'The Umbrella Academy' Review: A Bold Yet Familiar Take on the Superhero Genre

Netflix is no stranger to comic book adaptations, and its body of work with Marvel icons like Daredevil tell the tale. With superheroes at the top of Hollywood’s marquee, it’s no wonder the company is looking to expand its roster of crusaders, but Netflix is going a different route with its next comic book title. After all, The Umbrella Academy is up next, and it looks to be another hit the streaming service.

Having now seen seven episodes out of the full order of 10, The Umbrella Academy strikes the perfect blend of irreverent humor and dark introspection within its first seven episodes, paving the way for a show that Netflix will surely want to pursue. Originally created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, the comic book got its start years ago under Dark Horse. As you might expect from the frontman of My Chemical Romance, The Umbrella Academy revels in its macabre aesthetic and joint-aching twists, and these are all things Netflix embraces fully with its adaptation.

The TV series goes a little something like this: in a world where dozens of children are miraculously born, seven of them are adopted by eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The distant man raises his charges to be superheroes gathered under the banner of The Umbrella Academy. Despite his best planning, the team goes belly-up before long, and the grown, now-estranged kids are left to reunite after the sudden passing of their father. However, the death of Sir Reginald was just the beginning of an impending apocalypse, and the former superheroes are forced to decide whether they’ll work together once more to save their world.

umbrella academy production still
(Photo: Netflix)

At its core, The Umbrella Academy is a heroic tale with all the action you’d expect, but its interests lie with its characters. The six kids raised by Sir Reginald all weave complex narratives in the show’s debut season with a couple becoming standouts. Vanya (Ellen Page) is an immediate revelation as the acclaimed actress brings to life an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances; without any special powers, Vanya gives fans a relatable window to what growing up within The Umbrella Academy would be like, and Page nails a nuanced performance whenever she’s on screen. Other leads like Klaus (Robert Sheehan) bring life to the story’s often somber notes, making him the perfect mirror for characters like Luther (Tom Hopper) and Number Five (Aidan Gallagher).

The Umbrella Academy peaks with its spot-on character portrayals, and its cinematography and writing only complement them. Executive producer Steve Blackman went to painstaking detail to recreate key aspects of the series’ original comic, but the Netflix title doesn’t feel like a carbon copy. While this shift may upset die-hard fans of the comic, The Umbrella Academy is given breathing room thanks to these changes, but that isn’t to say the first seven episodes are pristine.

The introduction of the series’ unorthodox villains splits The Umbrella Academy in odd ways, though Mary J. Blige’s work as Cha-Cha is superb. With the show’s main cast expanded even more so, the pacing suffers as audiences are increasingly jerked back and forth between storylines. The uneven focus feels particularly jarring between the third and fifth episode, but the plot’s advancement helps smooth those transitions towards the end. If there is one complaint to be had with The Umbrella Academy, it is with its segues, but the issue is surely a growing pain for what will likely become another Netflix hit.

With the end of the world at hand, The Umbrella Academy manages to distill an apocalyptic narrative into something that feels familiar and personal. The separated leads pull together to make one exciting character drama, even if their arcs clash from time to time. As superheroes continue their rise in Hollywood, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy gives a decidedly different take on the genre, and it is one which new and old fans alike will be glad to add to their queue.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

The Umbrella Academy is scheduled to release on Netflix on February 15th. While the full show will run for 10 episodes, this review was based on the first seven.