In these trying times, you’d be forgiven for wanting to spend a few years living under a big rock on a remote island. Unless you actually have, though, you’ll be aware of the all-conquering multi-media success of Marvel’s superheroes, not least the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe film series. Like the comics that spawned them, the films manage to combine the requisite biff-fests with something a bit deeper and wittier. This begs the question, if you plonk those superheroes into a live arena spectacle show, is there still more to them than closely choreographed running and hitting?
Marvel Universe Live!: Age of Heroes, which hit Manchester Arena this week, is big daft fun which sees Captain America razzing about on a stunt bike, Spider-Man swinging over the heads of the audience and Iron Man blasting baddies with electrical pulses. There are explosions and ramps and flying harnesses. It’s shamelessly unsubtle, but then, it does exactly as promised on the tin. The (pre-recorded, mimed) dialogue is often deathless and never as sharp and smart as it is in the films, but it’s only really meant to be functional. You could easily accuse the show of being formulaic – some goodies encounter some baddies, they clash, they move on to the next scene set-up, repeat – but no-one’s looking to make ground-breaking theatre here, unless it’s Hulk who’s breaking the ground.
As a loud, uncomplicated all-ages action show, it’s actually pretty admirable. It never sits still for a moment, and the variety of settings brings in some neat opportunities for routines with aerial silks and fire torches. Essentially it’s a circus show with a sliver of a plot. A powerful cosmic object is stolen which could bring about the end of the universe itself, but you’re getting no more spoilers here.
What’s striking is that the show takes so many cues direct from the films rather than going back to the comics. The Guardians of the Galaxy appear throughout, but they’re very much the big-screen line-up, which is just fine as they fit perfectly into the fast, furious fun. Loki, as the main antagonist, cleaves closely to Tom Hiddleston’s performance, too.
The characters Iron Fist, Black Panther and Spider-Man score high on the acrobatics-o-meter and a big-screen projection backdrop is used well, even incorporated directly into the action at times. Some costume touches really impress, such as the ingenious realisation of non-humans Rocket and Groot, whereas another couple, Rhino and Lizard, are a bit on the floppy side (horn and jaws respectively). At times it’s all so busy that it’s hard to know where to look, and it begins to look as though the show’s got nowhere to go by way of ramping things up for the climax, but it finds a way (and he’s angry and green).
Quibbles aside, this is every bit the noisy, high-energy blast it sets out to be. It’s only fitting that the final word should come from Northern Soul‘s 10-year-old co-correspondent: “There was a fair balance between acrobatics and fighting and there was a high amount of danger. At one point Spider-Man swung over the crowd and I was like ‘I really don’t want you to fall’. Then there was a bit where they fell down and I was like ‘what if they miss the mats and break their necks? The show could all go wrong’. But I settled because I didn’t really want to ruin it for myself. So I watched it and it was all very good. I’d give it 3 and a half stars out of 5, which is quite high praise.”
By Andy Murray (with assistance from Flinn)
Images supplied by Marvel Universe Live.
Marvel Universe Live!: Age of Heroes, Manchester Arena until 1 December 1, 2019, and touring.