The first explosion makes me scream like a small child (fortunately enough, I am surrounded by small children, so no one really notices, even the family next to me who seem freaked out that a full-grown woman is sitting next to them, alone, sipping a beer and scribbling madly in a notebook). The second — and then the third, the fourth, the fifth and so on — makes me laugh hysterically. It’s the first night of Marvel Universe Live! (exclamation mark totally, totally theirs) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and the circus atmosphere is infectious. And no, it’s not just the beer.
Marvel Universe Live! (yes, we will always use that exclamation mark) is a live stage show about, well, the Marvel universe, one that’s heavy on the stunts and light on on the story. It’s sort of like the Ice Capades without the ice. The show features all the usual suspects — the Avengers, Spider-Man and various foes, a handful of X-Men — all joined together in service to adventure and justice, an all-star occasion that will never be replicated on the big screen (rights issues and all that). As if seeing Wolverine fight alongside Captain America and Black Cat isn’t thrilling enough (and it really is, in a very weird way), the show also boasts a ton of pyrotechnics, some straight up fire and a motorcycle chase involving Cap and the Red Skull. It’s little wonder that everyone in the audience is totally enthralled by the spectacle, even if (especially if?) it’s all so reminiscent of every comic book movie we’ve all seen.
The atmosphere at Barclays is positively carnival-esque, with vendors pushing cotton candy and popcorn while other hawkers encourage kids to come to take a picture with the heroes (cardboard standees). No one is buying the Dippin Dots, no longer the ice cream of the future (or, apparently, of the present). There’s a prequel comic book that explains everything happened before the show opens that retails for twenty-five dollars. There are plush versions of each hero, but Hulk costs five dollars more, because he’s bigger (duh, Mom). There’s a light up bracelet that, as the program tells us, will play a big part in the end of the show, when Iron Man taps into as part of his “Lectro-Link” (which we will, again, never see on the big screen, because it’s actually Spider-Man that invents it).
A voice that we take to be J.A.R.V.I.S. (he does say he’s the system, and he sure sounds like Paul Bettany) advises us to take our seats, before warning of smoke, lasers and “Cosmic Cube interference.” The show is so packed that I could only procure a single ticket, breaking up our small group of three and forcing us to spread out amongst a second-tier section. It’s crammed with families, with most of the kids toting some kind of branded toy and screaming in anticipation. The child in front of me holds a light-up Icee that looks positively Vegas in nature. The lights go down, then they come up, and it’s suddenly Cosmic Cube time.
It’s always Cosmic Cube time somewhere.
The MCU’s apparent villain problem may have recently been pushed the forefront of Marvel movie-related discussion, but the stage show is oddly prescient about the whole thing. Although the show features ancillary baddies like Red Skull, Doc Ock, Madame Hydra, Dr. Aldrich Killian and many more (especially when it comes to the Spider-Man-centric bad guy book, jeez), the primary mover of all the evil is Loki. Even a kids’ show recognizes that Loki is the very best baddie the universe has got and, boom, there he is!
Even without the aid of the prequel comic book, the plot seems relatively simple and, I assume, picks up after the events of The Avengers, as the first character we meet is Thor, holding the Cosmic Cube. Convinced that no one should be able to possess the Cube and its limitless power (it appears that Thor has zero idea about the rest of the Infinity Stones, perhaps that’s for another show), Thor smashes it with Mjolnir. Now there are three bits of Cosmic Cube. Nice work. Loki eventually appears — why he’s not in prison, no one seems to care — and manages to insult everyone in the audience by booming that the entire place smells like “polyester and nachos.” I mean, he’s not wrong.
The actual plot of Marvel Universe Live! is incredibly convoluted and basically stupid, but all you need to know is that Loki wants the Cube (shocking), is willing to use the dust left behind from Thor smashing it (okay) and the blood of mutants like Storm and Cyclopes to clone it (why not) and that the Avengers and company decide on a plan to stop him (obviously) and gather back up the other Cube pieces in order to battle the weaker Clone Cube. For some reason, the pieces are all on Earth. They are also all in the hands of various bad guys from the Marvel Universe.
It’s all basically an excuse to join up the Avengers (including Ms. Marvel as Captain Marvel!), Wolverine (played by a man whose ability to snarl and work out should really concern Hugh Jackman) and Spider-Man (here imagined as a punk kid who is into selfies). The group fractures and comes back together for a major end battle. Wolverine is mad. Bruce Banner eventually transforms into the Hulk (which garnered the biggest applause of the entire night). There are a lot of motorcycle chases. Nick Fury rides a tricked out golf cart. There are terrible puns (like when Captain Marvel calls someone a glutton for punishment, and is then revealed to be “glutten-intolerant”). An entire battle sequence takes place in the Statue of Liberty’s head.
If you can picture a Marvel hero or villain, they are probably there, battling beside each other. It’s nice, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
As the lights come up for an intermission that will eventually stretch into the thirty-minute range, the hip, tattooed mother in front of me comments, “I have no idea what is going on.” You and me both, sister. (Later, she’ll purchase her young son a stuffed Mjolnir, which he will promptly hit her in the face with.)
Still, this is entertainment, and Marvel Universe Live! delivers one heck of a spectacle, the kind that the younger set can fully engage in (a small girl who sat behind one my friends apparently became incredibly distraught when Hulk transformed) and that the adults (parents or weird members of the press) can marvel (tee hee) at, too. The show definitely has a kid-friendly agenda — it emphasizes things like friendship, teamwork and being nice to people — but it’s not heavy-handed in its approach. It’s wacky and weird and, again, there’s just so much fire and so many motorcycles, but it’s never boring.
The twenty-five dollar prequel comic is, however, a bit much. What else are those damn movies for?
[All photos courtesy of Kate Erbland/Film School Rejects]