Text: Dina Klyuchareva
New Netflix Show "Umbrella Academy" successfully settled in the superhero niche, which became vacant after the service sequentially closed several Marvel series. "Academy" is a show not so much about superheroes and their exploits, but about the seamy side of life, personal dramas and childhood traumas (however, are there superheroes without them?). With complex family dynamics, the new Netflix hit is much more reminiscent of Haunting of the Hill House or This Is Us (adjusted for the monkey in pince-nez and time travel) than of any Defenders - and this is perhaps the big share of its charm.
Umbrella Academy is a screen version of the 2007 comic strip of the same name, published by Dark Horse. It was invented by Gerard Way, the frontman of the group My Chemical Romance, which broke up in 2013, and illustrated by the Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba. So far, the history of Umbrella Academy has three volumes - the first season was filmed on the first two. Way is currently working on the fourth volume, and there are supposed to be eight of them, and the team of creators already knows the unwritten ending. So that the scriptwriters of the project could work out the characters of the characters, Way specially painted for them the main points of the future, which awaits a family of orphaned superheroes.
In 1989, in different parts of the Earth, forty-three women who had not been pregnant the day before suddenly give birth to children with superpowers. Seven babies are adopted by eccentric billionaire Reginald Hargreaves. He gives them numbers instead of names and brings them up together with an affectionate robot governess, whom the children call their mother, and an anthropomorphic chimpanzee butler. Hargreaves is transforming their sprawling family into a superhero brand, Umbrella Academy. Teenagers with supernatural skills, dressed in masks and strict school uniforms instead of latex suits, fight against aliens and evil robots, save banks from robbery raids and become idols of their generation. But all this remains behind the scenes of the series - the youth of the heroes of "Umbrella Academy" emerges only in the form of rare flashbacks or oral memories.
The viewer sees the already matured, thirty-year-old Hargreaves, drifting apart from each other, but still suffering from childhood traumas. Luther (First) is a sad strong man of an unnaturally large build, most attached to his dad. Diego (Second) is a justice-obsessed knife thrower who is always under the feet of the police. Allison (Third) is a divorced actress with a superpower to convince others of anything. Klaus (Fourth) is a freaky medium with drug addiction who tries to drown out the voices of the dead in the abyss of alcohol and illegal substances. Vanya (Seventh) is a depressed violinist, the only of Hargreaves' adopted children, who does not seem to have outstanding talents.
When their guardian dies, the five gather again at the family mansion. Immediately reservations clarify the fate of the Sixth (he died on one of the old missions) and the Fifth, who disappeared without a trace seventeen years ago, but effectively returns in the very first episode, falling out of the gap in the space-time continuum to the feet of sisters and brothers all in the same school suit and socks. The fifth communicates terrible news from the future: in eight days, a monstrous cataclysm will wipe out all life from the face of the planet, so the Umbrella Academy must unite in order to save the world once again. And he is silent about something: he is pursued by hired killers from a secret organization to control that everything in the world happens according to a preconceived scenario.
Even a brief synopsis of the series seems like something far beyond common sense, but in an amazing way, all this fireworks of absurdity works great on the screen.The showrunner of the project is Steve Blackman, who previously worked on the series Fargo, Legion and Altered Carbon. Here, his love for all the best at once - surreal chaos on the screen and a combustible mixture of grotesque, black jokes, deeply buried drama and sudden dance numbers - finds, perhaps, its best embodiment. Many of the show's moments and style choices may seem vaguely familiar - and Blackman is not at all shy about revealing whose work he was inspired by.
The first place in the mood board is taken by Wes Anderson: the central composition of the very first shots of the series resembles almost half of his paintings, and the main characters are characters from "The Tenenbaum Family" and "Rushmore Academy". We have already seen the manipulative and insensitive attitude of the father to his children in "Heirs", and the tragic fate of the android ("I tremble or have the right") - in the "World of the Wild West." Blackman unfolds all the surprises and references to his favorite shows in the plot slowly, but tastefully - and at first I want to blame the Umbrella Academy for the typically Netflix-like protracted episodes. But with each subsequent episode, it becomes clear that it is precisely this imposing narrative that allows us to dig deeper into the characters and backstories of each of the heroes, and by the middle of the season the events are accelerating so much that even for a minute it would be a mistake to distract from the screen.
The cast of the series is another big hit for the show. The loudest name here is Ellen Page, who plays the androgynous Vanya. After "X-Men" she is no stranger to movies about schools of unusual children, however, this time she finds herself in the epicenter of a story that largely repeats the plot of the still unreleased "Dark Phoenix". The heroine Paige is an outsider, a girl who feels insignificant and unloved in comparison with her powerful brothers and sister. All her life she strives to get into their circle of the chosen ones, but she always remains overboard, cannot find her place in the world and family, and accumulates resentment while her relatives save humanity over and over again. “She is depressed, she is anxious, she barely understands what friendship is, let alone close relationships. She suffers, feeling her complete and utter uselessness. This path of the heroine is something. “Oh yes, can I please?” I immediately felt Vanya,”Paige says of her role, who herself has repeatedly experienced depressive episodes and difficulties in communication due to her fear of talking about her homosexuality.
Another revelation of the show is Robert Sheehan, who got the role of Klaus. This freaky queer character can compete in charisma with Sheehan's other reckless hero - Nathan from Dregs - and possibly win. Desperate and vulnerable as Klaus, Sheehan, "a cross between the Joker and James Franco" (as one critic writes), turns every scene with his participation into a farce and tragicomedy.
But the show's real discovery is young Aidan Gallagher, who plays the Fifth. His character is an "old soul," a skeptical grumbler in love with a mannequin from a clothing store. Thanks to the ability to teleport, the Fifth lived in a dark future until he was 58 years old, but returned to the past and again fell into the body of a teenager himself. Gallagher got almost the most difficult acting task - at the age of fifteen to play a hero almost half a century older - and he successfully copes with it, sometimes resembling the caustic Max Fisher from Rushmore.
It should be noted that Mary J. Blige's unexpected appearance in the series, in addition to her musical career, is known for her dramatic role in Mudbound Farm, for which she received an Oscar nomination. In Umbrella Academy, she plays one of the hitmen named Cha-Cha. As Blackman explains, Blige has long dreamed of trying herself in action movies and agreed to shoot on the condition that she was allowed to fight, shoot and perform a few tricks herself. Her partner is played by Cameron Britton, familiar to many for the role of the terrifying serial killer Ed Camper from Mindhunter.
Umbrella Academy has a fantastically successful soundtrack: nostalgic and eclectic - from classics like The Doors and Phantom of the Opera to the timeless hits of Morcheeba and Hooverphonic. A dynamic shootout in the store takes place to the brisk “Don’t Stop Me Now” Queen, and the touching dance of the two heroes, like the last time in their lives, to the romantic “Dancing in the Moonlight”. Even as a musician, Way, the creator of Umbrella Academy, gave the right to choose the soundtrack to showrunner Blackman. “He writes the songs right into the script because he always knows exactly where and what should sound - and it works, these tracks revive the feelings of the audience,” says Way.
Despite the apparently overpopulated genre of superhero adventure, Umbrella Academy stands apart - primarily due to the fact that the focus is shifted from the supernatural to the everyday: envy, resentment, longing, loneliness, jealousy, forbidden love, the desire to win the approval of a parent. For ten hour episodes, members of the Academy use their superpowers only a couple of times. For some of them, superpowers turn out not to be luck, but a source of suffering: because of the temptation to use the power of suggestion on a child, Allison loses custody of her daughter, and Klaus, overcome by the voices of the dead, is on the verge of death and madness at the same time. This is a story about how dislike in childhood prevents people from loving and appreciating themselves when they have grown up a long time ago. In the open finale, there is no good happy ending: quarrels between sisters and brothers are still not resolved, the possible salvation of the world is lost behind stubbornness, pain and fear of being vulnerable, and philanthropy and compassion give way to cynical pragmatism. Even superheroes are not allowed to choose their family - this is the harsh message of Umbrella Academy: put up with what you have, appreciate what you have, before it's too late.