Marvel Super Hero Island gives a theme-park window right into a pre-MCU world
Avengers Campus opened on June 4 in Disney’s California Adventure, one of many parks in Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort. With all of the pomp and circumstance across the new set up, it may not register that Avengers Campus isn’t the primary Marvel-themed amusement park, or the one one on the market. That title belongs to Marvel Super Hero Island, in Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure in Florida. Established 22 years in the past — effectively earlier than the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off, and redefined how the world sees Marvel characters — it’s an odd time capsule of a pre-MCU world. While the remainder of the phrase lined up for the new-fangled WEB Slingers Spider-Man experience in Avengers Campus, I revisited The Amazing Spider-Man experience in Islands of Adventure out of morbid curiosity.
Why are there two Marvel-themed lands in utterly separate parks, owned by completely totally different corporations? Is that outdated experience from 1999 any good? Thanks to my latest journey to Universal Studios and a normal information of the weirdness that’s Islands of Adventure, I’ve these solutions.
Somewhat background for these unfamiliar with the sophisticated world of Marvel theme parks: The purpose a Marvel Super Hero Island exists in Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure is as a result of plenty of the theme-park sights in Islands of Adventure and Universal Orlando alike are licensed properties from different studios. That’s why these parks function the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Back when Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, Marvel Super Hero Island was one of many first themed lands within the park. (Fun element — it was initially imagined to be a DC Land, earlier than Time Warner acquired Six Flags and deliberate its personal DC integration there.)
Islands of Adventure is a hodgepodge of various properties, every by itself “island” within the park. There’s a Jurassic Park-themed Island, the Harry Potter one, a Doctor Seuss world, a comic-strip land, a King Kong-inspired Skull Island, and the Lost Continent, a vaguely Medieval-Greco-Roman-Arabian themed place that used to have just a few miscellaneous sights that didn’t belong anyplace else, although as of late, it solely hosts a stunt present and an interactive fountain. And then there’s Marvel Super Hero Island.
I first visited the park in 2007, and coming again to it in 2021, I wasn’t too stunned to study that not a lot has modified. Because of varied rights points, the whole lot on Marvel Island comes particularly from comics earlier than 2009, the yr Disney acquired Marvel. The precise contract language may be very particular: Disney can’t use the “Marvel” title in theme parks within the U.S. or Japan (which explains the title of Avengers Campus), and can’t have a Marvel-themed simulator experience inside designated authorized distances of Universal theme parks (it’s 60 miles for “mini-theme parks” and 300 miles for actual theme parks.) Disneyland is exempt from these guidelines as a result of it’s west of the Mississippi River, which is why Disney squeezed Avengers Campus into the comparatively tiny Disneyland, as a substitute of putting it within the extra sprawling Walt Disney World.
What’s Marvel Super Hero Island about, if not the MCU?
Marvel Super Hero Island clearly emphasizes that it’s representing Marvel comics, not Marvel films. That really kinda works out. Instead of replicating film units from the MCU, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, or Venom, the decor of the Marvel island is stuffed with big comic-style photos of characters, and the buildings are stylized with massive, daring shiny colours to emulate that really feel.
It does assist that a number of the most eye-catching artwork on Marvel Island is of characters who haven’t proven up within the MCU but. The essential eatery boasts giant cut-outs of the Fantastic Four. You can take pics with an immense picture of Wolverine baring his claws. There’s artwork of Captain America and Iron Man plastered on the perimeters of buildings, however they’re very clearly the comedian ebook characters, not film stars. The retro vibe could possibly be jarring, however as a result of these particular characters solely make up a small portion of Marvel Super Hero Island, it’s simple to look previous them.
Visitors who don’t know the weirdly particular Marvel theme park authorized restrictions may be anticipating to see the MCU counterparts within the park. But for probably the most half, the sights — Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Storm Force Accelatron (a spinning teacup experience themed round X-Men’s Storm) — contact on characters who aren’t within the MCU, or don’t have a presence within the Disneyland park but. It additionally does assist that Marvel Island is a hop-skip away from Toon Lagoon, the realm of Islands of Adventure devoted to comedian strips and old-timey cartoon characters like Popeye and Dudley Do-Right, so guests can seamlessly transition from one pen-and-ink world into one other. For probably the most half, Marvel Super Hero Island appears like just a little pocket universe, completely separate from the MCU juggernaut we all know and love as we speak.
Except for the Spider-Man experience.
It is fairly humorous that each Marvel Super Hero Island and Avengers Campus opened up with Spider-Man rides — The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure, and WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure at Disneyland. Both function Spider-Man, naturally, however additionally they function a mix of physical-motion units and digital display screen environments. Spider-Man rights proceed to be the bizarre authorized gray space in the case of Marvel properties. Nice man Tom Holland allegedly saved the big ol’ Sony-Marvel deal again in 2019, however the hero’s movie rights nonetheless belong to Sony.
But in the case of the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man experience, not one of the trendy Spider-Man films even existed. Like the remainder of Marvel Super Hero Island, the experience was designed to evoke the comics, and it visually resembles the 1994 animated sequence greater than it mimics any film that includes Holland, Tobey Maguire, or Andrew Garfield. For the previous 22 years, the coaster has maintained that very same look. It was briefly refurbished in 2012, however that simply concerned updating it to 4K and 3D, whereas including in some Stan Lee cameos. When The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was launched, it was one of the crucial cutting-edge rides round, and it acquired high awards at business occasions.
Does it maintain up as we speak?
Waiting in line for The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man takes me across the again of the Daily Bugle workplaces. In the lore of the experience, the Sinister Syndicate (composed right here of Doctor Octopus, Scream, Electro, Hydro-Man, and Hobgoblin) has stolen the Statue of Liberty. An animated model of J. Jonah Jameson, voiced by Chris Edgerly, recruits me and the opposite friends to experience in a particular fancy reporter automotive, in an effort to snap some footage of Spider-Man (…additionally voiced by Chris Edgerly). The queue circles by way of the Daily Bugle workplaces. Outside, the intense buildings have bricks drawn intermittently, evoking that comedian ebook really feel. It isn’t as detailed as a number of the different ready areas within the park (the Hogwarts queue involves thoughts), however little indicators for the Daily Bugle cashier are a pleasant contact.
Inside, the queue circles round a newspaper workplace. Since this takes place in 1999, the Daily Bugle reporters use typewriters and rotary telephones. Everything can be tinged with gray, which I suppose is meant to proceed the comedian ebook look and evoke newspaper comics, nevertheless it simply appears to be like just a little washed-out. On televisions scattered by way of the queue, information reporters give “live updates” of the Sinister Syndicate’s plans. It’s all achieved in that very same outdated 1994 Spider-Man animation type, which is fairly charming.
J. Jonah’s intro video explains extra about what awaits us, whereas displaying off the “Scoop” car. We seize some “night-vision goggles” (3D glasses), then load up into the car, which whisks us off right into a Manhattan again alley, portrayed in comic-book type.
The experience is a hybrid of setpieces and video screens, which present animated variations of the Spider-Man characters threatening the Scoop car, then getting yanked away from us by Spider-Man’s webs. For probably the most half, these cartoon encounters don’t look terribly outdated, particularly since they aren’t meant to look photorealistic. When the movies pan in for close-ups, the graphics look janky. But that doesn’t occur lots, and more often than not when it does, the villains are masked. Elements like Scream’s flowing hair may look just a little stiff, however when actual hearth blasts out of the partitions and water splashes on the riders, that’s not likely what you’re listening to.
The Scoop car seamlessly transitions from units to display screen, in a method that Universal Rides do very effectively. The impact is analogous within the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey experience, however the Spider-Man experience is notable for doing it first, and nonetheless being simply as a lot enjoyable. In spite of the occasional stilted graphics, it’s nonetheless thrilling, filled with abrupt risks and reversals each few seconds. The Scoop car will get hit by Doc Ock’s anti-gravity beam, making the ups and downs all of the extra thrilling.
The hearth and water — the “4D effects” — could possibly be gimmicky, however they’re well-integrated into the (admittedly extremely tacky) storyline — and likewise, when a person fabricated from water is taking a swipe at you, it’s okay to be a bit tacky. Of course, Spider-Man swoops in to avoid wasting the day, snatching the Scoop car up together with his internet earlier than it plummets to the bottom. It’s corny enjoyable, however that’s precisely what you need out of a short theme park encounter along with your pleasant neighborhood Spider-Man.
Because the story of the experience is all animated, and since it’s so self-contained in Spider-Man lore, with none references to different heroes or villains, it’s simple to overlook the MCU model of Spider-Man and his complete interconnected universe. This is a distinct Spider-Man, one who’s by no means met Tony Stark, and hasn’t by chance set free the bots plaguing Avengers Campus. I assumed I may be pondering of Tom Holland and even Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire all through the experience, however as a substitute, I used to be swept away into this animated universe.
I went to Marvel Super Hero Island anticipating it to be kinda unhappy, an unchanging pocket of time caught within the early 2000s. To be honest, there are nonetheless plenty of these fastened reference factors, just like the cardboard cutout of Captain America battling M.O.D.O.K., of all villains. But it additionally captures a brightly coloured, off-kilter world that the MCU has but to copy. The Spider-Man experience is the right instance of the superhero world’s pre-movie-franchise vitality, a tribute to the comedian books and animated exhibits that used to outline superhero media. Somehow, in any case these years, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man nonetheless holds up, even whether it is trapped in a bizarre time limbo. Actually, perhaps it holds up as a result of it’s trapped in a bizarre time limbo, simply as a lot of a interval piece of Marvel lore as it’s a enjoyable experience.