The chance to meet some prominent figures in superhero-ing? Tussauds and Marvel certainly know how to throw a party. There was some difficulty in when they threw it – like many others, I had questioned the wisdom of holding an preview event on Saturday morning, especially a Saturday morning of a bank holiday weekend when the MCM Expo was also on, but about 30 people turned up to the Marvel Super Heroes 4D experience.
We were led in through the 'backstage' area, so missed the lead-up, but visitors will walk up a ramp around the Hulk. I know the whole point of Tussauds is to see life-size models of people, but standing next to a 'life-size' Hulk is certainly a good way to shake your visitors out of their Saturday morning bleariness.
The rooms are supposedly SHIELD-themed though there wasn't a great deal to this, just some 'mission-control' style graphics on panels around the characters. Video panels on the walls give short character bios, just enough to explain each character to newcomers. You can also get these on the mini-site. The 'atmospheric' (i.e. dark) lighting makes it quite tricky to get a good picture if your camera's not really up to scratch.
The first section of the exhibit gives you the chance to (literally) hang out with Spiderman, as an inverted room gives the impression that you're tumbling from the ceiling. There's a Tussauds photographer here to take an official photo, just like with Barack Obama in the main Tussauds exhibit
There are some fun bits and pieces about throughout the exhibit to keep you entertained while you wait to stand next to your hero of choice; Green glass bubbles that make you 'turn Hulk', clever look-mum-I'm-flying-over-London sets and replica adamantium claws to pose with. A future filled with a million grinning Wolverine imitators on Facebook is probably on the cards.
Wolverine/Hugh Jackman, the first stand-alone waxwork, is tucked into the wall slightly, presumably to minimise the potential lawsuits that accompany those claws at eye level, but still a striking figure as you walk in.
Down the stairs to the next section, which contained Sue Storm/Jessica Alba and a backdrop of London under attack. I think in future there will be an opportunity to stand next to her and turn transparent for a photo with the Invisible Woman. This section seemed a little sparse, though clearly designed for a much larger crowd. We're told that other characters may appear later on (no official word on who, but Daredevil's on the t-shirts in the gift shop…) and it may be that that's what they're intending – the exhibit's part of a five year deal between Tussauds and Marvel, so it's probable that other supers may come along to keep Sue Storm company, but at the moment it's just her and some lit-up comic covers on the wall. There are some fairground mirrors designed to 'mutate you', probably fun for the little kids when it's busy, though at the time, they were racing through in their haste to get to Iron Man.
The promotional website claims the final room, containing Nick Fury/Samuel L Jackson and Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr is themed as a test laboratory, with the opportunity to step into the chest shield of Iron Man. This wasn't noticeably up and running when we went in, though the Iron Man suit is there. I don't think anyone didn't have their picture taken with the suit. The details in the suit, as with all the exhibits are as carefully well-realised as you'd expect from a Marvel-franchised project. When they say "startlingly realistic wax figures", they're not kidding. It's difficult to subdue your inner fan going 'I'm having my picture taken with Tony Stark", in a tiny, excited voice in the back of your brain, particularly if this is your first experience of Madame Tussauds (as it was mine).
Having met everyone, you don your 3d specs and enter the 'Super Hero Command Centre' (formerly the planetarium) for the '4D' film experience.
The majority of the film is played straight ahead, with extra information brought around the sides in the style of graphics from inside Iron Man's suit, extra explosions, and other extra bits of animation.
I generally dislike the term '4D', when what they mean is 'film with shaky floor', but this is really pretty good. The effects are largely well judged – air jets at floor and head level from all directions, water sprays, and an unexpected claw-jab through the seat back from Wolverine all feature in addition to the traditional shaky floor. The effect timing is spot on and adds to the experience rather than drawing attention to itself. One tiny flaw is the perpetual rumbling. Something is always rumbling, from the Hulk's footsteps to the giant Sentinel, to something exploding. I guess with the Hulk fighting giant robots just outside, the ground would be shaking, but its one slight distraction in an otherwise good experience.
The plot of the nine-minute film is London-centred, with the Spiderman, Captain America, Hulk, Wolverine and Iron Man battling Doctor Doom at Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds, to save the Super Hero Command Centre. Sue Storm, though featured in the exhibit, tags out here to be replaced by Miss Marvel. Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance as always, but I'll leave you to spot that.
Between viewings (they let us watch it twice) there was a Q&A with the director of the film and the production team. Factually, we didn't learn a great deal that we couldn't have guessed; it cost "lots" to make; it required expertise to get the effects matched up with on screen (the film took ten months rather than the normal six to make, and they'd put the finishing touches in just the night before); the actors are all Marvel-approved and from animated series past; there are some things they 'couldn't' tell us, but could hint heavily, about how well the look of the vehicles gelled with the production design of other forthcoming Marvel cinema experiences…
What was surprising was the level of detail: productions staff were sent all over the area to take specific pictures of signs, wall textures- even working with Buckingham Palace to get shots of the correct textures of the railings and brickwork for the animations opening sequence. When the Sentinel stomps down the street outside, it's almost exactly the street you walked down to get in. Both the director and the production team had a clearly un-faked love of both Marvel and the type of attraction they were producing.
A few niggles: The music in the Hall of Heroes (it's the same music on the trailer) is on too short a loop and it will drive you slightly mad after a while. I mentioned it's dark. A lot of stuff happens straight in from the door – it'd probably be easy to get pushed past Wolverine quite quickly if there was a large crowd.
But overall: its fun. Hands up who doesn't want their picture taken hanging off the ceiling with Spiderman, who hasn't idly wondered what it would be like to have those claws or join in an epic superhero battle. Anyone? Didn't think so. Well worth a visit.