Be a superhero for a day at Chicago's Marvel Experience
It may be the closest chance your kid -- or you -- will have to fight alongside Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk and other popular superheroes.
From July 11 through Aug. 2 at McCormick Place, The Marvel Experience: The World's First Hyper-Reality Tour will bring its unique immersive experience to Chicago.
A sort of indoor high-tech traveling theme park, the domed attraction includes 360-degree projections, holograms and a 4-D motion ride.
As agents in training for S.H.I.E.L.D., fans will scale buildings with Spider-Man, smash villains with Hulk and fly as Iron Man, in preparation for an epic battle against popular villains Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K. and an army of evil Adaptoids.
More than 20 characters from Marvel comics will be featured, including Captain America, Thor and Vision. The adventure, featuring cutting-edge technology and advanced computer animation, takes between two and three hours to experience, though it could be longer during peak hours on weekends.
The traveling attraction is produced by Hero Ventures, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. Creator Rick Licht, the CEO of Hero Ventures, says his goal was to build something family-oriented, with fans excited enough to take pictures, "the same way my family was when we went to Disneyland. I wanted to create something that people hadn't seen or done before."
To get an idea of what the attraction is like, imagine a Disney theme park mixed with beloved comic book characters, virtual reality and cutting-edge technology -- along with an interactive storyline that fans participate in.
"The joy for me is watching people with their mouths hanging open as they're in awe of what's going on," Licht says.
For fans, the journey includes a stop in the world's first 360-degree, 3-D stereoscopic, full-dome projection theater that seats up to 150 people, all facing different directions.
The at-your-own-pace experience, covering more than two acres, also features a 4-D motion ride and an interactive "training center." At the augmented reality wall, fans can summon their favorite superheroes to stand alongside them.
A laser maze has been popular with all ages.
"I've seen people in their fifties and sixties acting like Tom Cruise in 'Mission Impossible'," Licht says. An outside screen allows fans to watch video of their friends and families in the maze.
In a 3-D shooting gallery featuring Spider-Man and the Hulk, fans compete against 24 others to hit a target during agent training.
While kids will undoubtedly enjoy the attraction, it's also geared toward adults who may better understand the characters' stories.
"While I'm sure kids will eat this up, we know that there is an extensive Marvel fan base over the age of 25 -- and we've created this event with them in mind," Licht says.
The idea for the tour began to take form in 2009, though roots had been planted much earlier. "I just have a crazy imagination," Licht says. "I began with a blank sheet of paper and a pen."
Over the past five years, the process has seen many stops and starts, as challenges with licensing, financing and technology arose at various points. "There were 100 things that needed to work," he says. "At the end of the day, I had a vision. I believed it would work, and it all came together."
From the start, the experience was always meant to be a traveling attraction. Licht had attended an All-Star baseball fan festival in Pittsburgh years ago. "If fans weren't in Pittsburgh on that particular weekend, they didn't get to experience it," he says.
Chicago is one of a handful of destinations this summer, with more to be announced this fall.
With its touring business model, immersive elements and more, the project -- with a reported price tag of $30 million -- could impact the entertainment industry, Licht says. He and his team have secured big-name investors and even some support from Hollywood: Actor and director Kevin Smith voices super villain M.O.D.O.K., and pro wrestler Triple H voices Hulk. Hollywood veteran director and producer Jerry Rees led the team responsible for creating the attraction.
In early test runs, Licht says fans commonly called the experience fun, overwhelming and awesome.
"When you see a 70-year-old grandparent standing next to Hulk and laughing, and a 5-year-old kid in a Wolverine costume checking to see if Spider-Man is really next to him -- while their families are taking pictures like there's no tomorrow -- then we've achieved what we set out to do: put a smile on people's faces and provide fun," Licht says. "Fun has been the key word."
The Marvel ExperienceWhen: Saturday, July 11, through Sunday, Aug. 2; different time slots available
Where: Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, (800) 745-3000 or www.themarvelexperiencetour.com