I’m going to admit something right up front: I made a bad mistake when I visited the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit at Discovery Times Square. I went there on a Saturday afternoon. It was a rookie mistake, and I really should have known better.
As I should have expected, the place was packed to the rafters with families on a weekend outing with the kids, many of whom were too small to really appreciate it – there was one baby sleeping in his mother’s arms all the way through, and one little girl who was frightened by it all (though not frightened enough to start crying, thank God).
I was walking the City that day, and I got a coupon for the exhibit from a Times Square barker. It’s a good thing I did, because Discovery Times Square is frightfully expensive. You pay for each exhibit separately, and each is 27 bucks or so. A “Combo Pass” is $40.
While “Art of the Brick” (an exhibit on LEGO sculpture) and “Body Worlds” (a collection of preserved and posed bodies) definitely looked interesting before we saw that, Red Molly and I quickly decided that, at those prices, the Avengers exhibit was plenty.
The idea of the exhibit is that visitors are being recruited for Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network), a division of S.H.I.E.L.D. (with a name no less contrived than its parent) dedicated to supporting the Avengers. While waiting in line, you type a few vital statistics into a machine that dispenses your “identification card” for the exhibit – probably part of the reason for the ticket price. When you first enter, your picture is taken so it can be added to the card at the end.
(I didn’t get it, so I can’t tell you how much it costs. Sorry.)
They admit people to the exhibit in small groups – “training classes”, I suppose – and museum employees dressed as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents keep you moving past the first few exhibits – the “induction”, so to speak. After that, you’re on your own, and when the crowd is as big as it tends to get on a Saturday afternoon in Times Square, you quickly start to experience backup.
You see, the exhibits aren’t just exhibits. At each stop along the way, there are activities. You can test your biometrics and measure them against Captain America’s (unsurprisingly, the small child standing on the combination scale/measuring device was not quite the same weight or height as Captain America). You can manipulate Iron Man’s gauntlets. You can turn the portal device off and on.
Or rather, you could do those things if you were willing to wait in line for half an hour at each station. Red Molly and I were not.
Fortunately, the exhibits are pretty impressive in and of themselves. You have Captain America’s transformation pod, an “obsolete” suit of Iron Man armor, a Chitauri flyer, a Chitauri (allegedly a preserved corpse, of course), a set of Thor’s armor, a replica of Mjolnir, Loki’s scepter, and all sorts of other props and costumes.
One thing that particularly impressed me about the exhibit was that the people who set it up clearly did their homework, both into the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity and into the real-world factors. For example, “factual information” plaques in both the Captain America exhibit and the Hulk discuss how each man’s transformation affected his amygdala – enhancing Steve Rogers’s compassion, and Bruce Banner’s rage. Not only is that the right part of the brain to pick for such a thing, but it’s a nicely subtle reference to how both men’s powers are connected: Coulson tells us in The Avengers that the Hulk is a result of a failed attempt to re-create the Super Soldier process.
That’s not the only example, either. The Iron Man exhibit describes each of the armors, the problems with each, and how they were solved. Another informational plaque in the Hulk exhibit discussed CRISPRs, which Red Molly recognized from her work editing a bio-tech magazine. Heck, the plaque that says “Here Is The Battle Dress of Thor Odinson” is probably in actual Futhark runes.
It’s all technobabble, of course, but it’s well-researched, plausible technobabble, and that’s all that I ask.
It’s all set up to maximize profit, of course. The exit from the exhibit takes you past a desk where you can have your photo from the beginning added to your “identification card”, then you have to leave through the gift shop. Understandable, I suppose (as the name implies, “Discovery Times Square” is run by a for-profit company, not the city of New York, and Time Square rents aren’t cheap), but still the sort of thing that makes you cynical, and it breaks your suspension of disbelief to boot. Did S.H.I.E.L.D. suffer a budget cut, and need a bit of extra cash perhaps?
Ironically, the one thing I couldn’t find in the gift shop were DVD’s.
As with so many things in Times Square, the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit is actually pretty cool, but overpriced, overcrowded, and the time to go is not Saturday afternoon. The best way to enjoy it is to take your time and try out each of the activities offered. If you do it like Red Molly and I did, skip the activities and just look at the exhibits, it goes by too fast and you feel you didn’t get your money’s worth. On the other hand, if we’d waited in those lines to try out what amounts to glorified exercise equipment, we would have been unhappy in a much more…visceral sort of way.