“I’m the guy who asked my parents to get back in line at the Indiana Jones stunt show in Disneyland immediately after seeing it” is the thing I said to Mike Ryan after seeing Marvel Universe Live! at the Barclay’s Center last night. That was the statement I should have lead with when I explained why I wanted to see what everyone seems to describe as “Marvel on Ice without the Ice.”
I am the completest geek for things I love, I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out Of Our Shells Tour at the Denver Coliseum. I’m the guy that wants to see all the stage shows at Universal Studios instead of going on the Jurassic Park Ride again. I’m the guy that took theater classes and learned about suspending people for Peter Pan and thinking: “This would be more fun if it were Spider-Man.”
I went to Marvel Universe Live! because this is what I choose to do with my time. I thankfully had two friends that came with me, but I probably would have ended up there alone. That’s me.
Marvel Universe Live! is a stunt show made by Feld Entertainment, a company that also does motocross and Monster Truck shows in arenas throughout America. Over the next couple of years, Marvel Universe Live! brings some of the more popular characters from Marvel’s vast IP collection to the stage in two 45-50 minute acts with a roughly 30-minute intermission in the middle. This intermission exists so the crew can set up the various second act battle locales, but also so parents can buy their children circus-quality merchandise and Dippin’ Dots.
Me? I stood in a line before the show really, really hoping they were selling beer. All the people in front of me were kids wearing Captain America and Wolverine masks and swinging swords (Swords? Madam HYDRA uses a sword in the show to fight with Black Widow but it was a rainbow light-up sword on sale, which bugged a small canonical part of me). I had just dropped over $30 on a program for the show, which included a prequel comic that ends with a panel that reads: “To be continued at MARVEL UNIVERSE LIVE!,” and a Iron Man reactor necklace and just wanted a single beer if I was going to be sitting squished amongst many families with small children.
That ended up being key to my experience.
Gather round, children, and let me tell you about the time before Iron Man when everyone thought the only way comic book characters could be taken seriously is with an extreme amount of grit and violence. That’s when I was raised. We almost gave Darren Aronofsky Batman Begins for crissake. Now, it’s okay to love these outsized characters being outsized and the entire show is built around this concept. It spends absolutely no time on giving it’s audience a modicum of suspension of disbelief - you can see the wires, lasers and places where the characters enter and exit - instead relying upon your built-in love for seeing live superheroes.
The prequel comic - which I purchased and read even though it ended up being not important as the plot is not important (but how was I to know?) - shows Tony Stark, Peter Parker and Thor experimenting on the Cosmic Cube, then Loki tries to take it, but Thor captures him and throws him into an Asgardian prison only for Loki to transform into...HAWKEYE?
Yes, the trickster god really loves sticking it to Clint Barton.
Loki’s free, what are we to do? “To be continued at MARVEL UNIVERSE LIVE!”
Lights go up and Thor is standing in the center of the arena with a Cosmic Cube that’s 10x the size of the ones in the film. To keep the world safe from the Cube’s limitless power falling into Loki’s hands again (I know “again” means the prequel comic, but this show occasionally pretends The Avengers movie just happened and Wolverine decided not to show up for it), Thor smashes the cube into 3 pieces or “fractals.” That’ll do, Thor! Thor rises into the rafters as Loki descends. You see, Loki has a plan to collect the dust left over from destroying the Cube and - using the captive Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm for thier X-gene which amplifies cosmic power for some reason - “clone” the Cosmic Cube.
The only way to stop him, as Tony Stark and Peter Parker discover, is to collect the three fractals and assemble the original non-Clone Cosmic Cube once again. Avengers Assemble!
Marvel Universe Live! has a diverse Avengers line-up: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Bruce Banner, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers!), Spider-Man, Falcon and Wolverine.
Oh yeah, Wolverine escaped when the Chitauri briefly kidnapped Nick Fury and Maria Hill in a car chase that took place inside the stadium.
It’s a circus. Literally if you consider The Lizard and Rhino trained animals.
The Avengers assemble and realize Marvel villains have already gotten their claws on the fractals of the Cosmic Cube and dispersed over the globe. AIM, Aldrich Killian and his Extremis soldiers have one and Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye are dispatched to retrieve it. HYDRA, Red Skull and Madame HYDRA have the second piece (Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow dispatched) and The Sinister Six has the third piece hidden in the Statue of Liberty’s head, Thor and Spider-Man have that one covered. Wolverine, portrayed by the only actor whose berserker fighting cries could be heard even when he wasn’t pre-recorded, doesn’t want anything to do with the fractals, he wants to rescue Storm and Cyclops. They’re with Loki in the Himalayas and Bruce Banner decides to follow Wolverine in case things go south.
We break for intermission after the team divides and the second act is all fighting as we see our three Avengers teams collect the fractals and eventually all meet up at Loki’s Mountain Lair for a battle royale between all the villains and all the heroes.
Each set piece has it’s own stunts associated with it. AIM has high platforms and Extremis soldiers that glow and Aldrich Killian totally gets lit on fire and stalks Iron Man. The HYDRA section takes place almost entirely on motorcycles, including jumps of over 20 feet and the kind of vehicle kung fu I hadn’t thought about since Speed Racer. The Statue of Liberty set has Thor pummeling Doc Ock, The Lizard and Rhino inside the Statue of Liberty’s head while Spider-Man and Black Cat fight Electro and The Green Goblin on the exterior, web-slinging and Goblin Gliders included.
The final showdown is all a big build to Bruce Banner losing his cool and the massive Hulk...puppet? Suit? I’m unsure how to describe it, but the little girl sitting directly behind me did.
“IT’S INCREDIBLE! HE’S INCREDIBLE!” The little girl behind me lent a lot of perspective. As the jaded Marvel fan who was going to be watching this so no matter what, my biggest thrill (and it was much more thrilling that I expected) was seeing all these characters finally interact with each other. I’ll never see Spider-Man, Captain Marvel and Wolverine hang out on screen, but I got to see it in the flesh. The little girl behind me, who was older than 6 but not even close to 10, was in love with these characters already. She never said the word “fractal” and didn’t have the slightest idea what the plot was (she stopped asking after intermission), but she was in love with what she was seeing.
“WATCH OUT, IRON MAN, BEHIND YOU!”
Seriously, this kid made my heart soar with joy, I wish she was writing this post.
At a point during the climactic battle, Loki uses his mind-control powers on Hulk and the puppet/suit’s eyes start to glow a Loki-Green. “THE HULK’S BAD?,” came the scream/question a mere 2 feet from my ears, “THE HULK ISN’T BAD. THE HULK IS INCREDIBLE.”
I’ve become jaded with my Marvel Entertainment.
It’s been 60 weeks of writing weekly columns about it and a lifetime of telling people that Marvel was onto something. I’ve defended the 90s Clone Saga, I’ve said aloud: “I mean, Iron Man 2 is fine. Not good, but fine.” I’ve been in bars in a Spider-Man mask. I’m in a sad old comics fan echo chamber so often that when I heard the little girl call the Hulk “Incredible” my mind was like: “That’s what the comics were called!’
That’s horrible. Because I was looking at The Hulk. I’d never seen The Hulk inhabit the same room as my physical being and I probably won’t ever again.
You’re right, kid, the Hulk was Incredible.
Sure, I see a guy in some sort of stage-magic suit, some old Cirque du Soleil performer on stilts or something. But the little girl behind me saw the Hulk and I got to see Spider-Man and Wolverine interact. The show might not be for me, it might be for her, but we both cheered loudly when Wolverine leapt onto a Chitauri and stabbed him a dozen times in the neck while bellowing.
And, yeah, that was worth the price of entry.
Marvel Universe Live! is going to paint the US Mighty Marvel Red into 2015 then will expand world wide. Check out where and when it's coming to you and price tickets HERE.