The Marvel Experience has begun in Scottsdale, and it's a couple hours of bliss for superhero fans.
The first stop of the event's global tour is at Salt River Fields through January 3. While there are still some technological kinks to iron out, it is a must-see for Marvel fans.
While you'll immediately recognize the names and faces of the (CGI versions of) the Avengers, you'll also be introduced to some of Marvel's superheroes who haven't quite cracked the big screen yet. The most notable addition is the android known as Vision, who is set to join the Avengers in their next movie. Some of the 3-D projections are so lifelike, it feels like the superheroes are actually in the room with you.
What you may not recognize is the positive message being conveyed by the Disney-esque immersive experience. The Marvel Experience has many subtle reminders to be healthy physically, as well as pointing out that making the right decisions can make everyone a "hero" of sorts.
"There are a lot of healthy messages throughout the whole thing," says Maria Brunner, a spokesperson for the Marvel Experience. "The point is that people can choose whether they want to be good or bad, but we hope most people will want to be good and do the right thing."
Aside from Stan Lee's poignant statement that anyone can be a hero (proudly displayed immediately before entering the gift shop at the end of the semi-guided event), the various interactive exhibits are designed to be both fun and mildly exercised-based. You can climb with Spider-Man, punch with Hulk and fly (well, kind of) with Iron Man, all within a giant arcade-like dome of the training area.
After you get done perusing the various game-like training stations for as long as you'd like (we recommend checking them all out), you'll go on your first mission as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. We won't give too much away, but let's just say that you won't be surprised to see the likes of Red Skull and M.O.D.O.K. in your battle against Hydra.
The experience spans seven separate domes, but once you enter the first one, you've officially stepped into Marvel's world. For that matter, the experience only lets a certain number of people in at a time in order to avoid overcrowding, so you should expect to wait for at least a short while, though wait times haven't been entirely figured out since this is the first week of the experience still (and it's a holiday week). Rob Olds, the touring event's manager, believes that the 160 different elements designed for the entertainment of visitors young and old will leave patrons feeling like they're part of the experience.
"It's a really hard thing to explain, but it's a real sensory overload," Olds says. "You're completely immersed in all of your favorite Marvel characters. It's old Stan Lee comic books and new technology at the same time."
Olds is certainly correct in that it's both a sensory overload and a total immersion experience for Marvel fans. One of the 3-D rooms was down when we went through, but the technology team still managed to make it work with 2-D projection screens. Honestly, most people probably never would've even noticed.
Scottsdale's version of the experience is unique in the sense that it might not be the exact version that the dozens of other cities will get to see over the next few years. The first stop on the internationally planned tour is more of a prequel of sorts, it's a test run to see what works (technologically and with the audience) and what needs to be changed.
"We're tying together technology that's never been put together before. If there's been anything like it, it's been in a Universal Studios or a Disney, not in a mobile fashion," Olds says. "We didn't just go to Best Buy and buy this stuff."
Photos were somewhat limited when we went on a media tour, but trust us when we say that the CGI superheroes look every bit as good as you'd expect them to in a Marvel movie.
In our book, the technology and entertainment was just as good as anything you'd see at Disneyland. There's only one actual ride (a motion simulator), but the rest of the experience is worth the price of admission if you like Marvel. While it's not quite as detailed as the S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit in New York City, it's far more interactive and accessible. In short, the Marvel Experience is more like a carnival, whereas S.T.A.T.I.O.N. is more like a museum.
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Comic book snobs may be turned off by some of the simplified cheesiness used in some of the character's bios (presumably to appeal to a wider audience), and if you're not into superheroes, it's probably not for you, but if you're a fan of the movies and/or comics, you'll probably enjoy the Marvel Experience a lot.
Overall, the only technological issues when we toured the event were relatively unnoticeable and didn't impede our enjoyment at all. We'll be going back to get another serving of superhero goodness. We just don't want to know what happens if you get caught yelling "Hail Hydra!"
Tickets start at $27.50. Go to the experience's website for more info.