On December 20th, my husband and I went to check out The Marvel Experience, which is a large interactive attraction intended to give people the experience of training to be an operative of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was heavily advertised in the Phoenix area as a grand adventure, culminating in a unique, 4-D experience. I was lucky enough to have won a pair of VIP tickets from our local PBS station as tickets usually cost $99 each for the VIP experience. (General admission tickets start at $27.50.)
VIP parking was right up front and an easy stroll from the main event, and our “priority” wrist bands enabled us to head to the front of any lines.
Once our tickets were scanned, we were given S.H.I.E.L.D wrist bands that would track our progress through the various interactive attractions inside the first dome. But first, we went to some terminals to enter data and create our own agent profiles (they billed it as creating an ID). This ended up serving no real purpose. Maybe if we were using smart phones or something in conjunction with the feature it would have been different, or we just missed something. It was still a fun part of the process.
In the first scenario, S.H.I.E.L.D wants a new way of training recruits, so they’re testing out this mobile command training facility. Once gathered inside, we were treated to a video of Tony Stark and Jennifer Walters (aka She-Hulk) who gave us a bit of a pep talk before going in and told us that this training site was the first of its kind. (Stan Lee has an amusing cameo in this video, too.) We then entered the training facility where Fury and various Marvel heroes welcomed us with a description of what we were going to be up against. It seems Red Skull from Hydra came up with something new and terrible to use against mankind, so it was our job to finish training and help out.
As we progressed through the various scenarios, we were treated to excellent attention to detail. A large containment vessel sits in the middle of the first room, housing one of the alien creations mentioned by Director Fury, nearby is an activity that required recruits to sort through space debris in order to find pieces of alien technology, and there was also an area where recruits could read up on the histories of many of the heroes mentioned. There were also two exhibits: one containing props and paraphernalia for the heroes and the other for the villains. The attraction is definitely designed to be family friendly, so to our adult sensibilities, many things seemed a tad cheesy. Some of the motion-activated games also seemed calibrated to children, which made them challenging to the adults who attempted them. I tried Black Widow’s laser maze (on easy) and only missed one, but learned that flying like Iron Man and punching like the Hulk took more skill. We were not able to try every attraction, but those who did appeared to be having a great time.
When we were ready, we headed into the quinjet to prepare for the final lesson. In the waiting area was a gallery that invited people to learn about the main Hydra players involved in the story, which was interesting as two were characters I’d never heard of before. When we were ushered in, our wristbands were collected and we all stood under a large dome. Iron Fist appeared and we were told to don our “holo specs” which was confusing, as we weren’t given any.
Then we moved to the ride at the end of the exhibit, with a brief interlude of videos that made plain the gravity of the situation with Hydra – things were so bad we were given an immediate promotion to full agent status. The finale represented us riding in a S.H.I.E.L.D jet and we witnessed some pretty fantastic heroics. Our only complaints – there was no 3D aspect to the film and it was too short. (The story had some holes, as well, but that was secondary to our other concerns.)
Everyone exited through a gift shop, which we didn’t check out. Though we did pause to have a look at the photo snapped as we were coming in that was against a green screen At this point, we could choose from three different backgrounds, but opted for a simple ‘no thank you.’ As VIPs, there was a lounge area, which was a nicely appointed tent with snacks, water, a cash bar, and Marvel movies playing. We popped in for a water and to collect our VIP merch (t-shirt, poster signed by the artist, and a logo bag to carry them).
As far as the story they were telling – it was pretty good, but, my nerd brain had issues with a few things. In their story, Nick Fury is still the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., dresses like his comic book counterpart (blue & white uniform), but still looks like Samuel L. Jackson. Mostly. (All the characters who were represented at the attraction who have been seen on film bore vague resemblances to the actors who portray them and had voices that were almost impressions.) The collection of Marvel heroes assembled for this didn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but that might be because I don’t have a background in the comics end of things, just the movies.
Overall, the Marvel Experience was fun. I’ve heard quite a few terrible things from others, but we must have gone after some bugs had been worked out. Phoenix is the first city on the tour and we went late on the first day they were open. If you’re a big Marvel fan and are invested in the characters they use, it’s worth checking out. Especially if you have kids or are a big kid at heart. Here’s hoping by the time it hits your city, everything works as expected.