Review: The Umbrella Academy Season 2 – A more assured, emotionally satisfying sophomore outing

Every family has baggage – but it’s hard to top the issues The Umbrella Academy’s Hargreeves clan has been lumped with. Aside from their troubled upbringing by adoptive father, cruel eccentric billionaire Reginald Hargreeves, these superpowered siblings don’t just have to face down the end of the world, but their part in bringing it about, as well!

Season 2 of this Netflix adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s Dark Horse Comics series doesn’t make things any easier on the Hargreeves family, either. Stranded in 1960s Dallas, Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, ghostly sibling Ben, Five, and Vanya learn that they’ve brought doomsday with them, and they’ll have to find a way back to 2019 if they want to avert it.

Oh, and as if that weren’t heavy enough, there’s a trio of deranged Swedish assassins on their tail – sent by bureaucratic time police force the Commission, natch – and they have to say goodbye to the new (in some cases, better) lives they’ve made for themselves while time lost.

So yes, it’s safe to say that Umbrella Academy Season 2 pretty much doubles down on the zany high-concept hijinks that defined its freshman escapades. However, the difference this time around is that everything feels much more assured, resulting in a more briskly paced, emotionally resonant show which serves up a disarmingly affecting meditation on family alongside its more superficial razzle-dazzle.

Style finally equals substance

Not that there’s a shortage of bravura action set pieces in Umbrella Academy Season 2. Whether it’s the jaw-dropping continuous tracking shot of our heroes in action around the 10-minute mark of Episode 1 or the bloody boardroom meeting that kicks of Episode 7, showrunner Steve Blackman and his team haven’t skimped when it comes to stylishly shot and choreographed carnage.

Yet unlike Season 1, these OTT antics are properly integrated with the pleasantly propulsive narrative and carry real emotional weight. Rather than just spectacle for its own sake, every martial arts dust-up and superpowered rescue grows out of the plot and moves it forward, all while giving us a deeper understanding of who these characters are and what they want.

Despite its many plot twists, this deeper commitment to character development is probably the most pleasant surprise Umbrella Academy Season 2 has to offer. Under Blackman’s more confident supervision, the show’s writers have delivered beautiful, tender moments – the sensation of wiggling your toes in fresh dirt, or what it’s like to clown around with your brothers and sisters – to balance out the trippier visuals (themselves deployed in a more considered, effective fashion).

Great performances and even greater tunes

The upshot of this is that Umbrella Academy Season 2 gives its cast a lot more to sink their collective teeth into, allowing them to shine individually and as an ensemble. Of the lead actors, the stand-outs continue to be Ellen Page as Vanya, David Castañeda as Diego and Aidan Gallagher as Five, the latter of whom steals almost every scene he’s in.

They’re backed by a roster of strong supporting players; particularly Kate Walsh (a blast as the gleefully malevolent Handler), Colm Feore (adding some welcome depth to Reginald Hargreeves’ previously one-note characterisation), and newcomer Ritu Arya, who makes an impression as Diego’s love interest Lila Pitts.

But in many ways, the real star of the show here is the licensed soundtrack, with a pitch perfect mix of eclectic tracks – everything from Frank Sinatra anthem “My Way” by Sintra through to a “Wicked Games” cover by Parra for Cuva and Anna Naklab – setting just the right tone for proceedings.

A family story we can all relate to

Ultimately though, Umbrella Academy Season 2 doesn’t outdo its predecessor based solely on its slick action sequences, stunning CGI-driven visuals, engaging performances, or snappy song choices. No, what really clinches it is just how effectively Blackman and his cast and crew have nailed what it means to be part of a family.

At its core, Season 2 is all about family – whether that’s the family we’re born into, the family we make for ourselves, or somewhere in the middle – the obligations that come with being part of one, as well as about loving and being loved, and the choices (and sacrifices) that entails. It’s also about spending your whole life trying to live up to your parents’ impossible standards, something most of us can also relate to, as well.

That Umbrella Academy Season 2 is able to connect on such personal level while still delivering a satisfying superhero romp at the same time is truly remarkable – and should leave fans feverishly anticipating Season 3.

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