The Walt Disney Company’s latest theme park creation opens Friday at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California and every corner of it is filled with winks and nods to all things Marvel. But the film, TV, and theme park giant’s new “Avengers Campus” won me over when I saw the Lego Death Star.
Fans will remember that in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) built a giant Star Wars Lego set of the famous Death Star. In Avengers Campus, it’s sitting in the workshop holding area for Web-Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, one of the park’s brand new interactive attractions. Web-Slingers is without a doubt the highlight of the new land that, frankly, is pretty dang small. But the Disneyland Resort (which includes Disneyland itself and California Adventure, which holds the Marvel land) has used the limited space incredibly well, packing it with non-stop reminders of why we love Marvel so much, just like that Lego Death Star. On Wednesday, io9 attended a media preview of Avengers Campus, which included free entry to only that section of the park. For three hours, the Campus was our oyster, and we enjoyed as many rides, live experiences, and food as we could. Here’s how it went down.
Officially, Avengers Campus is opening this week with two rides. There’s the aforementioned new Web-Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and then Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. However, the Guardians ride has been open at the park since 2017 (it took over Tower of Terror)—so for most fans, it’s been there, done that. You can read much more about that admittedly awesome ride at this link. The main reason Disney fans will flock to Avengers Campus starting this week (hopefully following all covid safety measures) is Web-Slingers and we think it’s worth the wait. The basic story is that Peter Parker (played by Holland, who reprises the role in the ride via voice and video) and a team of students working at a place called Worldwide Engineering Brigade (referred to as W.E.B) have created a few cool new pieces of technology. One of them is tiny Spider-Bots that can self-replicate, which of course quickly gets out of hand as the Bots begin to take over all of Avengers Campus. It’s up to Spider-Man, and you, to stop it.
You do so by shooting webs at the Bots on giant screens—it’s sort of like a virtual, interactive shooter game; for every Bot you hit with your webs, you rack up points. If you’ve been to a Disney theme park before, basically this is like a super high-tech Toy Story Midway Mania (which, it’s important to note, is my favorite Disney ride so I might be a tad biased here). Some robots are worth more points, and there are all kinds of cool different mechanics you can activate and new animations to unlock. Over the course of four different areas, the onslaught of bots only gets more overwhelming. Each ride vehicle has eight seats, four on each side, and it moves along a track stopping four times for four different areas of carnage. What’s truly awesome, though, is each stop is a major area of Avengers Campus, so it really feels like you’re playing a role in the entire space. You start in the W.E.B. labs, then move to the Pym kitchen, then the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, and, finally, outside in the park, right next to the large Avengers HQ building and its Quinjet. The ride basically just does a virtual circle around the park, fighting Spider-Bots.
“But how do you shoot webs?” you might be asking. That’s the best part. You don’t sling webs with a gun or anything, and you don’t even need a Web Shooter (though you can buy one in the gift shop which makes it easier and, as a result, your score higher), you fling webs just by moving your arms. Disney has developed a new motion detection technology that allows you to just flick your hands like Spider-Man and shoot webs. And it works really well. I was fortunate enough to ride Web-Slingers three times and got higher scores each time, mostly because I figured out how to shoot faster and more accurately with every ride. Every time you go back, odds are you’ll be very excited to try it again. But note: when it opens, guests will only be able to ride once daily via a virtual queue system. Details can be found here.)
Here are the downsides: the ride seems short. I would have loved to spend another 15-20 seconds in each room, exploring all the places Spider-Bots are hiding. This might be because Disney is basically forcing you to exercise as entertainment—if you are really going all out with your web-slinging, your arms will get tired. (It should be noted that like most of Disney’s interactive rides, this one may be difficult for folks with disabilities.) I’m definitely down for more though to try and build up a rhythm and a strategy because there’s so much variety and opportunity in each room. One time you’ll pull down a ledge. Another time, you’ll make a pipe explode. It’s also true that you can kind of cheat with the Web Tech add-ons (Read more about those here). But, on the leaderboards posted on the way out, it lets you know which scores were achieved with Web Tech and which weren’t, so you’ll know how you stack up. In the end, Web-Slingers is pure sensory overload and a lot of fun. It’s leaps and bounds better than Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run over in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (but not Rise of the Resistance), just because here you truly feel like you’ll be able to see, do, and achieve new things every single time you ride.
Since there’s only the one new ride in Avengers Campus, the bulk of what you can do there is... not that. The next biggest component is live entertainment experiences, areas you can watch and interact with members of the Marvel Universe. On our visit, three such experiences were available, though videos released by Disney have revealed that even more characters and experiences might be coming in the future (one includes Taskmaster from Black Widow fighting Natasha and Black Panther, for example). The first we experienced was Okoye and two other members of the Dora Milaje giving a recruitment demonstration. You know they’re coming because Ludwig Goransson’s Oscar-winning score to Black Panther begins blaring over the speakers and the Dora enter from almost all the way across the space. They walk through the crowd, stopping outside the large Avengers HQ building. During the roughly 10-minute performance, we’re shown some cool battle moves, participate in traditional Wakandan chants, and are regaled with tales of inspiration. It’s one of those “If no one volunteers it’s going to get weird” scenarios but the actors rolled with it and made it work.
Next, we headed over to the Ancient Sanctum, a small section of the Campus dedicated to the mystic arts. There, Doctor Strange emerges from a portal and an encounter with Dormammu (both of which are seen on a large screen). He’s looking for help from people who will have talents using the mystic arts, which really means: get ready for a Marvel-themed magic show. Strange makes things disappear, change shape, move without his hands, and even time travel, if you can believe it, all of which is very entertaining. There’s crowd interaction here too, though not as much as with the Wakandans, and the show ends with Strange saving the world and sending everyone on their way.
The last big set piece in the land was a demonstration by Spider-Man. Up on a tall platform above his ride, Spidey does a few flips and spins before trying out some new tech that’ll allow him to jump very high. At which point the live Spider-Man disappears and a newly designed creation by Disney flies through the air high above Avengers Campus. Once it lands, the live Spider-Man comes back, attaches to a wire, and crawls down the wall before taking photos with the crowds. All of this takes under five minutes but it’s as crowd-pleasing and as exciting as both of the other events.
To some, this might seem like a waste of space but in reality, it’s all very versatile. While I was walking around, I also saw Black Widow patrolling on the walkway of Avengers HQ. She saluted me when I waved. At other times, Ant-Man and the Wasp might be there, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Thor, you name it. Are any of these experiences mind-blowing? No. But it adds a really nice level of immersion to see the characters in the flesh, doing what they do best. The fact all the music and costumes look straight out of the MCU movies helps a lot too. Kids especially will eat this stuff up. Oh, speaking of which...
Avengers Campus wouldn’t be a proper theme park if you couldn’t eat and drink there. If you’re just on the run, multiple “Shawarma Palace” stands exist around the land, allowing you to try Tony Stark and the Avengers’ unforgettable post-victory meal (I had a “New York’s Tastiest” which is the meat version and it was fine, but nothing to get overly excited about.) There’s also something called Terran Treats, which wasn’t open. If you have some time though, Pym’s Test Kitchen is where it’s at. The story behind it is that Hank Pym and his crew (Scott Lang, Hope Van Dyne, etc) are using their shrinking and enlargement tech on food resulting in some really weird, different types of thing. You can look at the full menu here, but since I’m only one person and I’d already had a few bites of shawarma, I decided to sample only two things: the “Not So Little Chicken Sandwich” and the “Pym-ini.” And my god, were they both delicious.
As you can see in the ridiculous image above, the chicken sandwich is basically a huge piece of fried chicken on a slider bun to make it appear as if some Pym tech is at work. You eat it with a fork and knife and it’s just a really well seasoned, tasty, piece of chicken with some sauces on it. Then, if you make it to the middle, you can finish it as a traditional slider. The Pym-ini has gotten a lot of press of late because it’s also available as the “Family Size Pym-ini” which costs $100. But that feeds up to eight people and if you were to buy separate meals for that large a group, $100 would probably be a bargain. The delectable sandwich has salami, ham, and provolone, with a sun-dried tomato spread on toasted focaccia, and comes with an awesome marinara dipping sauce and arugula salad too. It’s a legit great meal, with all kinds of flavors and spices—and that’s just a sample of the full menu you can see here.
Pym’s Tasting Lab—a bar—wasn’t open to us, but it will have cocktails, multiple beers on tap, snacks, you name it. Plus, in a wink to the way Doctor Strange served Thor his beer in Thor: Ragnarok, some of the beers fill from the bottom up. It sounds cool. Again, much like Web-Slingers, the food options of Avengers Campus made me want to go back just for them. Sure I’ve already tried a few items, but what about the big pretzel? The different sodas? All of the booze? I can’t wait. Nothing blew me away like a Galaxy’s Edge Ronto Wrap but it was still all really delicious.
Basically? That’s it. Not including Mission Breakout, Avengers Campus is one ride, one big restaurant, a store, a few shows, and food stands. If you wanted to do all of it, without crowds, you could cover it in probably two hours as I did. (Which, we know, is likely to never ever happen.) But even in that time, you’d never be able to see everything—like the Lego Death Star, which I just happened to spot by chance. Web-Slingers is filled with other cool stuff including joke-filled whiteboards, graffiti-covered lockers, a Mary Jane skateboard, you name it. I also noticed a few of the screens outside Pym’s kept getting text messages from multiple Marvel characters (“Hey buddy! Can you please do me a favor this one last time and pick up my mobile order? Thanks” read a text from Bruce Banner that popped up on the screen. I saw one from Korg too). All the rock formations around the area have mysterious crystals in them, and of course, who knows what Avengers you’ll see walking around and what they may say or do.
This is Marvel though so there are two questions every fan has about everything the company puts its name on: how does this fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and what’s coming next? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of corporate synergy to be had. Asked during a Q&A session about when during the MCU timeline Avengers Campus takes place, Executive Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering Brent Strong said the following: “The mission to inspire and empower the next generation of heroes is so important that we’ve assembled heroes from across all of space and time. And as we’re all about to discover in a couple weeks when Loki comes out, time is a lot more squishy than a lot of us think. So trying to put a specific date to it can be challenging but, to us, Avengers Campus is here and now. We get to live in the moment and these heroes are here with us taking part in that story.” That’s a long way to basically say the characters die in the comics all the time and the company didn’t want to make a land where Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain America are dead. It’s sort of what Marvel said when Mission Breakout opened in 2017. Same character. Unique universe.
As for what’s next, a few things were teased. Other Campuses will be popping up at Disney’s parks across the world, adding to this story of recruitment. We know a new big attraction will be added in the future, which will have the other Avengers in it, but no update was given. Also, as new characters are added to the MCU, they could also appear at Avengers Campus (no names were given but I instantly thought Eternals, and Shang-Chi himself, Simu Liu, appeared as a tease in a promo video). Disney has “baked in” flexibility, according to Scot Drake, Portfolio Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. That’s all very exciting—but also, the land as it stands now is rather lovely. It’s small, there’s not a lot to do, but everything is handled with such care for the characters, the world, and the storytelling that even if you drop by for one bite to eat, to see one hero walking around, or shoot down one Spider-Bot, you’d feel like you had a successful day at the park. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of detail or immersion you can get at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, but it’s a great start.
- One thing I really didn’t get into too much was merch because I didn’t really buy any. (OK fine, one park exclusive Spider-Man Funko Pop but that’s it.) Most of the new items are geared either towards Spider-Man and the Web-Slingers ride, or Avengers Campus itself. The one standout (besides the Funkos) are the Spider-Bots, which come in multiple sizes, but those were revealed a while ago.
- Unlike Galaxy’s Edge, none of the beers in Avengers Campus are exclusive to Avengers Campus. The cocktails, however, are: the Honey Buzz (gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup with a honey straw), the X-Periment (tequila, Minute Maid lime juice, and mango and habanero syrups with mango popping pearls), and the Molecular Meltdown (marshmallow milk stout and vanilla ice cream topped with miniature marshmallows).
- During the Q&A, Drake said that Avengers: Endgame contains a tease of the Quinjet that stands at the top of Avengers HQ. Maybe the universes are more connected after all...
Avengers Campus opens at Disney California Adventure on June 4. If you’d like to go sooner rather than later, visit Disney’s site to read its up-to-the-minute covid-19 protocols and breakdowns on how to get tickets, make reservations, and more.
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