The universe begins with a big bang.
A fiery explosion on the floor of the Forum suddenly shocks the audience to attention and sets in motion “Marvel Universe Live!,” an ever-expanding space of mutants, special agents, extraterrestrial gods, heroes, villains and stunts for the next two hours.
The newest production by Feld Entertainment, the company behind Ringling Bros. Circus, Disney on Ice and several high-octane motocross and monster truck shows, packs in so many familiar (and somewhat unfamiliar) comic book characters and locales that you'll hardly know where to look sometimes.
On Tuesday, after nearly two years of production and months of rehearsals, the show was seen by an audience for the first time ever at a media preview at the Forum — basically, the second-to-last dress rehearsal before the show debuts for a paying crowd on Thursday.
Yes, there is a narrative, a (somewhat convoluted) Avengers-plus-friends mission to recover shards of the cosmic cube to thwart Loki's plan for world domination, but that hardly matters. You know who the good guys are (Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Widow and The Hulk, to name a few), and you know who the bad guys are (Loki, Red Skull, Aldrich Killian and Green Goblin among them), and you know it's all heading toward some kind of grand showdown.
In the meantime, prepare to be dazzled by the cutting-edge projection mapping technology that is the engine driving the show.
Digital images projected onto the floor, props, costumes and a massive stage at the back of the performance area provide scenery and super powers, such as Spidey's webbing or Thor's lightning. They grant the audience a stunning view from a ship as it launches from Manhattan into space, and make it feel as if you're riding a high-speed lift to the top of the Avenger's tower. When physical props and projections interact, such as when the pieces of Iron Man's suit fly into place on his body for the first time, you'll wonder “how did they do that?” And before the show even started, a brief projection of various comic book panels cycling onto different parts of the wall was so vivid and beautiful, I wished it would have gone on another five minutes.
There were some small glitches during the preview. Iron Man had trouble getting his repulsor beams to sync up with his actual hand movements, Captain America's shield briefly failed to retract into a hidden compartment after it flew through the air and the Green Goblin dropped a weapon to the arena floor from his glider, but there weren't any major issues that looked as if they couldn't be solved.
Another big highlight of the preview was the motorcycle stunts, not surprising considering Feld produces the Nuclear Cowboyz tour, probably the world's most stunt-packed motorcycle show. Captain America and Black Widow are especially impressive during a battle with Red Skull, using their bikes to take out enemies, scale a large, spiraling ramp and jump flaming barrels.
This is a show for families with kids and the Marvel obsessed. It's a fantastic PG starting point for children who might not be ready for the PG-13 world of the films yet, and the humor is broad enough to keep parents happy. The characters feel like the slightly campier Saturday morning cartoon versions more than the movies, which is a lot of fun. Wolverine, for instance, is over-the-top ornery and looks and sounds just like the Wolverine from the '90s animated X-Men series in his old-school blue and yellow costume.
If you're a Marvel fanboy or fangirl, you'll want to see how this show pairs characters for missions in ways that have rarely happened in the comics. The funniest moments come when these odd couples clash.
Wisecracking boy-genius Spider-Man busting out his phone for a photo only to be shot down by serious Asgardian god Thor deadpanning, “I detest selfies,” or Bruce Banner grilling Wolverine on whether he's ever used his claws to spread jam on toast.
If you're a casual, adult fan of the summer blockbusters, however, you might want save the $27 to $100 cost of a ticket and set aside $10 for when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” comes out next May.