellen Page
First of all, Ellen Page with a violin. That alone is reason enough to watch this.
Page plays Vanya Hargreeves, the ordinary violinist who earns the ire of her family by writing an autobiography about growing up in the Hargreeves household. While Vanya’s character progression is slightly different from the comics, Ellen Page does a really good job playing Vanya and showing a sympathetic and relatable character growing into her own outside the shadows of her famous family. It’s also fun to watch her build a bond with Allison/The Rumor (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who seems to be the only one of her siblings who respects her as a person despite her status of ordinary. Which, actually, that reminds me…
3. The Siblings
These characters are so much fun to watch. Between the rivalry of super-strong Luther/Spaceboy (Tom Hopper) and Diego/The Kraken (David Castañeda), who has the gift of perfectly aiming everything he throws, the haunting of spirit-connected Klaus/The Séance (Robert Sheehan) with his deceased and monstrous brother Ben/The Horror (Justin H. Min), and the mysterious history of Five/The Boy (Aidan Gallagher) all make for interesting and compelling moving parts that make the story feel full. Everyone has their own quirks and struggles, making each character feel unique and fleshed out, and there’s something about everyone to root for.
4. Hazel and Cha-Cha
Hello, who doesn’t want to watch Mary J. Blige as an assassin from a mysterious organization?
Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Blige) catch the family in their crosshairs because of their connection to Five, and honestly, they are way more enjoyable than any secondary characters have any right to be. They have great chemistry as partners and actually carry kind of an interesting little side story together. (AND they don’t get shoved into a relationship at the end, which I think is a major bonus.)
5. The Music
With the main character being connected to music, it’s kind of a given that the show should have good music, which is fantastic, because that’s exactly what they had. Vanya’s violin music is incorporated throughout the score of the show, and there are also lots of great upbeat pop and rock songs to keep the flow of the show moving. Often they get incorporated into action sequences, like Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and The Turtles’ Happy Together, but they also once or twice take a break from the action to have a dance scene– no, I’m not joking, and no, it doesn’t feel out of place. It jives just fine with the quirky feel of the series, and it provides for some fun moments alongside the series’ more heavy material.
6. The Costumes
The comic series takes place in 1977, but the Netflix series is changed to take place in 2019. This means that there are some incongruencies– the siblings’ robot “Mom” is styled after a 1950’s Stepford-style housewife, but Allison dresses in modern-trend wide pants and leather jackets– but that’s part of the charm of the series. What’s really unique is the design of the Umbrella Academy member costumes, complete with classic superhero-stylized domino masks with whited out eyes, pulled straight off the cover of a comic book. Kate Walsh’s Handler also has my favorite costumes of the whole series, with her vintage dresses and coats in highly-saturated colors.
7. The Mansion
While a lot of the sets are the same kind of slightly run-down muted you see in a lot of superhero media, the Hargreeves Mansion is an awesome set with lots of neat little details, from the Umbrella Academy logo on the doors to the kindergarten-style combat instruction posters in the hallway. It also houses the childhood rooms of the different members of the Academy, which give lots of insight into their personality, like Allison’s multitude of poppy posters and Luther’s space paraphernalia. The general spaces, like the kitchen and the sitting room, also are really well-designed and give off a Wayne-esque vibe that feels like a tribute to comic media without feeling like a carbon copy.
8. The Cinematography
There are so many gorgeous shots in this series. The title cards are clever, each one a different placement of an umbrella that draws your attention. The fight scenes are smooth, easy to follow, and appealing (an early fight between Five and some hitmen in a donut shop is a particularly fun show of his powers), and it balances serious and snappy. A flashback with Klaus is fantastical and over-the-top, but Vanya’s scenes are fittingly very simple and subtly-composed. The end of Episode Seven has one of my personal favorite shots of the entire series, a very simple tracking shot that has a lot of impact. The cinematographer knows the screen space and knows it well.
The Umbrella Academy is a fun romp with a dark edge. Quirky and gritty, crazy and touching, this wild class is one that we hope isn’t going out of session just yet.