Jul 22, 2017

Theater Review: Marvel Universe Live Age of Heroes

If anyone has to ask why Marvel's recent onslaught of superhero movies are so popular, they need not more than witness a show during Marvel Universe Live Age of Heroes. The fact that these comic book characters get taken seriously enough to headline a production at the Honda Center is a testament to the joys of escapism. Whether it's the outer space shenanigans of the Guardians of the Galaxy, or the patriotic leadership of Captain America, they were all on display for a story that was light on plot but high on fun and action. Anyone who doubts the appeal of seeing superheroes in person clearly hasn't sat below an acrobatic Spider-Man as he dangles from a cable, swinging through the room with such dexterity. It may not have the frills of the big screen movies, but it does have all of the excitement you get from watching one.
The story takes place on an almost bare stage over two 45 minute acts. Despite this, the story isn't shy of taking quick detours not only around the world, but around the galaxy. Anyone who would want to visit Asgard and New York City in the same evening will be pleased to know that despite the limited sets, the special effects work add something to the imagination. Lights flash the explosions from Doctor Strange's superpowers. Rocket Raccoon does back flips to make his travel simpler. It's a simple story (get back the powerful Wand of Watoomb from villain Loki) played to melodramatic heights by characters who, even if they don't sound the part, look like the comic book equivalents. It's a story where Marvel's greatest villains appear for scenes of choreographed fighting and campy dialogue that is broad enough to not offend a single child. 
For all of the story's shortcomings, it does thrive on the appeal of its audience who have likely watched Spider-Man: Homecoming a few times by now. Characters like Groot and Wasp are icons here, entering the story to sounds of thunderous applause. Even with high wire tricks, characters ascend from second story platforms in grandiose fashion. Even if the set is bare bones, it feels like nothing is off limits here. For starters, there is a great scene in which The Sinister Six fight Spider-Man. As all hope looks lost, Captain America shows up on motorcycle saying those magnificent words "Avengers, assemble." It's the cheap but necessary trick to get the audience thrilled for what's to come. They can't watch Spider-Man die. Instead, they watch as characters like Black Widow and Wasp emerge to do hand to hand combat against the villains. Corny puns ensue, and there's a lot of back flips onto padded mattresses.
If the story seems ridiculous at its core, it's largely because it is. Doctor Strange begins the production while hovering over the crowd. He gives a mystical story about why the Wand of Watoomb is important. He's deathly serious, and the harrowing undertones of the show to come feels geared more towards kids. With that said, a simple and optimistic story about working together is a decent thing to push on kids, especially one that's so ingrained in the modern pop culture lexicon. Even if it has a nonsensical motocross scene in which Spider-Man does a back flip, it has the awe of watching something so incredibly kooky that you have to admire the production. The story never drags and the sets are practical. This is like a superhero circus down to the cotton candy and random merchandise sold in the lobby. It's a show meant for families, and it works as such.
The one caveat is that the show doesn't feature every one of Marvel's finest. It's true that it impressively mixes supernatural characters with the more grounded and human ones, but the show still manages to prove how impressive and iconic the characters are in 2017. Every one gets a cheer, and nobody is quite left out of the action. So while it's likely that it won't be nearly as impressive as any of the movies, it's a good place to see: Spider-Man, Thor, Black Widow, Wasp, Groot, Starlord, Yondu, Nebula, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Captain America, Iron Man, Loki, Electro, Black Cat, Iron Fist, Drax the Destroyer, Lizard, Black Panther, and The Incredible Hulk (in the great finale). By the end, it does plenty to remind the audience as to why these characters inspire them. It also will make them look forward to future movies where they finally crossover and have adventures as fun as this. It may be goofy, but it's also super.

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