The Marvel Universe Live: Arena World Tour is making its way through North America. With a cast featuring more than twenty Marvel characters brought to life, the show promises to provide a thrilling afternoon for families and fans of all things Marvel. Expect pyrotechnics, super powers, and excitement, as Major Spoilers attends MARVEL UNIVERSE LIVE…
INTRODUCTION (and Spoiler Warning!)
Years ago, I did a review for Major Spoilers of BATMAN LIVE. It was a terrific show, and I was eager to see how Marvel Universe Live compared. As I said in the aforementioned review, theatre has been a lifelong passion of mine, along with comic books and writing. Whenever I am able, I try to attend any type of live theatrical performance (I also attended one of the final performances of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway. Want a Retro Review? Let me know in the comments!). In this review, I’ll run through the acts that it contains as well as the story it tells, and attempt to hit on all the important aspects of the production. If you are planning on seeing the show and want to be surprised by what you see, please skip down to my final thoughts.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: THIRTY MINUTES TO SHOWTIME
What a difference four years can make! When attending Batman Live, it was just me and my wife, leaving my two-year-old daughter at home. These days, there are four members of the Angelo clan, including my daughter, now five, and son, aged three. Both are getting into superheroes thanks to the predilections of dear old dad, and were excited to see “real live superheroes.” Even my wife was excited to see the show, having a huge crush on Iron Man. For as much as she puts up with my goofy antics, I’m totally cool with that.
Upon arriving at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena, we were instantly surrounded by giant merchandise kiosks. I was blown away by the amount of souvenirs being sold, all at the typical inflated “event” pricing. There were comics and action figures of course, accompanied by t-shirts, pennants, dolls, backpacks, hats, tote bags, masks, giant plush Thor hammers, cups, boomerangs, flags, and more light-up, spinning things than I could count. Avoiding severe financial setbacks, we made our way to the arena proper.
Located on the arena floor was the massive stage for the event. Where Batman Live had featured a platform resembling a traditional stage, the Marvel Universe Live set consisted of a gigantic jumbotron (think an IMAX screen) and little else. The screen included a proscenium which would allow performers to interact with the on-screen images, which I looked forward to seeing utilized. Music seemingly lifted from Marvel’s summer blockbusters rumbled through the arena, setting the tone for things to come. My family was ready and the excitement in the crowd was palpable.
Suddenly, the lights cut to black. Before there is a chance for the audience to realize what is happening, the arena is filled with a loud boom, fireworks, and some realistic lightning strikes the floor. It is the arrival of Thor, who flies down from the arena ceiling and gives a soliloquy regarding the dangers of the Cosmic Cube. He produced the item and promptly smashes it with his hammer, shattering it into hundreds of glowing pieces. Thor flies away, and the theater is left looking at the shattered remains of the cube until Loki appears, gathering the fragments before disappearing in a cloud of smoke, cackling maliciously.
The MacGuffin for the show has been established. Loki is bent on reforming the Cosmic Cube, and it won’t be long before the heroes are assembled to stop his schemes. The audience is quickly introduced to various heroes of the Marvel Universe in almost a montage sequence. Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and many others are shown in quick vignettes doing the heroic things they do. I particularly enjoyed Bruce Banner, who was shown in the midst of deep meditation, and my daughter and I both loved seeing Black Widow, who was introduced in a scene where she was “training” SHIELD agents by wiping the floor with them (She executed a perfect hurricanrana and flying head scissor takedown for those familiar with pro wrestling!).
More heroes would come, all accompanied by a thumping rock-n-roll beat and flashy special effects. We oohed and aahed as Captain Marvel flew through the air, and delighted as the heroes took on generic Chitauri villains in the opening sequences. Nick Fury and Maria Hill end up giving a tip-off to the heroes that Loki has captured the X-Men, and is using their special mutant DNA to power up his Cosmic Cube replica. After rescuing Wolverine from Loki’s clutches, the heroes discover that chunks of the cube are being held by supervillains across the globe. They split into teams and head off to reclaim these pieces. The house lights rise and we’re at intermission.
INTERMISSION: IMPRESSIONS SO FAR
The first act lasted about an hour. As my kids headed to the bathroom with their mother, I had the chance to sit back and think about the show so far.
First of all, the number of heroes that they show has packed in so far had been simply staggering. We’ve got all the main Avengers, and I was happy to see that the X-Men (Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm) had been included in the show despite whatever shenanigans the Disney/Fox deal has created. Even more impressive is that each hero’s powers have been replicated for the show in superb fashion. While Iron Man can’t have lasers blasting, and Hawkeye can’t actually impale people with arrows, those heroes and those with similar powers have flashing lights that project the illusion of lasers, pyrotechnic bursts instead of projectiles, and enough flash and sizzle to make any comic book fan happy. It is truly remarkable that so many different superpower effects could occur at any given time on the stage. At no point was there a slow moment during the first half, and we haven’t even seen any big-name supervillains besides Loki.
The costumes had been excellent. In theatre, costumes have to be created in such a way so that people sitting far from the stage can still identify the characters and emotions. Great job here!
Batman Live had been more of a variety show than Marvel Universe Live thus far. That show had contained circus acts and magic along with martial arts displays. But this show has been all about action and excitement, with a barrage of music and explosions for a soundtrack. My kids were both having a great time, which I was happy with…Neither of them are fans of violence, but they were clearly enjoying the action unfold.
As Act II revved up, the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. gives the audience a run-down of the plot so far. I thought this was a little odd seeing as we had just spent the last hour and a half in the theater, but maybe the show was trying to give people a little more time to visit the merchandise booths. While the first half of the show had contained plenty of exposition, I was about to find that the second half of Marvel Universe Live would be much more focused on spectacle…
Splitting the cast of nearly twenty Marvel heroes into small groups allowed the second half of the show to be separated into scenes from around the globe. The show immediately jumps into a battle pitting Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye against A.I.M. scientists (complete with beekeeper suits!) and Killian, the foe from Iron Man 3 along with other Extremis users. Honestly, I didn’t care much for Iron Man 3 and this battle didn’t do much for me until the climax. As Tony Stark and Kilian battle, the villain goes from being a guy in a fancy dress suit to be completely engulfed in fire. Yes, for nearly a minute, Iron Man is attacked by a human inferno. I couldn’t believe how cool this effect was in person, and even as a jaded comic book fan I couldn’t help but gasp “whoa.”
We’re next taken to a battle between Spider-Man, Thor, and the Sinister Six inside the Statue of Liberty’s head. Using some clever theatrical effects involving lighting and a scrim, the action quickly switches from the exterior to interior of the statue. Spider-Man thus far has been the clear breakout performance of the show. His character has effortlessly incorporated parkour and wirework to completely sell the illusion of the arachnid hero. He was definitely my son’s favorite character from the show. However, this scene fell a little flat for me, as the interior of the Statue of Liberty was a smallish space that became crammed full of people (I think it held five people at one point, all punching each other at the same time). While the stunts were fantastic, especially a battle where Spider-Man takes on a glider-riding Green Goblin, I can’t say this scene was a total success due to the tight quarters of the stage used.
But our focus swings again to Captain America’s crew, taking on a very convincing Red Skull and his Hydra army. This battle was able to separate itself from its predecessors as it included the use of several motorcycles, jumps, and even a jet plane.
Now, by this time, my family had seen nearly a straight hour of fighting. While it was all very well-done, and the battles had some great variety in effects and scenery, my kids were getting a bit restless.
We move on to Wolverine and Bruce Banner, who are in the middle of tracking down Loki. Wolverine becomes isolated and takes on a group of thugs by himself in classic Wolverine fashion. Up to this point, the show had been in the PG range perhaps, but as Wolverine struggles with his last remaining foe, the music slows and the spotlight goes on Wolvie as he pops his claws straight through his enemy’s stomach, popping right out of his back in the most convincing impaling I’ve ever seen live. My daughter, sitting next to me, screams out, “Daddy, that guy just stabbed right though the other guy!” Giving my best nervous dad chuckle, I retort, “Er, no honey, he just, uh, moved the claws around him…” To which my daughter responded, “Uh, no daddy…I saw those knives clearly go through his back!” I promised to get my daughter a Spider-Man snow cone and all was well.
It was almost time for the final fracas anyway, pitting all of the heroes against all of the villains we’ve seen so far. Looking like an Ed Hannigan poster of the Marvel Universe comes to life, there is action everywhere. Heroes zip through the air as pyro detonates. People are blasted by lasers, fists, boots, and explosions. Loki demonstrates why he is a force to be reckoned with by dominating the heroes, until the secret weapon is released…a ten-foot tall Hulk, in a costume my kids loved. The heroes band together, the villains are beaten, and the audience is able to finally take a sigh of relief as the action comes to a close.
If I had to describe Marvel Universe Live in a single word, it would be “bombastic.” Everything in the show is done with a slick polish, from the costumes to the effects to the choreography. It’s certain to keep the attention of six to ten year olds, and while my kids are a bit younger than that, they enjoyed it, too. That in itself is an impressive feat, as they typically don’t enjoy simulated violence, which this show delivers in the truckloads. I can’t say it’s 100 % cartoon-style violence, due to the lone death of a bad guy lackey, but otherwise the fighting is more for flash and flair.
The show is very much a roller coaster. It was exhilarating to watch and my family was entertained throughout the show, but by the end we were exhausted from the adrenaline rushes rather than energized. That said, I definitely don’t want to put this show in a negative light. Marvel Universe Live sets out to become the biggest, most definitive comic book show ever imagined…And I feel it is successful in this regard. As mentioned, the sheer amount of dedication to duplicating all the heroes and villains along with their unique, individual power sets is breathtaking. This is a show for comic fans, their families, and anyone looking for a summer blockbuster movie shown in real life.
If Marvel Universe Live is coming to your town, it’s a must for Marvel fans. If you have no problem with a more cartoonish or comic book-styled battles, your family will love the show. I’d recommend keeping the starting age for children around four or five, as my son was maybe just a hair on the young side for the production, but he still enjoyed himself quite a bit. For older children, in the eight and up category, attending this event is a no-brainer…they are going to be blown away. This is definitely an event I would take my kids back to for an encore should it come through town again.