Many times when we watch superhero movies, everything looks completely colourful and you see the superheroes as exactly what they are – super humans that has powers only mere mortals can imagine. They have no concept of being a normal being. They are always the ones saving the day and being worshiped upon; there are no neutral feelings toward them either; it is either hate, or love. They live on the extreme side of the normal scale and so are the opinion toward them. Not ‘The Umbrella Academy’ though.
Before we head down that road though we must do a small bit of educating ourselves and you about the new Netflix Exclusive that everyone seems to be talking about. Why? Because the new Netflix exclusive is not an original story by a Netflix commissioned producer. It is an adaptation of a graphic novel written by a certain Gerard Way. By the way, Gerard Way is also the lead singer of My Chemical Romance Punk Rock band that used to be super popular when we were in high school.
If you’ve read the graphic novel, good for you. We have not and have no idea whether there are any difference in storyline or not. We would be happy to get some of that knowledge from you though.
If not, welcome to The Umbrella Academy review. Before we go on though, beware of a little bit of spoilers. We will try to minimise spoilers though.
So, The Umbrella Academy; what is it? It is not just another superhero movie like Justice League, or Avengers. That is because it is not a movie; it is a superhero series. You cannot even compare it to Marvel’s: Agents of Shield, because they are both very different.
Without giving away too much of the storyline, The Umbrella Academy is exactly about that; a family of superheroes that calls themselves The Umbrella Academy. So we are going to call the collective main protagonists The Academy.
It follows the story of six of our main protagonists through 10 episodes. These 10 episodes shows their journey toward their own self re-discovery and their collective goal of saving the world. Sounds like a typical superhero movie? Not really though; we will explain to you why later. It can be quite hilarious too following these characters when some of them do not even know that the end goal was to save the world from a horrible end.
Now, lets get down a little bit to the nitty gritty stuff; the visuals. That is also one of my personal passion points if I must mention. The way this thing is filmed, edited, and put together sometimes become the deciding factor to the things that I watch. Take “The Haunting of The Hill House” for example, ultimately I loved the way they work with the camera angles and framing making the film looks so good I cannot not watch it.
For “The Umbrella Academy” they made sure to use plenty of contrasting colour pallets to give a drastic change of mood or contrasting character feel in the show. For the most part, the main protagonists are usually dressed in dark and dull colours like brown, grey, or black. Even the most colourful character of the bunch usually dresses up in black. The only exception I can think of is when they first introduced Number 3; with her bright yellow dress. For the rest of the show though, she is dressed in mostly dull colours.
There are bright colours on some characters of course – about two seemingly insignificant character to be specific wears bright colours all the time. Well, one of those characters wears mostly one colour through out the 10 episodes. Thing is though, we do not think that the colours used are coincidences.
If you look at how Gerard Way writes his songs, you can tell that he has a dark sense of humour and grim way of looking at things. Just watch My Chemical Romance’s music videos and you can tell the goth influences on the band. That is sort of the tone that this show has; grim, dull, and seemingly dark.
Do not get me wrong, children can enjoy this show quite a bit too, barring the violent and bloody parts; not a lot of them. The film style though uses plenty of dull colours to bring the characters to life, to convey the complexities and the sort of character that they have become being a part of The Academy. Any contrasting bright colours become a sort of ‘ray of sunshine and hope’ in the lives of the members of The Academy, a sign of normality of some sort in their universe. In one of the cases though, the normal isn’t really normal at all; so in some sense, Gerard Way is telling you that normality is a lie. Yes, I know that is a grim way of looking at things but we think that the message there is quite clear.
The framing that they use most of the show focuses on the characters making the show feels like a character drama more than anything else. But rather than just having one character though, they have about 10 recurring characters that has a story to tell; well at least six of them has major stories to tell. The movie is set in the 2019 so everything that is normal currently is familiar in the show as well. Things like smartphones are present. The only oddity in the show is the type of firearms that are prominently used through the show. Sure, there are modern firearms here and there. The most featured firearms are the ones used in the world war II era, which also says that the premise of The Umbrella Academy is older than what it looks like on screen.
Of course there are a few background story shots to reveal the age of The Academy itself and sort of how it begun in the first place; by an eccentric billionaire. There are no special effects or differing colour schemes in the flashback scenes too making them feel pretty much a very ordinary part of the show and nothing out of place. Even the set, The Academy’s Manor where most of the essential conversation takes place in looks very similar in the flashback with the addition of the eccentric billionaire with some weird name. There are a few out of manor scenes in the flashback scenes though that uses period pieces accurate to the time setting they try to convey so that is great.
Overall, I personally really like the creative direction of “The Umbrella Academy”. It feels very much like the film “Kick-Ass” and even “Watchmen”. It does not have that colourful flair of say “Justice Leage” or even “Avengers”. The superheroes look very normal apart from their own quirks, unlike the superhero movies we are used to. The only difference between “The Umbrella Academy” and “Watchmen” and “Kick-Ass” here is the use of contrasting colours to signify normality and something special. In some sense “The Umbrella Academy” feels more like an odd superhero film that is shot in the style of the Dark Knight series with less shine and flair. It is more similar to something like “Mr. Robot” if you might. If you are looking for a feel good movie, this film style is not it.
The exact origins of each of the six protagonists are quite obscured and seem to be quite insignificant of story to be told. Well, of course the only special thing that you need to know about these characters are the fact that they are born at precisely the same time, in curious conditions. What caused the incident? We don’t know, they did not explain. We just know that this is a significant piece of information that might come in handy later. This also means that all of them are the same age, making it quite odd for them to have a hierarchy.
The show does a good job of introducing the main protagonists though. They are mostly introduced and made known within the first episode itself. Over the first episode itself too you get familiarised with what made these characters special, not the seventh member though. Throughout the show, you start to see each character develop on their own terms and abilities. You even get some very interesting development with one of the characters.
Not all the characters get a proper background story though. At least two of them gets very vague background which makes them look a little cold and disconnected from the norm, a little less human if you might. Even that became a little different in the end. The best part about this is that you do not even notice that they do not have a background story and are so odd, yet they feel like they belong in that universe, they feel normal for the setting of the show.
The story development of the show is nothing short of breath taking. It gives us enough context to know what is happening in the same episode while setting itself up for more episodes to come. The time travel concept and continuum is a little hazy and confusing at some time but it is not something that you cannot follow if you concentrate.
Most of the time, character dramas are filled with boring conversations and dialogues that can be significant to the storyline. Most of the time though, things that are said can be quite pointless if not for some showmanship. This show has its fair share of conversations throughout but none of them are insignificant. Every dialogue reveals more about the character, or other characters, or even what is expected to happen later in the show.
Every episode makes you want to keep watching the show episode after episode though. They keep you plugged in and focusing on the show because every detail becomes important later. The political aspect of this show is so good that it somehow feels like a baby “House of Cards”; well, maybe more like “How to Get Away With Murder”, but you get what I mean. There are new secrets to be revealed throughout the show which sort of develops or show in the development of some of the characters. The point is, the show keeps you pinned to your chair wanting more of “The Umbrella Academy” until you finish all 10 episodes. Then you want more “The Umbrella Academy” some more and anticipate season two.
We have said again and again that the show is not like any superhero movies. The tone is completely different and quite dull. In some cases some might say it is a bit monotonous. We must disagree on the monotonous part though. It looks a little unflavourful if you look at the filming tone and colour tones that they used. But the storyline does not focus on the special abilities these odd superheroes have. The focus more on how each of our protagonists deal with the fact that they were special and raised as special kids. It explores the psychological side to what they grew up with and how they were raised by this eccentric billionaire who seems very cold toward these kids most of the time. It shows the struggles these kids to try to be just as normal as their neighbours, the struggles of them fitting in with their special abilities and character. That, to me is quite brilliant.
The Music Choice
We usually do not mention anything about the music choice of a show that much. Most of the time we would comment on the sound design of a show or a film. For this one though, the audio design isn’t too special to take note of.
The music choice though, that is a different thing. One of the first few choices of song the director chose was “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. You can listen to it from Spotify here. What a song choice to bring set the mood of that particular scene though. By now you might have seen the dancing clip on YouTube. The dancing scene is very interesting scene in itself; but we will let you decide on that yourself.
That song became a sort of icon for the show and help set the tone for nearly the entire show; a little humour here and there, a little sombreness here and there, some insight into the most important characters in the show.
Of course there are other notable songs too. We will let you discover those on your own, obviously. The song choices are great though, very suitable to each scene.
The Verdict – Watch or Don’t Watch?
So we watched “The Umbrella Academy” so that you don’t have to. No we are kidding, we watched it, and analysed it so that you may not have to waste your time pondering whether or not this is a worthy watch. We are watching this so that we can tell you whether it is worth the watch.
The simple verdict to it is a definite “Yes” from us. The show feels polished and big budget. The films are well made and feels more like mini movies that contribute to a larger movie than episodes in a TV series. It feels proper and looks good; at least we love the cinematics. Some people may want more colours to be used, but we think the colours convey the mood of the show accurately and we love the way they used colours.
We love the story progress too, not too fast, not too slow – just perfect pace to hook us in and keep us there. The storyline makes our superheroes look like normal human beings with real emotions and mortal struggle. They are not immortals and they age like normal human beings. They sometime struggle to hide their powers and act like normal human beings because they were raised a certain way. These characters are relatable, very much like the person next to you and me; they don’t look and feel different. You sometimes forgot that they have super powers.
If you are looking for a feel good show, something like “The Good Place”, or a light hearted sitcom like “How I Met Your Mother”, you will not enjoy this. This is not some show where you turn your brain off and just watch for the fun of it. You do not have to do much thinking, but it still takes some concentration to get the story and to understand what is happening in every scene. The tone of the show is quite serious most of the time. But it is a good show, something anyone can enjoy and appreciate when they want a show they can talk about, a show with character depth and a good pace in character development. On the plus side, it is only 10 episodes long for the first season. So, yes; watch it.