Earth’s mightiest heroes are in town for the next few days in a rare visit to the west coast.
The good news is Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and friends won’t be shutting down the viaducts or any other major traffic arteries during their stay, unlike a certain other masked Marvel character recently did. The bad news is they also aren’t here to rescue us from rampant gang violence, super-rich beginner drivers, aggressive crows or any of the other major problems plaguing the city.
Marvel Universe Live — a touring “action-packed arena extravaganza” — runs until Sunday (June 21) at Pacific Coliseum. The show is produced by Feld Entertainment, the same company behind Disney On Ice, and it’s basically Disney On Ice for boys. Only with explosions, guns and people getting kicked in the head. And no ice. Or kissing.
The east side hockey rink was half-full on Thursday’s opening night, with the crowd mostly assembled of small children, their minders, and dorky dudes wearing ironic Iron Man T-shirts and the like. Many of the child-free grownups in attendance were also wearing masks – either to show their endorsement for their favourite superhero and/or to hide their faces in case anyone recognize them.
Mercifully, audiences aren’t required to have sat through the last two seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or even the latest Avengers movie to follow the action. This is kid stuff, after all. The show begins with Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder, using his giant foam hammer to smash the Cosmic Cube, the “source of ultimate power” and mystical MacGuffin from recent Marvel movies, and scatter the pieces across the world lest it fall into the wrong hands. Again. It turns out that his evil brother Loki has somehow created a new cosmic cube of his own using the mutant blood of captured X-men members Storm, Cyclops and Wolverine, and he plans to use it to destroy the planet. Possibly even the universe. Or maybe seize the Iron Throne. (My mind wandered.) Something dastardly though.
Which is why Iron Man assembles a bunch of his superfriends to find the scattered pieces and save the day. Many battles with henchmen, aliens and various supervillains such as Green Goblin, Red Skull, Dr. Octopus and Madame Hydra ensue — quite a few of them motorcycle-based.
The story may be ridiculous but it has to be said that the whole thing looks fantastic. Many of the stunt performers are Cirque du Soleil-level acrobats, and no expense was spared in the special effects department. The biggest problem with Marvel Universe Live is the same inherent one suffered by superhero films back in the days before CGI and billions of dollars made the physics-defying cartoonery seem even remotely plausible. Live theatre and comic books are a difficult mix. Exhibit A: The $75 million Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the most expensive theatrical production in history, closed less than three years after opening due to declining ticket sales. Even the Marvel team-up of U2 and genius director Julie Taymor couldn’t save it.
Despite all the expensive bells and whistles, it’s hard to — as the Wizard of Oz famously suggested — not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Which is required in order to believe that, say, Cap can throw around his shield with pinpoint accuracy despite being able to see the wires that carry it. Or that Falcon, Captain Marvel and others can fly when clearly they can’t. The loudest cheers of the night came when Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk during the grand finale. As impressive as the inevitable transformation was, it was kind of ruined when the Hulk had to then go smash things and you can tell it’s actually just a guy inside an awkward, nine-foot-tall puppet costume.
The live action simply can’t compare to seeing it in 3D on the bigscreen. Or, better yet, in your imagination when reading an actual comic.
Although it’s still going to be a tough act for the SuperDogs to follow this summer.
© 2015 Vancouver Courier