The Meh-vel Experience
The Marvel Experience — A Traveling Amusement Park Attraction That Recently Opened At Salt River Fields — Fails To Deliver On The Pre-Opening Day Bravado Of Its Creators, Bringing Ho-Hum Thrills To A Brand Known For Superhero Feats
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
Dec. 22, 2014 — I cannot speak to how much money The Marvel Experience has already made in the few days it has been operational, I’m sure it’s quite a bit. But the overall quality of the “The Marvel Experience” leaves quite a bit to be desired.
The attraction is not bad, it just is not overwhelmingly good, and it certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to all of the pre-opening hype.
The domes which can be seen while approaching the location at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. And, pulling up in front of what is supposed to be top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility is really cool. Hero Ventures did a good job of making the outside of the facility look authentic, one of the nicest touches being “S.H.I.E.L.D” written across a trailer at the entrance. It just has the look of a top secret mobile research facility. But once you get passed how cool it looks, this is also where The Marvel Experience starts unraveling.
As you walk up to the entrance, you are greeted by the extremely friendly staff at the front gate, and that’s the first problem. As new “recruits” to S.H.I.E.L.D, the most high tech, cutting edge, top secret spy organization of the United States Government, one doesn’t really expect the guards at the gate to smile and say things like “welcome” and “have fun.”
This should be the black sunglasses crew, the strong silent types.
I suppose I understand why it is important for the people working at the facility to be friendly, but at least to me it is far more important that they remain in character. Or be in character at all. The realism just floats away as soon as someone smiles at you at the gate in their S.H.I.E.L.D. T-shirt.
After getting through the gate and picking up your RFID wristband, which is used to track your progression through “training,” you enter the first dome, which is the line. The door into the The Marvel Experience has an air of mystery to it, and pictures and short profiles of each character popped up on television monitors around the room.
Once they let us in, the general idea of The Marvel Experience, besides separating people from their paychecks, came to light. The idea was to put guests right into the middle of a Marvel-themed video game. Nick Fury popped up, and the giant dome screen presented the story for the “recruits” with help from many of the Marvel heroes that would be a part of the rest of the experience.
Without spoiling the entire experience, the skeleton to the storyline is that Hydra has created a new kind of robot which can absorb the attacks which the Marvel heros inflict on it and then adapt them for its own use. Spiderman dubbed them “Adaptoids.” Once they decided they were going to fight, one of the characters said, “to fight the Adaptoids we are going need” and then the characters went in a circle saying what their best quality was, my favorite was Wolverine who proclaimed “Tenacity.”
It was all very juvenile, and it didn’t really seem like they were making this for adults like Marvel Experience creator Rick Licht had been saying it was to every news publication that would listen … including this one.
Click here for Modern Times Magazine Marvel Experience Preview.
The next area that we entered was the “training” area, and once again we were greeted with smiles and welcomes. Inside of the training dome there is a lifesize model of a captured Adaptoid in the middle of the room, and some showcases with superhero artifacts like Spiderman’s web shooter, some Iron Man helmets, and one of The Falcon’s wings among many other things around the edges of the room. This area also had some touch screen computer games.
Moving forward, we moved into the most interactive dome. In this part of the attraction there was the Spiderman climbing wall, the Iron Man flight simulator, the Black Widow laser alarm simulator, the hollow blaster shooting gallery, the posing platforms, and the 75-foot Avengers quinjet replica. All of the training activities were accompanied by another smiling S.H.I.E.L.D. agent wishing you to have a good time with the training
“You are Iron Man, you are controlling everything including the repulsor blasters, you can smash like Hulk,” is how Rick Licht described this portion of The Marvel Experience when previewing the attraction.
But what it really was were a few decent arcade style games that would have probably been far more exciting if I were between the ages of 6 and 13. The Spiderman climbing wall was a vertical conveyor belt. The posing platforms weren’t really a game at all, you just stood on the pad and looked up at the dome ceiling and you would see different Marvel hero’s pop up next to you based on what pose you struck. The Iron Man simulator was kind of cool, sort of like Dance Dance Revolution except you’re Iron Man and not a dancer.
The shooting gallery may be the only thing that was geared toward adults. But the reason why isn’t because of the subject matter but because of the way the room was designed. Children or shorter adults who end up in the back row will be hard pressed to see the screen.
After the arcade-like area, we went through the Quinjet replica to the villain tracker software, which a very detached S.H.I.E.L.D agent (the first who was really “in character”) explained to us as essentially a basic math game. You choose three red dots on a screen, each dot represent a villain, each villain is allotted a point total of how villainous they are and then all three scores are added together to assess how dangerous the trio of villains truly are. Then, based on that, choose whether to send out S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Marvel heroes, or both.
That’s right, basic arithmetic is part of the fun … like Mathblasters. Moving on, you enter another one of Hero Ventures’ big selling points, “the world’s first” 360-degree stereoscopic dome for civilian use, according to Licht. This part was pretty good, still very juvenile, and 3-D glasses were necessary, which is something that Hero Ventures said people wouldn’t need for a 3-D visual experience.
But more than just having to wear the glasses, it was also impossible to see everything because there were things going on all over the roof of the dome. This was another big selling point in the pre-opening publicity: one of the first times that a presentation like this would feature a portion where the entire audience isn’t facing the same way.
I guess it’s cool that this was a first, but it wasn’t that great.
The story was kind of disjointed and hard to follow, and somehow jumps from Iron Fist training you in his dojo to some sort of castle filled with holographic (in the story, there were no actual holograms) versions of the story’s villains and their army of Adaptoids. They were holograms because of not that great twist in the plot that I will leave out for huge Marvel fans who are going no matter what they read.
Next, we had to get to the transportation hangar which we were directed to by more smiling S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, even though according to the video we were a part of some sort of emergency response to … something.
So we get into the next room and the story finally stops going on the roof of the dome … and starts happening on televisions. We had to watch a very jokey and juvenile flight safety video featuring Spider Man, which got interrupted by The Red Skull, and then the screen turned to a security camera feed.
Hydra infiltrated the facility in one way or another and the door to the hanger wouldn’t open so we watched on the television screens which was showing the Hulk yanking the door open and then leaving. On the screen it showed The Hulk leaving a handprint on the door, it was not reflected on the actual door. This scene could have been cool, though, because it was the only time that a physical thing interacted with the crowd because one of the Hulk’s hands is seen grabbing the door and opening it. But, if you looked to your left as you went through the door you could see the hand just sitting there waiting to prop open the door for the next group of “recruits.”
We get through the door into a movie-theater looking area of the attraction and find seats for the ride.
The person next to me pointed out that, “if there is no seat belt or lap bar it can’t be that cool.”
That person was right, it was not that cool.
Besides the trademark Marvel characters, the ride really didn’t bring anything to the table that a run-of-the-mill flight simulator doesn’t bring. It moved, it shifted, it shimmied, and it blew compressed air in my face.
At the end, everyone held up their RFID wristband and their face appeared on screen which is sort of cool. It was all part of JARVIS rerouting everyone’s special powers into Iron Man’s repulsor blasters so he could get a form of energy that The Adaptoids had never seen before, and I guess that was The Marvel Experience trying to say that everyone got to help save the day. It was also fairly lazy writing and a pretty cheap climax to a story that was supposed to be meant for adults.
The ride lets right out into the gift shop which apparently has some neat one of a kind merchandise and a super high price to make up for the “affordable” ticket prices of around $30, which was another huge selling point in the pre event hoopla.
For an out of this world all day experience $30 is quite cheap. For a semi interactive 3-D movie that isn’t even all in 3-D it’s pretty steep.
Because it was media day, there was press conference following the end of the first group’s go through and the creators of The Marvel Experience pushed straight forward with the same line of rhetoric they were before it opened.
Licht said things like “this story is unique,it’s like being thrown into the middle of a full blown Hollywood scripted adventure. You’re talking about a feature film quality narrative and a feature film length narrative. What’s unique about it is we are going to tell this story through the use of various strategies ,various platforms, you won't do anything twice.”
While Jerry Rees, the project’s director with such credits under his belt as The Brave Little Toaster, added, “everyone loves diving into virtual spaces and it’s just going to be fantastic. For you to leave your video game console and actually come in here with your whole family and get into the immersive domes where it’s all around you. Instead just in front of you on a little screen. You can share this with your friends, you can become the character and be in the the story and into the adventure.”
They also spent a ton of time talking about how overwhelmed and enthusiastic adults were being about The Marvel Experience and it’s “complex narrative.” They made sure to point out several times that The Marvel Experience is designed for adults and children alike. I assume they did this because if they can convince themselves, perhaps everyone else will believe them also.
Rees also brought up the fact that with this advanced technology, The Marvel Experience will be able to update their story faster than the average theme park ride, and teased at a sequel. An improved story could only help.
Licht compared their model to the “P.T. Barnum model, if you want to go back 150 years or so and its working for us.”
Barnum aside, it appears Licht and crew have taken on more of the carnival model of leaving town once everyone gets wise to it.
The Marvel Experience will be closing up shop Jan. 3 in Phoenix and moving on to Dallas on Jan. 15, than San Diego after that, followed by San Francisco, before they announce their East coast dates.
Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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