The Umbrella Academy: An Honest Review

Passable, very enjoyable at times, but still not my Academy.

So I start my morning at 5:35AM in the Dunkin Donuts drive through. I was up late plowing and decided I’d wake myself up with a coffee and Boston cream donut. Yet, to my displeasure, I live in modern America. An America were Dunkin Donuts doesn’t even make said donuts on site, they have them delivered. As you can guess, the delivery was yet to be delivered…and I drove on Boston cream-less.

For one reason or another it gave me the urge to write this review. A review that will surely draw criticism as well as people dubbing me an “Umbrella Academy snob”, and that’s just fine. I’ve put my time in since the first issue of Apocalypse Suite hit the racks in 2007. Ive earned this review.

Airing on Netflix this past Friday, I was able to finish the ten part series in four days. I’ve been waiting for this to be adapted on-screen since its inception and I wanted to thoroughly take it in and enjoy it as much as possible. To sum it up in a word; passable.

It was par for the course. Some scenes “wowed” me and others left me scratching my head. Some of the changes were necessary and some were far too safe. When the MCU can make a talking raccoon and talking tree, whom says three words successful, other comic book companies need to take more chances with their adaptations. That being said, I’m fairly certain that I am in the majority when I say that the soundtrack saved a lot of scenes.

We can start with the obvious; diversification. The social justice warriors won this one. This series caters to them. I’ll never be on board with the pressure that the media and Hollywood celebrities put on filmmakers and casting. Changing ethnicities, races, sexual orientation etc. solely to appease a specific agenda is simply something that I cannot support.

The lead actress is one of the main voices of liberal nation, and I can only speculate that she had quite a bit of say in this adaptation. During Chris Rocks opening monologue at the 2016 Academy Awards he made a ridiculous comment “Leo (DiCaprio) gets a great part every year…” Uhmm what? Jordan Belfort, Hugh Glass, and J. Edgar Hoover are all white people. Hence, why a white male played them.

Now if Leonardo DiCaprio was cast to play Martin Luther King Jr., then yes, there is absolutely a problem with Hollywood. But that isn’t the case. Let’s look at it from another perspective. Michael B. Jordan (fine actor I might add) is now in the mix for Batman/Superman. Imagine the uprising and noise if Black Panther 2 was starring the new Black Panther; Zac Efron. People would be in a frenzy.

If you want to make subtle changes to stories, that’s fine, but let’s stop advertising it as necessity to make only a portion of people happy. Stick to your guns and standards, it’s something most people no longer do today.

I’ll start with a character breakdown before I delved into final thoughts. Although I will say that I have no idea why they felt putting the Academy smack dab in the center of a city block made any sense. The comic was much more apropos, having it on the outskirts of the city, off in the distance.

Spaceboy/Luther- Aside from the absolutely asinine club scene, where Spaceboy is drunk and high, Tom Hopper did a fine job. Spaceboy has always been one of my favorite characters and I feel they did him justice. I would have liked to see his traditional look as far as the tubes and tank that he wears on his back, but they did a solid job. The dancing scene with The Rumor in the park was fantastic. A great song mixed with an elegant and fun dance routine. I also liked his big reveal when the chandelier falls on him, though I kind of got a Jekyll and Hyde feel as well.

Kraken/Diego- At first casting I wasn’t sold on David Castaneda. I didn’t think that his look fit nor did I like him for the role. To my delight he grew on me and held his own. His fight scenes were great, and the choreography was high quality. It would have been nice to see him with only one eye, and I would have loved to see his Vietnam sequence, but maybe they will focus more on Dallas in the second season. I also would have loved to hear him say “Then too bad Vayna isn’t here. She could play her Violin.” Something about the line at their father’s funeral just does it for me. I didn’t think the romance with Eudora Patch (a poor persons Inspector Lupo) worked, but I suppose they wanted to give him some depth. I don’t think he needed it.

The Rumor/Allison- Aside from the needless race change, she was great. Emmy Raver-Lampman is stunning and a good actress. I enjoyed that she used her power to her benefit in this, as most people with her power would. In the comic, she is just depressing, especially when she talks about her estranged home life. The scene where her throat is cut is pretty gruesome, but I give it a thumbs up. I look forward to her being utilized more in this series and other projects.

Séance/Klaus- What a pleasant surprise. Robert Sheehan was outstanding! They of course had to make him homosexual, but it works. Hell, in the comic book you pretty much have that thought all along had it not been for a few lines in the Dallas storyline. His performance was so refreshing. Two great scenes were the flashback with Sir Reginald Hargeeves and with God as depicted by a young lady on a bicycle. I did thoroughly enjoy the latter scene, but would have equally loved had they kept it true to the subject matter. God interpreted as a black and white, fairy hating cowboy was funny.

Number 5- Hmmm. I don’t quite know what to take from this role. Aidan Gallagher both annoyed and impressed me. I loved what they did with Doloris, but at times he just came off as a clown. I understand it is very hard to cast a young person to play an old person, and I applaud him for the effort, but he was inconsistent. His mannerisms and tone weren’t consistent throughout the series. He also wasn’t as maniacal as I’d hoped. The coffee scene is the best panel in the entire comic book and had it not been for the music playing in the background, I feel it was watered down. He didn’t even say “Thank you for the coffee.” *sigh*. He had redeeming moments, and maybe once I watch it a second time through, I will enjoy his character more.

The Horror/Ben- Awesome. Just awesome. One thing the show really got right. Séance can talk to the dead, so why wouldn’t he be talking to his fallen brother then entire time? Excellent. The scene at the bank when Ben is a kid was one of the show stoppers, as well as his finale when Klaus conjures his spirt. His character has such potential to be great.

The White Violin/Vayna- I’ll do my best at not expressing my distaste for Ellen Page. She was adequate. Like many of her roles, she doesn’t bring much to the table. Lucky enough for her, Vaynas character doesn’t have much charism or depth anyway. Perfect fit. I understand for the sake of the show, they couldn’t go all out and make her look exactly like the comic. With what they did do, I thought it was a pretty neat effect. She certainly did look creepy and menacing. Something that I wish we would have seen was The Orchestra Verdammten. The comic panels where she breaks a string on her violin and they all begin applauding is great. I just couldn’t roll with the silly love story with her and goofy Leonard. I’d much rather seen some mad scientists experiment on her, in turn giving her powers, but I also didn’t mind having her channel her power through her violin. I can only wish that The Rumor would have moved that gun a few inches to the left.

Hazel and Cha Cha- Bloody hell. Just awful. The worst part about the show. Hazel and Cha Cha are supposed to be these sugar addicted neo-assassins. They’re so bad, Number 5 is even terrified of them. Yet in this, everyone and their brother beats them up. These two could have been so zany and fun, and instead we got two of the three stooges and slapstick nonsense. In Dallas when Hazel and Cha Cha are mentioned, Number 5 utters in a terrified manner “We’re already dead”. Yet in this, they can’t kill anyone. Scratch that, Cha Cha does kill Patch, when her back is turned. Other than that, we have just complete rubbish. The Hazel and Agnes storyline was just ridiculous. Their only redeeming scene was where they tortured Klaus. Otherwise, they should have left their masks on like in the comic books. It would have saved budget cost on casting Mary J. Blige.

Now don’t get me wrong, this series was not bad. I admit that I am critical of it. As an avid reader of the story, I can appreciate the brief homage to the Eiffel Tower and Dr. Terminal. I just feel like so much was left on the table. There is so much color and fun in the pages of the two story arcs they used, and I just didn’t see as much of it as I would have liked.

But what do I know? IMDB users seem to love it, as well as most other critics. I enjoyed it for what it was worth, which is a streaming adaptation. I do in fact look forward to season 2 and if you haven’t read the stories yet, I suggest you do. Hotel Oblivion, the third part of the comic book is out now, and Way’s writing with Ba’s artwork is phenomenal.

Also if you didn’t heed my speculation alerts you should have. Umbrella books are going crazy on electronic bay. If you see cheap copies of the series, pick them up. With Marvel leaving the streaming service, Netflix is going to have to bank on some properties to keep up with Disney+, and this might be the one they believe in.

3 ½ out of 5 brewskis. Now I’ll drink to that.

21 comments

  • Avatar

    “The Rumor/Allison- Aside from the needless gender change, she was great.” So Rumor was a male in the comic book?

  • Avatar

    Wasn’t sure until about half way through the season, when I felt it really improved, and I’m now really looking forward to season 2.
    I haven’t read the comics, but after reading this, I’m thinking it may be a negative for some?
    Totally disagree about No 5 – he was the total standout for me. Incredible feat, especially given his age and experience.

  • Avatar

    I have Netflix I also don’t appreciate Ellen Pages ..ahhhh. particular talents, sniff sniff

    I HOWEVER loved DOOMPATROL, it was absolutely smashing! sniff sniff (drinking tea, with pinky pointing out)

  • Foxom

    You read my mind A.J.

  • Avatar

    I’ve been a fan of these comics since they came out. I had to force myself to finish the first episode. I found it sub par and annoying. I usually stick to it when it’s comic properties, but after all the time I wasted with most of the Netflix shows, I’m going to stick to my Game of Thrones rewatch. Great write up!

    • A. J. Diesel

      I’ve never got into Game of Thrones. Should I give it a try?

      • Foxom

        WTF?!? Yes of course. If you ever enjoyed anything you’ve seen on TV then you’ll like GoT because it’s easily the best show ever made. GoT is to TV what Gretzky was to the other players in the 80’s and 90’s.

      • Avatar

        Ha! I don’t know if I can match Foxom’s enthusiasm, but in re-watching GoTh for the second time in prep for the upcoming final season I’m realizing it really might be some of the best writing I’ve seen. Six Feet Under used to hold that crown for me, but as a faithful watcher of more recent shows like Wlking Dead and the Marvel Netflix stuff, and seeing the decline of those shows due to phoned in writing, I really can’t find anything in recent memory (stuff like Breaking Bad included) that can come even close.

  • Father_fanboy

    (CAUTION–BIG SPOILERS AHEAD….as if there haven’t been already if you’ve gotten this far down the page, but still)

    As another long-time fan of this series that’s been reading every issue as it’s been released since way back (I got a few FCBD versions when they came out, then every variant possible of #1 as they got more affordable over the years) I think I landed in about the same place as you, though I was less annoyed with some things and more annoyed with others…

    I didn’t care about the couple of race changes, since the series establishes they’re all adopted right at the start from babies born around the world–it actually makes more sense that they’re more diverse than they were in the comic. The emo-kid group dynamic of the comic actually annoyed me about it more than anything else, so it’s nice to see them looking as diverse as they should have in the first place. I also liked number 5 and thought the kid did as well as anyone that age could have with a role like that (unless this were animated–which would have been awesome–I don’t think they could have pulled it off any better). I think his character will get more menacing in the season(s?) ahead.

    I agree and disagree about Ellen Page…The role for sure called for someone fairly bland (to contrast all the big personalities of the others) and she did fine with that–and I agree they nailed the menacing look of her final transformation without it looking overly silly. I don’t have the hate-on a few people seem to have for her, so that doesn’t really color my view of her acting. My biggest issue was (I think) the same as yours–they played it too safe with her character. While she might have turned a little too quick in the comics, they went too far the other way with the show in a bid to make her overly-sympathetic, rather than a straight-up villain like she was in the comics. In the comics she CHOSE to end up like that after being tired of not mattering, while the show both over-explains and has her be manipulated into it. Like you I’d have much rather see them go the comic route–her motivations made sense, but there was still a lot of menace to the character. I’m not sure how the comic orchestra would have played out, but they could have come a lot closer than the TV version did.

    That’s probably the biggest thing we agree on–they played it a little too safe. The Rumor’s storyline rings true, but as a dad of three I had a hard time believing the father would get that upset, unless they’d specifically agreed on that being a no-no to begin with. I mean, on the one hand I get it, but on the other, if you want to help your child with virtually anything and have the power (literally) to do it, you’d have a tough time ever reaching the conclusion that you shouldn’t. The reasons they broke up in the comic are less sympathetic (as they should be) while making more sense. I also agree about Hazel and Cha-Cha….they blew it with these two. BLEW IT. They could have been the coolest and scariest part of the show by a mile, but instead they turned it into an overly-cutesy story that got more and more ridiculous as it went on. Also, their interactions with Seance are one of the best parts of the books, and that was another unfortunate missed opportunity.

    So yeah, I landed pretty much where you did for slightly different reasons. As a huge fan of the books for years now it’s good to see it make it to a live-action version….I just wish they hadn’t played it so safe. Hopefully they’ll feel a little more freedom to get freaky with the Dallas storyline (presumably will be the plot of season 2).

    • A. J. Diesel

      Thanks for reading and the thorough response! I agree with quite a bit of what you’re saying. Thanks for the great insight!!!

      • Father_fanboy

        I was happy to do it–I’ve been itching to talk to this show with ANYBODY that knows the comics, but not a lot of people have read them it seems. They’re weird, but I did really enjoy all three comic series (so far)–the show has a good “feel” to it, it’s just a hair short of really capturing the comics. I did enjoy it though, well enough that I’m looking forward to the next story-line.

  • teknohed

    Been a long time reader via RSS. But just wanted to log in to give my two cents. I like the fact that they updated the cast to be more diverse. I agree with Chris Rock in this case. He is talking about systemic racism. the fact that leo gets all these roles is because Hollywood disproportionately makes moves about white people. And the fact that there would be out cry if a white guy played black panther is because black people are already under-represented in hollywood so taking away a role is not the same as recasting a traditionally white character with a POC. I think the recasting of the chracters in Netflix’s Umbrella Academy made me go back and reconsider the comic books which were laughably un-diverse in retrospect. Anyway, that’s just my 0.02.

    • A. J. Diesel

      Really appreciate our contrasting opinions! That’s what makes this type of stuff good. Thanks for reading and I appreciate the thorough reply!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.