Comics Features Film

Marvel at the Theme Parks

Written by Mark Russell

Ever since Disney purchased Marvel in its entirety, comic book and theme park enthusiasts have been anticipating some of their favourite superheroes to appear in new attractions and themed lands at the House of Mouse’s numerous resorts. The wait has been a surprisingly long one, but in 2016, Hong Kong Disneyland will open the first official Marvel-based attraction called the “Iron Man Experience”. But while this will be Disney’s first proper go at adapting Marvel to its parks beyond promotion exhibitions for the latest films and standard meet-and-greets, it won’t be the first time Marvel has had rides built-in theme parks. This article looks at the history of Marvel in theme parks and the existing attractions in operation.

Universal Studios
Universal Studios gained the rights to Marvel’s properties in the mid-1990s for their expanding theme parks, paying annual royalties to Marvel in exchange for permission to feature their characters in their resorts in California, Orlando, and Japan respectively. Originally, Universal sought DC Comics’ characters for their parks but Warner Bros. opted to go with the Six Flags company instead. Universal’s use of Marvel’s property has had its ups and downs but the Islands of Adventure park have made great use of the licenses, creating the Marvel Superhero Island themed land.

Universal Resort Hollywood did little with the licensing, having the short-lived restaurant “Marvel Mania” which was meant to be the first in a chain of restaurants, and the even shorter-lived Ultimate Spider-Man stunt show. As for Universal Studios Japan, it did little with the creative potential and simply opted to copy the Spider-Man attraction featured at the Islands of Adventure. By the time Disney bought Marvel in its entirety, Hollywood had ended its right to feature the characters though Universal Studios Japan and the Orlando resort still maintain their rights, preventing Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland from featuring Marvel characters for some time to come.

I don’t want to go into the complicated legal relationship between Disney and Universal but there are some shenanigans going on based around promotions, etc.

Universal dedicated one land at their Islands of Adventure park, Marvel Super Hero Island, which is one of the most popular spots in the park. The land has a very simple but creative design to it, using the style of comic books as a setting of sorts – all of the buildings have coloured walls and architecture that never blend together like a comic book page and all of the facilities are labelled generically as one would find in a comic (e.g. “Store”, “Spider-Man Shop”, etc.) From the videos I’ve seen, large cut-outs of characters decorate the land, and rock music blasts out across it all day. It probably looks better if you are actually there.

As for the attractions, there are four. The first is “Doctor Doom’s Fearfall”, which appears as two black metal towers that launch guests up and down apparently faster than gravity. There is “Storm Force Accelatron” which involves Professor Xavier and Storm recruiting guests to power Storm’s weather control against Magneto by sitting in a futuristic “tea cup” ride. There is a theme of being recruited by the superheroes to aid them throughout the attractions. This continues in “The Incredible Hulk” rollercoaster, one of the most popular in the world. Guests enter Bruce Banner’s lab where videos detail his back story, and he asks guests to board the rollercoaster which doubles as a gamma ray accelerator to somehow reverse the Hulk transformation. The coaster launches and is implied by Banner screaming that it is the Hulk. That’s confusing…anyway, the rollercoaster can go to 40 mph in two seconds and offers some thrills for guests.

Perhaps the most notable attraction in the land is the award-winning “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man”, a motion-based 3D dark ride where guests accompany Spider-Man as he swings through New York to retrieve the Statue of Liberty from the Sinister Syndicate who stole the statue with an anti-gravity gun. Yes, you read that correctly. It sounds awesome! The technology, special effects, and use of 3D has made the attraction extremely successful and popular on an international scale, often ranked alongside a lot of classic Disneyland rides.

Disneyland Resorts
Despite having ownership of Marvel for several years now, introducing them to Disneyland has been a slow one for Disney. So far, the resorts have only seen small promotions for the Marvel Studios films due to the legal negotiations with Universal. However, the interactive exhibition attraction “Innoventions” has played host to several Marvel-based experiences when new Marvel films were being promoted but still remain present at the time of this article’s writing. There are exhibitions dedicated to Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America showing props from the films including Tony Stark’s numerous armoured suits. Captain America and Thor could also be met here too. In October 2014, Peter Quill and Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy could be met during the fun but flawed “Unleash the Villains” event at Walt Disney World.

However, it was announced that Hong Kong Disneyland will have the first official Marvel attraction, the “Iron Man Experience”, which takes place at the Stark Expo from Iron Man 2 where Iron Man welcomes guests only to have to lead them against an invasion of cybernetic aliens in a simulation ride of some kind similar to “Star Tours” (Disneyland’s Star Wars attraction). The attraction is anticipated to open in the autumn months of 2016.

Dubai Theme Park
Back in the mists of time, or 2007, Marvel and United Arab Emirate-based Ali Ahli Group formed a partnership to create a theme park based entirely around Marvel’s characters. Nearly a decade on, that theme park is still in the planning stages, now based around the idea of an indoor entertainment complex rather than a theme park, featuring a number of sit-in interactive cinema attractions. But the original concept of the park including the concept art is something to behold. Among the proposed attractions was a simulation ride where guests swing around with Spider-Man, a Stark Laboratories area featuring a rollercoaster and spinning rocket ride, and some sort of freefall ride where guests plunge into a lake and back up. The concept art looks stunning to say the least. It seems the park/entertainment complex will open sooner or later, though in what form remains to be seen. More information and concept art can be viewed here.

With Marvel having great potential in theme parks, what type of attractions would you like to see if you visited a Disney or Universal Resort? Leave your comments below or sound off on Twitter!

About the author

Mark Russell