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ALBANY — Perhaps police across the Capital District were able to rest easy last week, knowing that comic book superheroes had come to protect the city from costumed supervillains, a power-hungry god and alien adversaries.
From Thursday, Oct. 4 through Sunday, Oct. 7, the public was able to meet many of their favorite characters at Marvel Universe Live! Age of Heroes — a live action-packed arena show by Field Entertainment which gains heavy inspiration from the comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) properties and similar films. In this family-friendly production, heroes like Spider-Man, the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy must battle Loki, Green Goblin, Nebula and more in an intergalactical conflict.
The main plot centers on the heroes trying to stop Loki who wants to get the elusive Wand of Watoomb, and rule both Asgard and Earth. As Marvel has an impressive pantheon of characters, the audience cheered as each popped up onstage, with sheer applause particularly for Spider-Man, Captain America and Black Panther.
Attending its local opening night on Oct. 4 with a coworker, I realized that the event clearly had been anticipated by residents as many families arrived with their costume-wielding children. For adults who hesitantly assumed that it would be too childish, those worries would have melted away when the show immediately proved how much effort its actors, production team and special effects were put in to entertain the masses.
This 90-minute spectacle was an energetic kaleidoscope of pyrotechnics, motorcycle stunts, fight scenes, screen animation, interactive props, acrobatics, aerial moves and quippy dialogue.
Notable highlights were when the crowd was astonished as Spider-Man “swung” across the arena and battled the Green Goblin on his glider, reminiscent of the original 2002 film. Thor’s hammer hovered across the venue straight into the god’s hand before battle and Black Widow’s fatal flexibility triumphantly stood out.
Hulk, mostly trapped in his civilian Bruce Banner persona throughout the show, represented the final cathartic rush when he finally got to transform into the famed green creature, his loud bellowing and stomping manner quickly turning the tables on Loki and his henchmen.
The actors’ overall athleticism was worth commending as the fight choreography was brilliantly realized onstage, with superheroes doing cartwheels, simulating punches, projecting impeccable footwork and even performing motorcycle stunts. Concerning the latter, the audience watched as the actors braved the motorbikes over ramps and even transcended gravity by literally riding them up onto high platforms.
Other prominent physical examples included the towering-yet-lovable Groot whose actor seemed to not only walk but impressively run and fight on stilts; Spider-Man whose agility and dramatic poses yielded cheers; and Black Panther’s ferocious disposition and animated combat skills treated small enemies as mere obstacles.
One common aspect throughout was how multiple characters were fighting one another across the massive stage so one would assume the spectacle would look disorienting. But the production remedied that by having some spotlights shine on a specific one-on-one fight scene where the two characters continuously taunt and attack each other, which added to the plot’s high stakes, before shining on another battle elsewhere on stage.
Lighting and pyrotechnics also aided in telling the story and displaying certain characters’ powers, with mini-explosions, static fires and pulsing illumination, giving the overall production an extra layer of pizazz. These helped elevate performances for Doctor Strange, Loki and Electro.
My coworker admittedly did not watch all the recent Marvel films and merely recognized a few superheroes, but later said that she still enjoyed the show for its stunts, choreography and cinematic scope.
In order to fully experience the event, knowledge of the each character’s names, powers, backgrounds and agendas can be helpful as well as noting the in-show location changes, which included Antarctica, New York City, K’un-Lun and Asgard. However, this was not necessary as the visuals, action sequences and easy-to-follow plot made up for that potential concern.
Lesser-known characters like Iron Fist, the Wasp and Black Cat were also given a chance to prove why they were key to the story, which makes one wonder why they don’t receive enough exposure in film or TV. Other famous Marvel figures like the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel, Deadpool and Daredevil unfortunately were not part of this production though, which further expressed just how expansive Marvel’s outreach is.
The show evidently showcased the impact Marvel has had on the public, with its seemingly infinite supply of comics, films, TV shows and merchandise, that stretches even beyond the MCU era. This arena event was another refreshing way where Marvel’s cast can engage the public via a different medium.
Also, this production’s Oct. 4 opening night occurred on the same day that MCU actor Chris Evans announced he had finished filming for the upcoming 2019 Avengers film and reflected on his past eight years of playing Captain America, which attracted massive attention among fans and the media.
We live in an era where superhero fatigue — a recent concept where people worry that there is too much superhero-centric content — has been brought up as a legitimate concern. But judging from the night’s turnout which included many excited children in capes and masks, perhaps that next generation would still warmly enjoy the company of their favorite comic book heroes in the future.
Unless I accidentally missed it, the only thing absent in Marvel Universe Live! Age of Heroes would be an inserted cameo by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee or an actor resembling him, his appearances across Marvel properties alone having become a pop culture phenomenon.