Review: The Umbrella Academy, Season One

Literally everyone I know started watching The Umbrella Academy pretty much the moment the series appeared on Netflix. In fact, one of my friends who works in film even helped make the show (it was filmed in Toronto). Perhaps more importantly, everyone I talked to seemed to like it.

The logo for the Netflix series The Umbrella AcademyAlso, Ellen Page is one of my favourite human beings, so I’m always happy to support her work.

So it didn’t take me long to dive into Umbrella Academy despite knowing very little about it.

Based on a comic book, The Umbrella Academy is the story of a dysfunctional family of superheroes. There were seven adopted siblings in the “academy,” all of which but one (Number Seven/Vanya, played by the aforementioned Ellen Page) have fantastic powers. Their adoptive father trained them to be heroes who would save the world, but after Number Five disappeared and Number Six was killed,* the team broke apart, and the dream died.

*(Like way too many things on this show, what happened to Six is never explained.)

The story begins with the remaining members of the academy reuniting for the funeral of their father. As old family tensions flare, events take a new turn when Number Five suddenly reappears after being lost in time for decades.

Shenanigans ensue.

Basically, it’s one part X-Men, one part Hellboy, one part Sanctuary, and one part Arrested Development without the jokes.

There is a lot that I don’t like about The Umbrella Academy. For one thing, it takes itself a smidge too seriously. I do generally prefer my superhero stories hew towards the gritty and realistic, but that only works so well in a story about a bunch of squabbling siblings whose main parental figures are a super intelligent chimpanzee butler and a robotic 1950s housewife.

The Hargreeves siblings in The Umbrella AcademyAlso, as I said, this show doesn’t explain anything. I get that too much exposition can bog things down, but seriously, WHY DO THEY HAVE A TALKING CHIMP BUTLER.

It’s clearly a show that wants to be taken seriously, which is ironic when you realize Umbrella Academy is actually a very simple story with very few genuine surprises.

There’s pacing issues, too. The early episodes really drag, while the last few are almost rushed.

Despite all those complaints, though, this is still a series that I found more enjoyable than not, on balance. Mainly because it has two big things working in its favour.

The first is the cast. Pretty much all of the characters are compelling, and the acting is pretty excellent. I’m especially fond of Number Five, who is just such a delightful little curmudgeon. A show like this lives or dies by the strength of its characters, and that’s the one thing I can’t fault The Umbrella Academy on.

The other is that I’m a big fan of this kind of story. There’s a reason the X-Men have always been by far my favourite superheroes. Eclectic bands of weirdos trying to save the world despite their own flaws? That’s my jam.

And that, I think, is how I would define Umbrella Academy: It’s good if you’re a fan of this particular subgenre. It’s not the best example around, but if you like these kind of stories already, it’s good enough to satisfy. If you’re not already a fan of these tropes, I doubt Umbrella Academy would win you over.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Advertisements

Anthem: Story Complete

I’ve now come to the end of the story content in Anthem. The main plot ended as it lived: forgettably. But that’s okay. The main story isn’t what makes Anthem special.

My storm Javelin prepping for a mission in AnthemIt is the side stories where Anthem reaches its full potential. The game captures the fantasy of the “Free Lancer,” a science fantasy knight-errant, very well as you explore contracts and freeplay, policing the wilds of danger and making life safer for the ordinary people of Bastion.

Interestingly, the side missions and conversations continued for quite a while after finishing the main story. I’ve played plenty of games where it was possible to keep pursuing side missions after the main plot, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a wealth of side stories that only unlock after the big plot stuff is wrapped up. Seeing as the side stories and background NPCs are Anthem’s strength, I was quite pleased by this.

Oddly, even though I’ve now completed every last bit of story, I’m still two levels below the cap. Since there’s no content locked behind level cap (so far as I know), that’s not really a problem; it’s just surprising. How people were getting to thirty within the first week after launch I’ll never know.

I did manage to unlock my final Javelin, Ranger. The other Javelins took me a while to warm up to, so maybe I need more time with it, but so far this is my least favourite to date. It’s just a dude who shoots things and flings the occasional grenade. There’s nothing special about it.

At least the rocket barrage ultimate is satisfying, if a bit finicky to aim.

I remain quite happy with Anthem on the whole, but now that I’ve experienced pretty much everything the game has to offer, I will agree that it feels a bit anemic in places. It needs a bigger world, more strongholds, and more than anything else it needs more Javelins.

My ranger Javelin posing in AnthemThe current selection are all fun (some more than others), but since there’s little ability to customize the playstyle of each Javelin, there definitely needs to be more than four of them. We don’t necessarily need the ridiculous number of suits Warframe is offering, but we do need more options than this. Obvious choices could include a stealth Javelin, a support Javelin, or a pet-focused Javelin.

My understanding is that Bioware does hope to add more Javelins at some point, but that it isn’t a priority, which is concerning.

I do feel my time in Anthem is now winding down, though I may still pop in now and then. It’s good stress relief. But there’s upcoming free content updates to look forward to, and having gotten over sixty hours of good fun out of it, I’m quite satisfied I got my money’s worth.

It may not have blown me away the way Andromeda did, but Anthem turned out far better than I expected it to.