Growing up reading “X-Men” comic books, I never really considered the psychological toll fighting crime and saving the world would have on the young super-powered characters that often populated the teams. With few exceptions, the books often glossed over how traumatizing all that violence and death could be.
The new Netflix series “Umbrella Academy,” based on the Dark Horse Comics of the same name series created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, dives head first into examining that trauma with a team young heroes who spent their adolescence saving the day before entering adulthood maladjusted, isolated and broken. In bringing the story to television, showrunners Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater have delivered a dark and brooding slog that never really gets off the ground, despite fleeting moments of entertaining stylized action.
In 1989, 43 women around the world, who showed no signs of being pregnant, simultaneously give birth to children. Eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), adopts seven of the children, who have superpowers — Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), Ben (Justin H. Min) and Vanya (Ellen Page) — and trains them to use their various abilities under the banner of a teenage superhero team called the Umbrella Academy.
Thirty years later, the estranged siblings return home when they learn Reginald has died under mysterious circumstances. Back under one roof, tensions run high and personalities clash as the siblings confront the pain of childhood and see how poorly each is doing as an adult.
The family is further rocked when long-lost brother Number Five reappears looking exactly as he did when he vanished 15 years ago. Five, whose abilities allow him to travel through space and time, has been lost in the time-stream for decades. He arrives with a dire message of an impending apocalypse, but the siblings may be too dysfunctional to work together to save the world.
Five’s mission is complicated by the arrival of Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton), a pair of time-traveling assassins tasked with taking him out and preserving the timeline.
With an intriguing premise and high stakes, the series should be a thrilling adventure. However, the characters spend too much time brooding and bickering. The result is a dour story that never lived up to the excitement of its premise.
Part of it is personal preference, and your mileage may vary. When it comes to superhero stories, I’m more “Guardians of the Galaxy” than “The Dark Knight.” I’ll take high-flying, quip-heavy superhero stories over the dark and gritty ones any day of the week.
There are a few high points. Klaus’ character is a free-wheeling train wreck, whose presence leavens the scenes he’s in. Similarly, Cha-Cha and Hazel entertain as the weary assassins, who are just trying to complete an assignment.
However, those moments of levity, as well as several stylized set pieces, feel tonally out of place amid this otherwise dark and subdued show. While the exploration of trauma and familial tensions is an interesting take on the teen superhero team, the execution of “The Umbrella Academy” fails to deliver the excitement I’m looking for in this genre.