Over a dozen Marvel heroes are teaming up to battle the forces of evil. There's Thor, Iron Man and Black Panther, as well as Iron Fist, Wasp, Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy and many others. However, this isn't unfolding on a movie screen, it's happening for real in a massive arena. This is Marvel Universe Live: Age of Heroes, and it's oddly familiar.
That's partially because the whole shows looks like what a kid would do if they had all these characters as action figures, throwing them together and imagining a crazy battle royale. It's big, bright, loud, and decidedly not for adults, with a tone and story that's directly aimed at young boys and girls who just want to see a bunch of different Marvel heroes kick butt, then buy a toy on the way out. And that's fine. About 30 seconds into the show, as Doctor Strange thoroughly explained the plot while flying around on a pair of strings against a big projection of space, it was obvious I was not the target audience.
That plot revolves around a Doctor Strange-originating macguffin called the Wand of Watoomb, which is in the possession of Guardians of the Galaxy's Yondu and is being hunted by Loki. Loki has hired Nebula to steal it for him and, if he gets it, the world will end. The Guardians of the Galaxy are on Nebula's tail, then the Avengers, and the result is multiple storylines featuring teams of heroes travelling all across the galaxy to stop Nebula and Loki from using the Wand to end the world.
Nebula and Yondu kick things off.
Honestly, it's a little confusing, but you don't really need to understand it. The show is mostly set-up to get a certain group of characters (mainly two teams of five Avengers each and the Guardians) in a unique location, put some bad guys in front of them, and then do a ton of acrobatic stunts.
As I was watching Spider-Man swing around on a rope while Black Widow did motorcycle tricks and Rocket Raccoon fired his gun, I couldn't help but think of the movies and how most all of these characters will be in the same movie, Avengers: Infinity War, next winter. (Notable exceptions are the Wasp — as far as we know — and Iron Fist, who is on Netflix.)
The show features a scene on Asgard when the Avengers and Guardians finally meet up and Captain America makes a comment about a talking raccoon and a walking tree. It was at that moment I realised maybe this show would serve as a good barometer of how Infinity War is going to play out. How one crafts a story that fits in so many characters. In Marvel Universe Live, the result is some of the characters get short-changed; for example, Spider-Man gets more lines than Black Panther. But the arena show only features around two dozen characters — won't the same thing happen in the film which will feature more than 60 characters? Won't it be way, way worse?
Loki has captured some of the Avengers.
Of course, far more care is taken a major movie than a show that makes prominent use of trampolines. We've also have 18 films of introduction before Avengers: Infinity War, which means it won't have every character say their name when they're introduced. (Which is something Marvel Universe Live does a lot. A reasonable facsimile of the dialogue: "Oh, Black Cat, it's you, and you brought Rhino, Electro and Green Goblin along with you." "Yes we did, Spider-Man.")
Honestly, I rolled my eyes more than I laughed during Marvel Universe Live, but the kids around us loved it, which is the point. They cheered, they munched away at their popcorn, and they bought a ton of toys at the many, many merch booths. It's well-staged, and has some impressive stunt work and effects in it. Plus, it's like 90 minutes with an intermission; it isn't going to take up all of your day.
Black Widow, kicking butt.
Just know this isn't the movies. The characters aren't exactly treated with the nostalgia some people feel for them. It feels more like what what parents thought of comic books before geek became mainstream. That they're silly little stories for their silly little kids that they will grow out of. Parents are much more likely to enjoy their kids watching Marvel Universe Live than the show itself, but it does pose plenty of food for thought as we move ahead with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The show is currently touring the US through 2019 and you can find the schedule, get tickets and more, at this link.