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Review: 'Marvel Universe Live' makes comic characters more family-friendly

Marvel heroes meet at the end of Act I to plan their mission during the “Marvel Universe Live” show.
Marvel heroes meet at the end of Act I to plan their mission during the “Marvel Universe Live” show.
Published Jul. 9, 2014

On the way home from a Tuesday preview of "Marvel Universe Live" at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, I turned the radio off and drove in complete silence. I needed some quiet time after 90 minutes of sensory overload.

The ambitious new stunt show, which premieres in Tampa today through Sunday before an 85-city tour, was created by the Ringling circus masters Feld Entertainment. It combines a huge video backdrop with pyrotechnics, motorcycle jumps, car chases and even a performer engulfed in flames. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and crowd favorites Wolverine and Spider-Man are among the two dozen classic comic book characters.

The show is geared more for the 8-year-old Marvel fan than the 28-year-old comic book geeks who have made the Marvel-based movies one blockbuster after another. I have a friend with a young son who was worried that it might be too intense or scary for him, but I doubt that will be an issue for most kids. It wasn't a problem for the 11-year-old to my left or the 4-year-old to my right, who squealed at the sight of Thor's hammer and the lighting bolts that shimmied through the arena.

The projection mapping overseen by J. Vaught, vice president of Feld's ice and stage productions, was impressive, with digital images creating a huge movie backdrop ranging from Tony Stark's lab to a landslide in the Himalayas to the top of the Statue of Liberty. And it uses the largest projection surface ever built, the company said.

But the dialogue is cheesy, Saturday morning cartoon cornball (Thor shouts, "It's hammer time!" before a smackdown, for example). And the pacing is more like the circus than a slick blockbuster from Joss Whedon (The Avengers) or Jon Favreau (Iron Man).

Adding to the circus feel are the many vendors hawking cotton candy, light-up whirligigs and swords, and the special $25 Lectro Link wrist gismo that is part of the show. Though kids like most anything that lights up, this should have been used more often in the show to justify the price.

One of the most impressive costumes was Falcon, the winged character seen in the spring hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But the trick of turning the mild Bruce Banner into the Hulk produced a huge 8-foot Muppet-like lug with mixed results. He had some real facial expressions, except for the glowing green eyes, but during "Hulk smash," he was nowhere near the bad guy he was supposedly knocking out.

Spider-Man, played by Moe Alafrangy and Trevor Logan (depending on the scene), was one of the most popular of the night; he should have been called Spider-Ham for all the standing backflips and impressive aerial stunts. Both performers come from the world of extreme martial arts "tricking" where competitors perform Matrix-style feats that seem to defy gravity. You can certainly see why producers looked to the X-Games and martial arts to find superheroes.

This is the most expensive show in Feld Entertainment's history, with production costs estimated by the Hollywood Reporter at more than $10 million — and Tampa is making history tonight as the birthplace of the first Marvel collaboration for a live touring stage show.

Like Feld's other family entertainment tours — Monster Jam, the circus, Disney on Ice — this will likely draw the families in search of entertainment that brings familiar pop culture characters, but it only gets as edgy as a car crash.


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