Netflix has adapted Gerard Way’s (The Guy from “My Chemical Romance) superhero deconstruction and it both does and does not stand out.
In 1989, 43 women simultaneously gave birth to babies around the globe. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that none of the women were pregnant until the moment before they gave birth. A rich entrepreneur and scientist named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) became fascinated with these children and offered to buy them from their parents. Ultimately, he got seven of the babies and decided to raise them, discovering that each of them had a special ability. Rather than address them by their names, he assigned them each numbers based on how useful they were to him. Naturally, they grew up with a lot of issues.
Number 1/Luther (Tom Hopper) had super-strength. Number 2/Diego (David Castañeda) could throw knives with inhuman precision and control. Number 3/Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) was able to manipulate reality by lying. Number 4/Klaus (Robert Sheehan) communicated with the dead. Number 5 (Aidan Gallagher) could teleport and, poorly, time travel. Number 6/Ben (Justin H. Min) had monsters that were summoned from his skin. Number 7/Vanya (Ellen Page) can play the violin well… but not superhumanly so, making her the only one without powers. As children, they were a sensation.
Now, almost 20 years later, Number 6 is dead, Number 5 has been missing for years, and Sir Reginald has died. The remaining five come together for his funeral, only for Number 5 to finally reappear and inform them that the apocalypse is coming in the next two weeks, and it’s up to them to stop it.
One strength of this show is that it takes place long after the team’s “Golden Age.” Of the original seven, one’s dead, one’s a drug addict, one’s a vigilante, one is a vapid celebrity, one has been lost in time for decades, one wrote a tell-all about her horrible treatment for being “normal,” and the only one who was trying to keep the team together has been living on the moon. They are about as estranged as it gets, mostly because they were raised in a completely brutal and dehumanizing way. It’s showing us what would eventually happen if we actually had people like the X-Men or Teen Titans being raised in a way that tells them they’re completely separate, and better, than humanity. It gives us a new twist on the “gritty superhero” genre and it works pretty well.
All of the performances in the show are great, particularly Ellen Page and Aidan Gallagher, who have to portray the reject with the chip on her shoulder and the only sane man who is also slightly insane, respectively. Every interaction between the members of the Academy is different based on their history, allowing us to get a view of multiple facets of each character over the course of a seaons, making each of them seem much more complex than we usually get out of superhero archetypes. Two of the villains in the show, Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), likewise are well developed beyond the “psychotic and slightly random hitmen” archetypes from which they derive.
The fight scenes and action scenes are almost invariably accompanied by catchy music that contrasts with the violence on-screen, something that, I admit, works really well, but is starting to get overused. Still, many of the fight scenes are very creative, using each of the characters’ abilities really well, without making them seem completely unbeatable or requiring them to suddenly become stupid or depowered in order to make things seem fair.
Overall, I recommend the show if you’re a fan of superhero shows or deconstructions.
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