Inside California Adventure's 'Avengers Campus' Marvel-Themed Land
Disney continues to make the beloved pop culture franchises they've bought over the years a bigger part of the Disneyland parks (and finding ways to entice fans after recent price increases). Following Pixar Pier and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, their next land opens this summer at California Adventure: Avengers Campus, opening July 18.
We went on a hard-hat tour of the land, still under construction, and interviewed Imagineers about what's coming next. Here's everything you need to know.
WHERE AVENGERS CAMPUS FITS IN THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Despite Iron Man's fate in Avengers: Endgame, he still plays a major role in the new land. So wait -- how? The park's Imagineers have some thoughts -- they explained that, thanks to Endgame introducing the idea of divergent timelines, Avengers Campus does take place in the MCU. It's just in a different timeline where Iron Man didn't die (and Captain America didn't get old and Loki etc. etc.).
"We can lean into ... all of the events that guests are going to be familiar with as being that shared history," Imagineering writer Jillian Pagan said. "But clearly at some point, we split off, and now some of the characters that maybe sacrificed their life to save us in one timeline are, fortunately for us, still alive and well in this one."
The park's storyline is also connected with other locations around the world -- including Stark Expo at Hong Kong Disneyland and a new Avengers Campus set to open at Disneyland Paris. The land's story takes place in our world, so park characters will be allowed to be aware of what's happening with other parks, as well as in Marvel movies and Disney+ shows.
Marvel franchise creative/marketing VP Dave Bushore said that there was friction, with logistical challenges to include the latest things that Marvel is working on, but that they were fun challenges. One of Marvel's strategies: not putting strict limits on how the imagineers wanted to interpret the characters for the park, giving them as much creative freedom as possible.
"We don't like putting restrictions on it," Bushore said. "That's sort of our process -- throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks. And I think that's where you get really great stuff. If you put rules on it, you tend to take away opportunity -- creative genius."
"It takes a lot of trust from our whole organization to say, 'OK, we're going to start building this building -- but the story, we're going to wait on until we know the full series of what's happening with all the Disney+ shows,'" Imagineering creative executive Scot Drake said. "When these lands start multiple years ahead of time, we have to commit to what are those core values we want to have, knowing that we want to pepper in all of these fun Easter eggs, all of these fun story twists along the way."
WEB SLINGERS: A SPIDER-MAN ADVENTURE
The land is opening with one brand new ride, themed around Spider-Man. It uses new gesture-recognition technology to let you sling webs with a flick of your wrist -- no handheld devices required. You can not only shoot webs in the interactive attraction, you can use them to grab and pull on objects.
"Since we know where your eyes are, and we know where your hands are, we can render a virtual web coming right out of the palm of your hand -- right out of your virtual web shooters and into a virtual world," Imagineering executive creative director Brent Strong said.
The Spider-Man-centric attraction comes despite relations between Marvel Studios and Sony, who co-produce the Spider-Man films, recently being strained. But Disney Imagineers were quick to note that Spider-Man would be central to Avengers Campus, regardless of what's going on in the films.
"The movies, the parks, the comics are all different mediums, and they all live in different worlds," Strong said. "While characters will ebb and flow in terms of who's in the pages, and who's on the screen, we wanted to find that core roster that's always important to our parks."
Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure's story involves WEB -- the Worldwide Engineering Brigade. It's a group of young inventors, mentored by Peter Parker, but when their Spider-Bot robot sidekicks go rogue, you get on a Web Slinger ride vehicle to get them back under control.
You'll put on 3D glasses to bring the action to life, but it will also include real, physical sets. The attraction spent two years being prototyped at Imagineering's Glendale offices.
It's a park rarity in that there are no height requirements, meaning even the littlest Avengers can come sling webs. We were told during our tour that the Spider-Man ride was about 60 to 65 percent done, with other attractions at a similar level of readiness.
You'll walk through a pre-show room, complete with pipes above where you can hear Spider-Bots skittering through. They'll be able to take 40 people at a time through the pre-show.
The four-and-a-half-minute ride also serves as a virtual tour of Avengers Campus, as you'll virtually pass through the land's other buildings like the Pym Test Kitchen, Avengers Headquarters, and Guardians of the Galaxy -- Mission: Breakout.
You'll receive both an individual score and a score for your four-person vehicle as a whole, allowing you to compare yourselves to each other and your fellow heroes. They also promise Easter eggs, including other Marvel characters who love science like Squirrel Girl and Moon Girl.
The ride was specifically designed for California, according to Drake, with replay value built in for our market that includes people who come back to the park over and over again.
But no photo mementos are being provided on this attraction -- people ended up looking a little weird with their 3D glasses on, according to the Imagineers. Disney announced Wednesday morning that the Marvel films' Tom Holland will voice Spider-Man for the attraction.
Outside the ride, you'll also be able to see Spider-Man running along the rooftops -- and doing a web-swinging flip more than 60 feet in the air above the building, courtesy of new park technology. He'll be wearing a park-exclusive Spidey costume, featuring more prominent web shooters.
There's a WEB Suppliers gift shop for you to get all your Spidey merchandise, including the chance to purchase your very own remote-control Spider-Bot. The Spider-Bot toys can fight one another, and you can also install power-ups using design elements from other members of the Avengers -- for a price, of course.
WILL AVENGERS CAMPUS DRIVE ATTENDANCE, AT LEAST BEFORE PHASE TWO?
Disney ran into some widely reported issues with attendance after Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened. The park did such a great job promoting the new land that people stayed away to avoid the crowds -- and there weren't crowds. Things seem to have turned around with their second major attraction, Rise of the Resistance, drawing daily capacity crowds -- but will Avengers Campus be able to draw in fans at launch?
Drake declined comment on how their plans compare with those for Galaxy's Edge, but said that he believes Avengers Campus will bring people in with how many characters visitors can interact with, as well as living out your own superhero journey.
One of the unique things about Avengers Campus is that it turns storytelling on its side, making you the hero, Pagan said. Before writing stories for Disney, she was previously a director and playwright.
"The guest is our protagonist," Pagan said. "It can be a challenge, honestly, but a good challenge of balancing sure, this is a Spider-Man story, but you are the one going on a mission with Spider-Man. He's your sidekick."
Disney has also been quick to also point to the fact that there are two Avengers Campus rides at launch, though the Guardians of the Galaxy -- Mission: Breakout attraction opened in 2017 (after re-theming the Twilight Zone attraction).
They also haven't made nearly as big a deal about the next big Avengers Campus attraction, unlike the hype around Rise of the Resistance that may have led some parkgoers to wait for its opening. Because remember how we mentioned Avengers Headquarters, and those battles taking place on the second and third levels? What's inside that first level?
There's no admittance just yet, but Disney previously announced an untitled Avengers battle experience that will be opening down the road in Avengers HQ. The Phase 2 attraction lets you board that Quinjet and join in a giant battle, including a visit to Black Panther's Wakanda and a fight against one of the Avengers' most powerful villains. Just like both Web Slingers and Rise of the Resistance, it features another new ride system, with concept art implying you'll be using some sort of battle jetpack/weapons device.
WATCH THE AVENGERS FIGHT BAD GUYS LIVE
There will be 15 different Marvel characters coming to life in Avengers Campus, so expect plenty of photo ops and chances to interact with the heroes. You'll even get to see one of the Avengers' Quinjets parked on the Avengers Headquarters roof.
The Avengers will be taking part in live stunt shows outside Avengers HQ, with action taking place on the second and third levels for everyone below to see. The heroes will be taking on the Taskmaster, a comic book villain making his MCU debut in the upcoming Black Widow. The character has "photographic reflexes" -- the ability to mimic the fighting style of any of his opponents.
What that means in practical terms is that you'll get to see him mirroring the same moves being thrown at him as he takes on all comers. The fights were choreographed by the same fight coordinators who worked on the Black Widow film.
You can enjoy a mystical meeting with Doctor Strange at the Sanctum -- or rather, the Sanctum's ruins, since it was recently destroyed in the Marvel films. We're not sure if he'll be opening portals or doing card tricks, but he'll be teaching the mystic arts to young guests and creating illusions. He'll also share magical artifacts that guests can interact with. Disney live entertainment executive creative director Dan Fields teased that Strange can open portals to bring characters from other places into the Sanctum.
Strange will also be around to help answer questions from any continuity-obsessed fans.
"If it's out of character for them to know the answer that the guest is questioning -- 'You know what, it sounds like you might know about the multiverse. I invite you to go talk to my friend Doctor Strange over here, who knows all about the multiverse and multiple timelines,'" Pagan said.
The Sanctum lights up at night with color and light, offering a pulsating mystical vibe. During the day, the ruins make use of their natural greenery to provide some much-needed shade for parkgoers.
"Our Sanctum is an outdoor environment, which really poses a challenge to us -- because in a film, the filmmakers can contrive multiple points of light. They don't have to worry about gravity, they don't have to worry about weather effects," Imagineering's principal color and paint artisan Heidi Rosendahl said.
MEET HEROES AND GET TRAINED
Black Panther and his Dora Milaje women bodyguards will provide elite Wakandan training to visitors. The experience includes the park's debut of General Okoye, the guards' leader.
"The power of seeing my young daughter dressed as a princess, standing between two powerful Dora Milaje and saying 'Wakanda forever' -- I mean, there's not a word for it," Fields said.
While Taskmaster is the only absolute villain on hand, Thor's straddling-the-line brother Loki will be on hand causing mischief too. He'll be skulking around as Thor roams the land, offering Avengers recruits the chance to try lifting his mystical hammer Mjolnir.
GET REAL SMALL OR REAL BIG PORTIONS AT ANT-MAN'S RESTAURANT
The food has to be themed too, so the land features the Pym Test Kitchen. It uses Ant-Man's quantum tunnel technology (or just, you know, making bigger and smaller food) to create oddly sized food. The menu ranges from giant pretzels to teeny buns with giant pieces of chicken inside. You'll even find giant ketchup and mustard containers on the ceiling feeding dispensers.
There isn't a lot of branded food in MCU movies, so their new signature drink is a deep cut, coming from the Universal-produced MCU movie they don't talk much about, the Incredible Hulk. You'll be able to pick up Pingo Doce, a green beverage that may be infused with Hulk blood (or just food coloring).
"I'm sure our food and beverage partners would be happy if you included more food, and more soda in your films, because Pingo Doce is kind of an older reference," Pagan said. "But it's fun that we can pull even those Easter eggs forward."
Other Avengers food and beverage locations include the nearby Pym Tasting Lab, joining Galaxy's Edge's Cantina as one of the few places around the Disneyland parks that you can purchase adult beverages. They've got eight beers on tap -- we're partial to the marshmallow milk stout. You'll also see some Doctor Strange magic here, inspired by how Strange gave Thor a magical stein refill in Thor: Ragnarok. They're calling it a "reverse draft" system, with drinks appearing to be filled from the bottom up.
The post-credits scene from the first Avengers gets its own food cart -- you'll find the Shawarma Palace, with shawarma-inspired wraps. They're also delivering Terran Treats near the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, with the Collector offering spacey treats designed to lure Terrans (aka you) into his collection.
Beyond the Avengers attraction coming in Phase 2, the park has also been designed to be flexible for future characters and storylines, according to Pagan.
She noted that Mission: Breakout may be a home base for more cosmic characters, the Sanctum as a place for mystical heroes, WEB for street-level characters, and Avengers HQ for the heavy hitters. So expect plenty of chances for superheroic endeavors on into the future.
Avengers Campus opens at Disney's California Adventure July 18.