Having enjoyed success worldwide, the interactive exhibition Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. opened in November 2019 at outside the ExCel at the Royal Victoria Dock, London. The multi-room immersive experience enables fans to explore the lives and adventures of the hugely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Similar to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter and the late-lamented Doctor Who Experience, the exhibition features original costumes and props from the film series, as well as real-life physical recreations of CGI-only characters and costumes, such as Iron Man’s Hulkbuster suit, along with various interactive games and activities. Unlike the aforementioned exhibitions, however, Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. remains strictly in-universe throughout, with visitors positioned as recruits for a special training mission.
Creating an excellent link to the films, the tour itself opens with a short training brief from S.H.I.E.L.D’s very own Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) as she welcomes you to the Avengers Science Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network. The exhibition then consists of a series of themed rooms, all decked out with in-universe display screens providing text and images detailing the backstory of the Earth’s mightiest heroes and their enemies, along with the actual costumes and props used in making of the films. The majority of these rooms focus on the more prominent Avengers – Iron Man, Hulk and Thor having one room each, Captain America and Black Panther sharing a space, with the remaining Avengers – Ant Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Vision and Falcon – being all grouped together. The final room welcomes visitors to a world of evil, featuring recreations of the Chitauri (Avengers Assemble), Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Malekith (Thor: The Dark World) and the all-powerful Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War). This room also explains the importance of the Infinity Stones, and how they feature throughout the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to the display screens, knowledgeable guides are also stationed in each room to answer questions; although some of these can be more enthusiastic and interactive with the public than others. Both the screens and the staff together form an essential element of the exhibition, as visitors do need some level of understanding of the characters and storylines in order to appreciate the various displays or understand the meaning and purpose of the interactive elements.
In addition to costumes, props and information, there’s also fun to be had throughout the experience. The Tony Stark room features a Kinect-powered motion-controlled Hulkbuster video game, where players take on an invasion of Ultron’s drones, in a scene reminiscent of Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with an opportunity to participate in a high-tech science experiment similar to those of Tony Stark himself. There’s also a demonstration of Hulk’s enormous strength, Captain America’s motorcycle to ride, Ant Man’s ants scurrying over the floor, and opportunities to find out whether you are worthy to wield Thor’s hammer, and which of the Avengers you could match strength with. Sadly, the final “End Game” – another video-game style battle versus Ultron and his minions – is somewhat disappointing, as it lacks any actual interactivity. Perhaps the game would be more fun if it required players to use their new-found skills and knowledge about the Avengers and their enemies acquired during the experience to complete theif “training session”… rather than just randomly pressing a button an iPod.
Sadly, in comparison to similar exhibitions, Marvel’s Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. really does lag behind in terms of value for money. Despite being marketed as an opportunity for fans to become a trained agent of the S.T.A.T.I.O.N., the exhibition lacks any sense of story or progress – unlike, for example, the walk-through adventure of the aforementioned Doctor Who Experience. The limited interactivity of the hands-on elements – of which there are only one or two per room – leaves one feeling somewhat short changed. On reflection, the rooms feel rather empty, and by the end, after only five rooms, it’s all over too quickly. It’s almost as though it’s a teaser for a forthcoming main event.
Although admittedly the exhibition as a whole does look visually amazing – it’s all very high tech – and it’s packed with loads of useful information without giving away too many “spoilers” (nothing is mentioned about the ending of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, for example), in general there is a sense of something lacking. Yes, the original costumes and props present are beautiful to behold, but it might have be better to have even more props and gadgets on show. Also noticeable by their absence were the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (other than an on-screen appearance of Maria Hill); although they aren’t technically Avengers, they are important and popular characters within the MCU.
The exhibition also lacks basic hospitality elements, with limited / hidden toilet facilities within the exhibition and a distinct absence of seating outside the facility while guests wait for their time slot (a coffee stand would be appreciated), and there is nowhere to store coats or bags. Indeed, the exterior visuals have considerable room for improvement: portacabins and awnings are not remotely impressive to an excited Avengers fan. Finally, the gift shop – a large room that leads to the exhibition’s abrupt exit – offers a very limited selection of highly priced goods, and curiously a total lack of Avengers comic books.
Despite huge potential, Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. provides limited content to keep fans interested for long, although some of the elements might appeal to younger children. The whole tour takes no more than 90 minutes to two hours to complete; it’s therefore not necessarily an attraction one would travel to from afar to experience. However, combining it with a day out in London, taking in other sights and attractions, would make the journey worthwhile.