Although Marvel Comics have been around in one form or another for 75 years, it wasn't until 2000, when the first X-Men movie was released, that they began their ascent toward dominating pop cultural consciousness. That seemingly unstoppable growth continues with the Marvel Experience, an interactive event taking place at Fair Park through January 31.
Dubbed "The World's First Hyper-Reality Tour," it consists of seven separate areas — eight if you count the overpriced gift shop — in which visitors find themselves thrust into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. as new recruits, ready to help out superheroes like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Black Widow.
The optimal age for peak enjoyment of the Marvel Experience is 8-18, but there are parts to appreciate even if you don't fall into that age range.
After being fitted with a wristband and registering, new recruits go through a multistage training process in a series of domes, starting with intro videos featuring Iron Man, Nick Fury and others.
The fourth stop on the tour is the most intensive. Told that there's a new threat called the Super Adaptoid that can take on the powers of any superhero it encounters, recruits can go from station to station in the huge training center to learn how to fight back. This includes finding out how to fight like Hulk, fly like Iron Man, climb like Spider-Man, use agility like Black Widow and more.
The two most popular training areas will likely be the Avengers Encounter, in which you can virtually summon a variety of heroes, and the Holo-Blaster Training Simulator, in which 24 people can practice their shooting and web-slinging skills at the same time with special sensor guns.
Once you've had your fill of training — which, depending on the number of people at the event, could take a long time — you're free to move on to the final three areas, which include a 360-degree 3D movie and a motion ride that simulates a climactic battle aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier as you help fight the Super Adaptoid and other villains.
People whose Marvel knowledge only extends to what they see in the movies will enjoy the experience, but much of the event seems aimed at the hardcore Marvel fans who devour each and every comic book. The inclusion of The Vision, She-Hulk and Iron Fist speak to this goal, as they are characters that have yet to be included in the Marvel films — although at least one will soon make that leap.
The wristbands are outfitted with RFID tabs that, in theory, allow visitors to track their progress through the event to make it more personal. However, the wristbands did not work as expected at the tour's preview spot in Phoenix, so that aspect has been disabled for the time being. The wristbands still allow for interaction with various activities, but there is no personalization; organizers hope to have that part up and running for the second week in Dallas.
Some may miss that aspect of the event, but there is a lot of fun to be had without it. The activities in the Recruit Training Center involve people using their bodies to some degree, so you may work up a sweat while you train. The interactive nature is hit-and-miss, with noticeable lags in movement at the Hulk and Holo-Blaster stations, but the enthusiasm of the workers makes up for the glitches.
The finale of the tour, the motion ride, is an exciting ending, with rows of seats bucking and tilting in relation to the movement on screen. Although the story set up throughout is relatively simplistic to appeal to all ages, the top-notch animation allows you to fully give yourself over to the experience.
The optimal age for peak enjoyment of the Marvel Experience is 8-18, but there are parts to appreciate even if you don't fall into that age range. Anyone bringing younger kids should know that no one under 40 inches is allowed on the motion ride.
Information on the event's exact location has been spotty at best. Initially thought to take place inside Cotton Bowl Stadium — which is where Ticketmaster still says it is — the location is actually in the parking lot of the Fair Park Coliseum at the very south end of Fair Park. Parking is available just outside that area; visitors arriving via DART can use a free shuttle service to get to the event.