This past Friday, I had the pleasure of watching the Marvel Universe Live! arena show at the Honda Center with Mister DAPs and Murray the Bellhop. I have to admit, I am a sucker for big theatrical special effects and anything Marvel, so this show was really right up my alley from the get-go.
Now, to be clear, this is not the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The versions of these characters are somewhere between their comic book versions and the Disney XD cartoon adaptations. In fact, most if not all the characters are voiced by the Disney XD actors who portray those characters on the TV.
Marvel Universe Live! – Recap
To simplify the plot, the show begins with Thor shattering the Cosmic Cube into three big pieces and scattering them across the globe. Loki shows up minutes later and gathers the dust left behind to forge his own “cloned cube”. When Nick Fury and Maria Hill get captured by Loki’s Chitauri forces, Iron Man and Spiderman show up on the scene to find that Loki has increased the power of his cube with mutant energy from Wolverine, Storm, and Cyclops. They manage to break Wolverine free, but Loki escapes through a portal with Storm and Cyclops.
The whole super hero team assembles to address the situation: Iron Man, Thor, Bruce Banner (Hulk), Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Spiderman, and Wolverine. Wolverine goes rogue to rescue his friends, and Bruce Banner tags along because the whole “going it alone” thing stinks. The rest split into teams to gather up the three fragments of the original cube – their only hope to defeat Loki. While the teams all travel to their respective parts of the globe, the audience gets a decent intermission (also while the stage crew sets up some of the bigger effects for later).
Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Captain Marvel take on an AIM facility headed by Aldrich Killian and his Extremis soldiers (with a lot of stunt falls from high catwalks). Spiderman and Thor take on the Sinister Six (Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Rhino, Lizard, Electro, and a surprise appearance of Black Cat) inside and outside the Statue of Liberty’s head. Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon take on Red Skull, Madame Hydra, and their goons in a crazy motorcycle battle, which they take to the next level a few times – literally.
The three shards in hand, they all convene on the Himalayan fortress of Loki and his Chitauri minions. Loki attempts to hypnotize various heroes in the team, but none succumb except for one – the Hulk (who is legitimately twice as tall as anyone else in the battle). The heroes, now distracted fighting one of their own, lose ownership of the cube to the mad Asgardian who gains enough power to entrap them all in force fields. Luckily, Iron Man has been outfitted with one of Peter Parker’s inventions: the Lectro Link, and conveniently enough there are plenty of other Lectro Links in the audience (for only $25) that help Iron Man recharge and power up enough to dispell the force fields and Loki’s mind control over Hulk. Hulk knocks Loki around, so that Thor can send him back to Asgard to be imprisoned. Nick Fury takes the Cosmic Cube back to SHIELD where it will be safe. And the world is saved thanks to a few superheroes on stage and many in the crowd.
I was really impressed with this show. We’re talking about multiple flying characters, an armored suit that can assemble itself onto its wearer when summoned, a giant green rage monster, a web-slinging acrobat, a flying hammer that shoots lightning, aliens, a man-sized Lizard, robotic octopus claws, explosive blood, a flying shield capable of truly amazing geometrical ricochets, and that’s just scratching the surface. The effects crew and the stunt performers managed to answer all of these questions in really impressive ways. Sure, if you look hard you can see the occasional zipper, and the wires are really easy to spot, but that is to be expected in a show like this. This is not a magic show where you’re left wondering how they did it. This is a stunt show where you’re amazed that someone just did that. This is a story-driven stunt show where they go the extra mile to do stuff on stage in front of you than leave it to the imagination.
Some of my favorite effects were Tony Stark being transformed into Iron Man on stage, an on-fire Aldrich Killian going in for the kill (most stunt shows only light someone on fire to make them run around screaming), Spiderman standing upside-down on the underside of Green Goblin’s flying glider (just looked sweet), and Captain America’s flying shield (again, obvious how it was done, but it did what it was supposed to).
I also have to say that I was extremely impressed by the projections. This show lives and dies by its projected sets – placing us in the middle of situations that would be impractical, impossible, or expensive to try to pull off any other way. I was especially pleased that the sets animated together in comic book fashion, rather than just a simple fade in and out. Floor pieces seemed to rise up and join each other, we flew over continents and oceans, we saw topological scans slowly reveal actual terrain, it was pretty dang cool. And when we were flying through cities, the projections on the rear wall and the projections on the floor lined up pretty darn well, if not 100% perfectly.
I also got a kick out of the fact that JARVIS was the announcer for “the show will begin in 5 minutes” speeches. I did think it was a little unnecessary to give us a complete “in case you forgot what just happened, let me remind you of the situation” spiel after the intermission. If the kids weren’t paying enough attention to know what’s going on at this point, they don’t care about the plot and just want to see more fights and motorcycles.
As I think back on the entire experience, I don’t think I have anything negative to say about the show (I want to say that some of the puns were over the top…but to be honest, mine are usually worse). The kids liked it, my party of three grown men liked it, our creepy female stalker fan liked it, it was just a fun evening. I would point out one interesting thing I think they could improve, though. A little bit before the show, I received an email reminding me to prepurchase a Lectro Link wristband to pick up at the show, but once we arrived I didn’t see any specific merchandising for it, or really hear any push for it. As much as I like not being pressured to buy something, Murray went through the entire night completely unaware that it was even a thing. Since it’s tied into the climax of the show, that means a very important plot point got muddled for at least one attendee, and I’m sure others. I would think at least JARVIS could mention that those Lectro Links are for sale, since they were introduced in the first act and needed for the second. Just a nit-picky story critique.
All in all, if you love the Marvel characters, you’re looking for a fun night of entertainment, and you can afford the ticket prices, go see this show. I’d advise sitting as close as you can to the middle sections, and sitting either at the high side of the lowest level, or on the second. We were sitting in the front row of the third level, and were just about eye level with the lighting grid, which got a little in the way of seeing the back wall. I wouldn’t say we missed much, though, as the stunts were for the most part completely visible from where we were.
To see tour dates and to buy tickets, visit Marvel Universe Live
And if you see the show, let me know what you thought about it!