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Theme Park News: Disneyland's Avengers Campus, like the MCU, will only get better with time
Welcome to a special Theme Park News, and the biggest news of this past week was Avengers Campus, the first significant theme park land opening since the pandemic began last spring. SYFY WIRE was on hand to delve into the land's Easter eggs and Spider-Man ride backstories, but from slinging webs to superhero-sized pretzels, the land is a real-life testament to the continuing success and reach of Marvel's films and shows.
Like the multiverse these characters and experiences operate within, Avengers Campus itself is opening at a unique time and place in history. Already delayed a year due to COVID-19, the park will see a massive shift in operations and rules just two weeks after it first welcomes guests when state-enforced restrictions are lifted. Who's to say what can or will happen once the reins are passed to Disneyland itself come June 15, but operationally speaking, both in terms of capacity and precautions, it's unlikely things inside this land will look the same by the end of the month.
That's why it's rather surprising that some headlines yesterday were not of the high-soaring Spider-Man stunt display or glee of seeing Black Widow in person. Instead, we saw headlines screaming of mile-long lines and packed crowds on day one. As someone who saw it firsthand, yes, opening day was indeed chaotic. Between lack of mobile order availability and a world where social distancing somehow suddenly *poof* disappeared, the lengthy standby line spiraling through the park's center in the hot summer sun was far from ideal, particularly when the challenge of getting inside is compounded by the need to also get a sought-after "boarding pass" for WEB-SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure. Opening days are rarely seamless — one could argue the cross-section of demand and chaos on such occasions is in Disneyland's DNA — but theme parks simply can't function when everyone wants to be in the same place at the exact same time, especially during a pandemic, which may prove to be a problem until COVID-19 restrictions shift ownership later this month. (In retrospect, a Legacy Passholder preview week would have been ideal, both for guests and park ops.)
Still, Avengers Campus is a phenomenal addition to Disneyland, one that works perfectly for its regional audience with experiences that reveal themselves further over time. Layers upon layers of design offer plenty to soak up, whether during one's first trip to the Spider-Man ride within a Stark Motors facility-turned-STEM lab, or on repeat trips, discovering some of the yet-to-be-discovered references to A Bug's Land buried throughout. Interactivity on WEB-SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure allows guests to get more out of their visit the more often they come by working towards mastering the skills required to boost individual scores while also making it onto the team leaderboard, while aligning character appearances to whichever MCU project takes precedence is sure to keep its live entertainment program from becoming stale. (No official word on that front yet, but character appearances could change and be added at any time, and with a franchise this high-priority, they assuredly will.)
One of the most memorable things I saw last week was during Okoye's training session, an instant hit among guests. Captain America stood atop Avengers HQ while Okoye held the crowd's attention, and Cap was not waving or wielding his shield but saluting in deference to the Wakandan warriors below. That moment, that small choice is as symbiotic as it gets between Disney's digital properties and its parks — a man whose journey we spent hours experiencing on-screen, standing here, in person, honoring a woman he's battled alongside. It's indicative not just of the everlasting values of these characters, but the ultimate holistic theme park experience, where the things we absorb in our homes come to life in a flexible and extremely tangible way outside of them. Some may call it synergy, but I call it the reason Avengers Campus is a success.
Still, there are flaws. A brazen lack of shade and seating in yet another new Disney land has officially transcended oversight to signal obtuse foolishness. The sun can be relentless, and a lack of places to sit inside the land results in the nearby "old Hollywood"-style Hyperion Theatre's courtyard being repurposed into cafeteria-like overflow seating. Guests were sprawled throughout the grounds of Campus when I visited, literally, sitting down to take a break, have a bite, or wait in line to catch a glimpse at Dr. Strange during his interactive sanctum performance which, while stunning in design, also remains an upsettingly limited space given its anticipated demand. When seeing it up close was an impossibility, some guest (including yours truly) peered past foliage and beyond stone walls to sneak a peek at him opening a portal to no avail.
Even though I detested carrying five cups of soda through a crowd and I'll need to bathe in sunscreen the next time I stand near that sanctum's grey-black concrete, the thoughts swirling in my head as I drove home from Avengers Campus' first day weren't of that. They were centered on how there's now a land where the strength of the Dora Milaje, perseverance of Sam Wilson's Captain America, and the things we've only felt communally while shoulder-to-shoulder at opening weekend screenings of these films can now be found 365 days a year. When my friends and I did nab a WEB SLINGERS boarding pass at noon — Brooke McDonald's step-by-step Rise of the Resistance guide, by the way, is essentially cheat codes for doing so — I was emphatically overjoyed, high-fiving every stranger nearby before coming back down to earth and quickly holding our hands beneath the automatic Purell dispenser nearby. The thrill of being here, in this place, able to experience something so many of us care so deeply for transplanted me from the dark, lonely state we've been suspended in for so long, reminding me that here, even if only for a moment, things could feel somewhat normal again.
It's a land rooted in flexibility both in terms of story and experiences, but most importantly, the simple thrill of seeing something we've watched on televisions and movie theatre screens for so many years finally emerge from those 2D formats in a permanent way. I cannot overemphasize the power of watching The Avengers at home and twelve hours later, seeing Tony Stark flash his repulsors for a photo. It's pure magic, not to mention integral to the land's operations.
Thinking about how, in an alternate timeline, we may have lived within Avengers Campus as WandaVision owned the zeitgeist or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier shattered streaming records and I'm sad for what we missed, but beyond excited for what comes next. There's no doubt that this land will only improve over time as it makes good on Disney's corporatespeak-y promise that you, at long last, can stand side-by-side with superheroes and become a participant in the world of your favorite films. With endless new ones on the way, this future is bright for Avengers Campus indeed.