Friday, December 26, 2014

Phantom Troublemaker Goes To Marvel Universe Live!

I took the family to see Marvel Universe Live this past Monday and it was exactly as fun as I was hoping it would be.

If you don’t know, Live is a huge stunt show featuring a cast of Marvel’s highest-profile characters, as well as Cyclops and Storm.

Haha! That’s just my little joke. I love the X-Men. Apparently a lot more than whoever scripted this production, but I’ll get more into that later; as well as delving into potential conspiracy theories about said X-Men.

I can’t recall ever attending anything quite like this, though it feels very much like a throwback to the old licensed arena shows of the 80s – the ones that were done to grab kids that were a little too old for the Icecapades. Though at first glance it’s a bunch of grown-ups running around in superhero costumes, Live is actually a complex combination of some of the best elements of various types of live events – theater, acrobatics, stunts, and pyrotechnics. I can’t begin to imagine the planning that must go into an undertaking of this nature.

The show pulls from the best-known elements of the current Marvel Universe – both comics and Cinematic. The characters all have a slightly more comic-booky feel, but are recognizably derived from their Hollywood interpretations. For instance, Tony Stark has his movie look and Avengers Tower is the one from the films, but the Iron Man costume is much more comic-based. Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel is one of the main characters and she hasn’t been introduced into the MCU yet. Lizard looks like he does in the comics, which looks very silly in real life but still better than he looked in Amazing Spider-Man. Same goes for Rhino.

The story is that Thor has shattered the Cosmic Cube (at no point referred to as “The Tesseract”) and that Loki has recovered a piece of it and intends to cause havoc and chaos or take over the world or turn all of the superheroes’ underpants inside out or whatever. You know – mischievous stuff. 
Iron Man and Spider-Man are the main heroes of the show, but they are joined by Captain America, Bruce Banner (who is amusingly un-Hulked for most of the show, leading to a “hot tag” of a reveal at the climax), Black Widow, Hawkeye, (not Red) Falcon, Wolverine, the aforementioned Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and to a much lesser extent Cyclops and Storm. There’s also a brief appearance by Pepper Potts at the beginning.

The villains they face aren’t so much working together as they are inhabiting the various set pieces of the show. Representing the side of naughtiness are Loki (portrayed as the main heel), Red Skull, Green Goblin (who gets the best scene), Madame Hydra, Aldrich Killian, Lizard, Rhino, a strangely five-limbed Doctor Octopus, and scores of HYDRA and AIM Agents and Chitauri (aka cannon fodder). The villains are all involved at various levels of Cosmic Shard stealing chicanery, with Skull, Goblin, and Killian being the second-tier baddies.

Oh, I almost forgot Electro. Electro is in it, too. He’s a weird combination of movie and comic book Electro in that he’s a black guy with movie powers and a sort of hybrid of the movie and comic costume. And also he sucks because I think at one point he is defeated by shocking himself in mid-flight and falling out of the sky. He doesn’t even really do anything. He shows up in the midst of the battle between Spidey and the Green Goblin and just sort of floats around for a minute. The other two characters sort of pause to look at him, then he short-circuits and they’re like, “Whatever” and keep fighting.

That’s how I remember it, anyway.

My recollection may not be the best because there was a lot going on most of the time. The show had several major set pieces, but the crew was very efficient at switching between them. My son is seven and he barely had the opportunity to get antsy between acts. Granted, I think he has a very slightly better attention span than other kids his age, but Live definitely knew who its audience was and to move things along.

The show consists of two forty-five minute sections separated by a ten minute intermission. Each section has a few different scenes (possibly three? Four?) with the various heroes and villains splitting up to fight one another on their home turf. Spidey and Thor square off against Goblin, Rhino, Lizard, and Doc Ock (oh – and Electro) at the Statue of Liberty. Cap and SHIELD face Red Skull and HYDRA in a Swiss castle. 
I just remembered that Black Cat is in this, too. She – like most of the characters – is played broadly (no pun intended) but well, in her usual gimmick of not-totally-bad-girl. Until the end where she is straight-up kung-fu fighting Black Widow.

I mentioned that the show was aimed at the kids and it is. Parents be ready – the acting is way over the top and the dialogue is cheesier than Pallookaville’s mac and cheese with Cheez-Its on top. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. Bruce Banner actually has some pretty good lines. He might have even been my favorite character, with a portrayal taken directly from Mark Ruffalo’s in Avengers. He’s self-deprecating in an oddly intense way. There’s one scene where the heroes are all arriving somewhere, zooming up and doing stunts on their motorcycles (motorcycles are a HUGE part of the show). When Banner arrives he just put-puts up and parks, much like Ruffalo at the end of the movie. It’s a hilarious moment that plays well.

Another thing to be prepared for is the characters’ general chunkiness. Many of the performers are wearing padded stunt suits, so they look almost like the Superhero Squad versions. Iron Man is downright chunky. 
While Banner is the most endearing of the heroes, each of the rest has their own gimmick to get them over in the show. Captain America does motorcycle tricks, Hawkeye’s arrow gimmick is really cool, Black Widow does the most interesting hand-to-hand combat, Falcon flies, Spidey does lots of acrobatics, Iron Man is constantly zapping stuff with his repulsors – represented by light beams shot from the ceiling rigging, and Wolverine… well, he slices dudes up. A lot. Dozens of AIM and HYDRA people and tons of Chitauri get “sliced up”, only to get up and run back to battle once the spotlight has moved off of them and to another area, creating the illusion of Wolverine taking on dozens of foes.

Timing is everything in this show, and it’s incredible to watch in action. From the scenes of battle changing to the actual movements between combatants to lighting interacting with various components of the story. Lots of illusion and misdirection are used to make use of the constraints of the arena floor and the necessary reuse of sets and props. If you look for these things you will see them, but if you just sit back and enjoy the spectacle – as you should – it all works amazingly smoothly.

The bottom line is that from beginning to end the audience is being treated to a unique, action-packed experience that is unfolding LIVE right before their eyes in a way that is so much more dynamic and immediate than any movie. While the script of Marvel Universe Live will never compare to the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t need to. This live event has action and an immersive quality that the films can never match. We had a fantastic time watching the talented performers and crew putting on an amazing show. It was worth every penny of the ticket price.

Before I go I have to mention the inevitable souvenir stands, packed with overpriced, low quality tchotchkes plastered with images of the Marvel superheroes and the event logo. It’s all the stuff you would expect – obnoxious light-up items, clothing, dog tags, character heads full of colored ice – marked up to the highest limits of reason. We paid twenty-five bucks for a light-up SHIELD gun that has probably been repurposed for everything from the Ringling Bros. Circus to Disney’s Frozen on Ice (Elsa’s Song Blaster), but in this case had two Marvel Universe Live stickers on it. I felt lucky.

We also bought a plastic Spider-Man head that was overfilled with shaved ice covered with colored sugar water. It was fifteen dollars and I would have been just as smart to pay the guy five bucks to punch me in the groin. That stupid sugary ice melted all over the place and got on my son, our souvenir bag, my wife, and – most dismayingly – me. I absolutely cannot tolerate being sticky. I thought I was going to lose my mind until Mrs. Troublemaker handed me a wet wipe.

The item me and Lil’ Troublemaker were both most drawn to initially was this light-up wrist thing. It looked cool but not as cool as the gun we then noticed. What we did not know – and it was not indicated anywhere – was that the wrist thing was actually a part of the show. SPOILER ALERT – there’s one part where Iron Man has to draw from a different energy source because his armor is jacked and everybody with a wrist thing is supposed to turn it on and hold it up to give him power. I think this should have been mentioned before the show because I probably would have caved and bought the gun and the wrist thing.

And possibly avoided the sticky Spider Head of Doom.

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