REVIEW: Marvel Universe Live! at Sheffield's FlyDSA Arena

By Michael Upton | 15/10/2019

REVIEW: Marvel Universe Live! at Sheffield's FlyDSA Arena

IF you’ve ever had a burning wish to see Spider-Man back-flip on a motorcycle or Thor catch a massive hammer hurled 20 metres through the air, this is the show for you. 

Superhero films have played a big part in redefining what can be considered truly jaw-dropping, with the application of CGI making the previously impossible possible.

Imagine then what it takes to impress an audience of Marvel fans in the live arena.

Marvel Universe Live! is an energetic, fast-paced thrill ride which throws out of the window all the existential angst of the origin stories which have gripped the genre in the past 20 years and instead shapes up as a loud, gymnastic, explosive pantomime.

The plot pitches Thor and his goodie mates against his baddie brother Loki, who has claimed the Wand of Watoomb, a glowing stick which renders its bearer all-powerful.

Nabbed by the athletic assassin Nebula, despite the best efforts of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the wand is delivered to a cackling Loki. Can Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Co battle back and save the universe? What do you think?

The dialogue is delivered by a pre-recorded track to which the cast mime, while conveying emotions with their body language — there’s precious little scope for close-up nuance in such a space as the cavernous FlyDSA Arena.

Lines alternate between the ridiculous said with a straight face — token exchange: “That’s a neat trick”, “It is no trick, it is mastery of the mystical arts” — and the corny delivered with a flourish: “Thanks for dropping in, Spider-Man” (nudge, nudge, geddit, geddit?). 

But it doesn’t matter. No-one is expecting Shakespeare, we-re here for the thrills and spills.

So we get Spider-Man swinging around the arena and riding a motorbike both terribly and brilliantly (hanging off the back and almost crashing before pulling off that awesome flip), Black Widow nailing a will-she-won’t-she? ramp leap through the backdrop, Iron Man and Thor descending at speed from the ceiling and the wisecracking Rocket the raccoon setting off the indoor fireworks with a bit of reckless gunslinging.

There are stunning ribbon dance displays, a troupe of twirling torch bearers and even a flame-firing dragon.

Online information about the aerialists, acrobats and stunt performers on show is thin on the ground, so it’s impossible to credit them by name (and maybe that’s not such a bad thing — going by their superhero names maintains the fantasy). Suffice to say the producers' boast they’ve found “a nearly superhuman cast” is justified.

With ticket prices comparable with a top West End show, an A-list concert or a Premier League football match, expectations are high.

But while the numerous fight scenes, albeit expertly choreographed, did little for me, the genuinely gripping airborne stunts and the relentless action give great value for money. At one point, I counted 25 combatants scrapping away. And one stunt where Captain America did his trademark frisbee-style attack with his shield left me wondering: “How did they do that?”

The looks of open-mouthed wonder on the faces of kids around me (surely the target audience) showed this production was hitting the mark with young fans — and there’s many a Marvel to savour for big kids, too.