Who’s Who in ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Netflix’s adaptation of The Umbrella Academy seems to have impeccably translated its ambitious source material. At least, that’s what I’m getting from the series’ minute-long teaser trailer, which gives us a quick rundown of the events leading up to the titular group’s formation. The teaser also manages to hint at much kookier storytelling possibilities. Watch it below.

For the uninitiated, The Umbrella Academy follows the maladjusted adventures of a discordant family of superheroes as they reunite after their father’s death. The visual bombast found in writer Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá‘s Eisner Award-winning comics is translated here into a different but equally stunning beast.

The series appears to borrow heavily from the comics’ first volume, Apocalypse Suite. However, some key additions from its sequel, Dallas, do appear in the teaser, effectively merging the most memorable moments of an uncanny universe — one that includes time travel and talking apes — into a cohesive whole. Let’s break all this down together.

An eerie, pulsating version of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” starts to lilt from a record player, courtesy of this shadowy figure. We can’t see their face, but given their proportions, my money is on Umbrella Academy member Luther Hargreeves / Spaceboy (Tom Hopper). Whether or not this song remains a diegetic choice in the actual series once it’s released is a different story. Nevertheless, it’s already fitting for the troubling events percolating within the narrative.

One of the key aspects of The Umbrella Academy is that time is relative yet narratively significant in the comics. The fact that we’re specifically throwing back to 1989 for the series makes me immediately draw some symbolic links between the birth of these superpowered individuals and the tail end of the Cold War. Of course, it works to bring our characters up to speed in the late 2010s as well.

Nothing like a line of identical nannies pushing some labeled prams filled with these special babies across what could be the Academy’s grounds. This perfectly balanced shot is coupled — and kookily juxtaposed — with a clip of one of the many strange births (these women weren’t “pregnant when the day began”).

I love the swiftness in which this trailer establishes Sir Reginald Hargreeves / The Monocle (Colm Feore) to be kind of an asshole. “I have adopted six such children, gifted with abilities,” he proclaims at a press conference touting the team he’s put together. Just a transition ago, a family of seven kids is unveiled by someone who could be his wife, Grace Hargreeves.

“I give you, the Umbrella Academy!” One of the most prominent images from Way and Bá’s books is the simple masks sealed over the Academy members’ eyes. There’s something mischievous about them. They are also effectively blank and unsettling, given the true extent of these children’s powers.

Speaking of which, it’s time to properly introduce the gang. Number One is Spaceboy, a brooding man with a largely solitary life among the stars. Imbued with superhuman strength, the Spaceboy in the comics gets his head transplanted atop the body of a gorilla by The Monocle after a failed trip to Mars. But substituting that gnarly image for a large and tall human cuts a similar enough silhouette.

Portrayed by David Castañeda, Diego Hargreeves, also known as The Kraken and Number Two, is one of the more abrasive members of The Umbrella Academy. He can breathe underwater indefinitely and also exhibits a proclivity for knife-based combat. In Apocalypse Suite, he is established to operate as a lone vigilante before meeting back up with his estranged siblings and has an especially tetchy relationship with Spaceboy.

Then we get to Emmy Raver-Lampman‘s Number Three — Allison Hargreeves / The Rumor — who happens to be my personal favorite of the lot. The Monocle may describe her as “narcissistic,” but her powers are simply delightfully insidious. I’m actually wary of trusting what we’re even seeing in the trailer when it comes to her because The Rumor’s power manifests through lies. She can manipulate whole realities through speech.

Robert Sheehan plays Klaus Hargreeves / The Séance, the fourth in The Umbrella Academy line-up. His stellar skills of telekinesis, levitation, and the ability to contact and possess the dead are offset by heavy drug and alcohol abuse and a rather morbid personality. He does get plenty of the jokes in the comics, though, making Sheehan the absolute ideal actor for the job.

Now, Number Five is a serious conundrum. Known simply as The Boy, Aidan Gallagher‘s unnamed character can travel through time. Still, he doesn’t just go far enough into the future see the world’s end. His experiments with time-hopping have kept him as a child, despite the fact that he has the psyche of a much older, more cynical man.

While there is no title card for Number Six, I do expect Ben Hargreeves / The Horror — a character with dimensions under his skin — to pop up in flashbacks, even if he’s long gone in the present day. He is in the family portrait, after all.

Yet, one of the biggest enigmas of The Umbrella Academy is the very ordinary Number Seven, or Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page). She is the most distanced from her family due to her perceived lack of superpowers, although she makes up for it by being a violin virtuoso. Her path to self-discovery drives Apocalypse Suite and I don’t doubt it will do the same with this Netflix series.

As we’re introduced to the ruthless intergalactic mercenaries Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), we begin treading Dallas territory in the show. Nonetheless, it’s a no-brainer to include these maniacal mask-donning characters in the series. Their bloodlust and brilliantly devilish personalities inject a real sense of affront to the proceedings.

This shot only appears for a split second in the Netflix teaser, but it is brimming with visual impact that I had to point it out. The divisions of the Academy walls are reminiscent of the layout of a comic and with each member dancing in separate rooms, we catch a glimpse of how disparate yet tethered they all are.

I’ve yet to decide if seeing Hazel and Cha-Cha’s actual faces could dilute iconic personalities. Their perpetual unknowability in the comics is tied to the creepily cartoonish masks that they constantly wear, which adds volumes to their villainous visages. That said, nobody should cast Blige in anything and make her cover up her face. So, I’m open to giving this a shot.

He’s been shown in publicity stills and has popped up earlier in the trailer. Now, we get a good — if brief — close-up on Dr. Pogo (Adam Godley), the talking chimpanzee who acts as The Monocle’s closest assistant.

The teaser ends on several rapid-fire cuts indicating the inevitable overwhelming dilemma faced by The Umbrella Academy. “The world ends in eight days. I don’t know how to stop it,” says Number Five.

To which Vanya responds, “I’ll put on a pot of coffee.” What an appropriately deadpan zinger that complements the dour reality of these misfits banding together reluctantly to save the world.

Of all the references and tidbits already present in the trailer, I’m particularly intrigued to see exactly how Netflix changes multiple elements in The Umbrella Academy. The medium of TV requires them to be more concretely fleshed out than its evocative comics counterpart. Regardless, these changes aren’t so far removed from the spirit that makes The Umbrella Academy engrossing in the first place.

That’s one of the reasons I jumped for joy upon hearing that the film of The Umbrella Academy that had been commissioned almost a decade ago would come to fruition in multi-episodic chapters. It’s a rich story with so much more world-building to explore and from this teaser alone, it’s off to a promising start.

The Umbrella Academy will premiere on Netflix on February 15, 2019.

Sheryl Oh :Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Curator of daily stuff and things here at Film School Rejects.