“Earth is under threat....alien invaders....only thing standing in their way is the Avengers and....”
Guess what! They are recruiting and you yes you just happen to have been selected for training. Thus begins the Marvel Station experience, opening this week in a dedicated venue under the shadows of Excel Centre in East London (nearest Tube: Prince Regent on the DLR).
The message, just a cut above the infamous Your Country Needs You” posters of WWI, is delivered in person – well, in video message – by Maria Hill, (former) director of Shield. Well, it would have to be a vid, given what happened to her at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. No spoilers, but...Commander Hill is not going to be directing anything much for the foreseeable future (or at least until after Avengers 4!).
Signing in for training
Message delivered. Doors open and we, the latest team of recruits file into the S.T.A.T.I.O.N space, there to be subjected to testing to determine our fitness to join the Avengers. Well, the odd test, which ranges from the quite sophisticated – a VR wraparound that places you, on-screen, in Iron Man armour to engage with invading Chitari – to basic fairground: a test your strength meter.
OK. It's wrapped up in flashing lights and an onscreen dial but it really is just a strength-o-meter!
Also within the station is a display and an experience that feels as though it is not altogether sure what it is or what it is there for. The exhibition is not unlike what you might encounter in a museum dedicated to the Avengers. Plenty of colourful images on a range of multi-media, occasionally interactive panels, providing the lowdown on the main Avengers characters, from Iron Man to Thor, Steve Rogers to Natasha Romanoff.
It's comprehensive – in an introductory sort of way – and is interspersed with exhibits that will have fans salivating at the fact they are allowed to get up close to...Cap's Harley Davidson, Iron Man's suits, Thor's hammer, Mjollnir. Though maybe the invitation to visitors to see if they are worthy to lift the thing might not have been thought through. Maybe it is my Cassandra-like super-power leaking through: but I foresee a future in which one over-enthusiastic visitor does their back in, straining to lift said weapon – and sues!
Iron Man's standard armour and his Hulk-buster armour
And – behind glass, natch! - a selection of real props used in the films: Captain America’s outfit, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Ant-Man's costumes, and so on.
It's a whistle with bells on. And it's themed as a training adventure. So the S.T.A.T.I.O.N staff deal with you, interact with you, throughout, as a recruit. Which maybe works, maybe doesn't.
Did I enjoy my visit to S.T.A.T.I.O.N. Ye-es....
Did I enjoy it enough to stir myself on a dark winter's night to voyage miles outside central London, there to hand over squillions of £££'s (£25 for adults, £14 for children and £60 for a family ticket) to the Marvel folk – or more precisely, The MJR Group, who organise thousands of events and concerts every year? Maybe not. It was OK. Good in parts. But not that good.
And there were a few bits that made me wonder if they have thought it through. Let's start with the exhibition itself, based on an idea originally conceived by Victory Hill, who created the permanent exhibition in Las Vegas. A lot of colourful presentation: a lot of writing. More, I suspect, than the average teen is going to be patient with. The approach is didactic, an Avengers textbook, if you will. So too much for many...but for the geeks amongst us – and I guess I must count myself as such – no way enough.
Also – and I'd lose my geek accreditation if I didn't nitpick just a little - Mjollnir? Really? Did S.T.A.T.I.O.N not notice that that weapon is no more: has been no more for at least two films now? And where is the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff? The Doc Strange exhibit?
Ah. Geek-minus, I hear you say. Because that is not Avengers proper! Except S.T,A,T.I.O.N includes a room full of enemy exhibits: Chitari weapons, bios for Loki and Thanos and a whole load of Infinity Stone trivia, as well as reference to Dormammu and the Time Stone. So if they can squeeze that in....
And while we're on the subject, there are serious continuity issues. In one room we're informed that we know only about the background to three of the stones...before moving on to a room that explains the six and, frustratingly, provides material on five. For some reason, next to nothing about the Soul Stone.
Last up is the training schtick, which is done well – the staff play their parts well – but is maybe a bit of a distraction. It involves role-play: LARPing, no less; which is great if the visitor is into that sort of thing. But my experience of geeks is this is a bit marmite. Some are. Some aren't. And for those that aren't, that would make the whole S.T.A.T.I.O.N experience a bit “hard limit”
In the end, I left the event in two minds. I did enjoy myself. But I can think of things I would enjoy more. But if that has not put you off, the event is running until 31st March 2019: so plenty of time to fire up your Quinjet and get yourself along to Excel London.