Thanos is the shopping mall Santa we need

With Claus in quarantine, Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. has got the next best thing.

Update: Under Ontario’s latest lockdown announcement, Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. Canada will be closed for 28 days beginning Nov. 23.


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And we’re back.

If you’re a regular reader you might remember a time not long ago — yesterday, in fact — when I puzzled over why shopping malls are allowed open (for now) without proper contact-tracing or crowd-restricting measures in place, while Toronto, York and Peel regions are deep in the pandemic “red zone.”

And then I went to Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

The huge Marvel superheroes-themed attraction, opening today, is in a mall, and that’s unfortunate, because it’s doing everything to ensure a safe visitor experience that a busy department store or food court cannot:

  • Capacity in the 25,000-square-foot space at Yorkdale Shopping Centre — double the footage the same exhibition occupies in other cities — is being capped at 10 percent of what would be possible in non-Covid times.

  • There are timed entrance tickets.

  • Because it’s a ticketed event, every visitor can be traced if needed.

  • The entire exhibit has been rendered touchless. When you need to press a screen, you use a sanitized stylus.

  • Many will be tempted to fondle Thor’s hammer, Cap’s shield or Hulk’s huge green hands, and if they do, staff are prepared to swoop in and sanitize.

The tradition missing from many shopping malls this season is the Santa Claus booth, what with those long, socially undistanced queues of children eager to sit in the lap of a virally vulnerable elderly man. (Yorkdale’s offering a virtual version.)

But with Claus in quarantine, Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N.’s got the next best thing.

The throned Avengers villain Thanos sits imposingly near the end of the experience (but before the gift shop) with that knowing smirk on his face.

OK, so he’s more Satan than Santa. But thousands of kids, teens and grownups will be clamouring for a selfie over the next two and half months.

They’ll also be posing with Hulk,

Iron Man,

and the rest of the Avengers crew.

There’s more than enough here to keep fans sated between now and the next spinoff (Black Widow, slated for May 2021).

I attended a media preview on Thursday morning with The Young Critic, 10, in tow. He, like me, enjoys the Marvel blockbusters but wouldn’t consider himself a huge fan. This is good news because it means he won’t be tempted by the $30 t-shirts and $45 stuffed superheroes on offer in the predictably overpriced gift shop.

It also makes him fairly objective about the quality of the experience.

“I like the tech,” he says. “The moving doors, the screens everywhere, the music.”

Indeed, the event quickly transports you away from feeling like you’re in a mall to being in the centre of a cinematic theme park, minus the rides. On a series of screens, agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) introduces the work of the S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (the Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) and, with a straight face, recruits you as a trainee. You grab a sanitized stylus, the doors slide open and you’re in.

What’s most impressive about the exhibit are the genuine movie artifacts on display in glass cases, from an array of actual uniforms worn by the movie actors to Black Panther’s Kimoyo beads to the earthy-looking weaponry of the dark elves.

It’s here that you see the stunning attention to detail that goes into every prop and uniform. None of it appears cheap. There is no hint of plastic.

But if that’s all there was to see, this would just be an expensive museum exhibit, so the event supplements the movie memorabilia with larger-than-life replicas, informational screens with intricate details of Avengers lore, and interactive games.

“The games are okay,” says the Young Critic. “They’re not as good as other games you can play at home.”

With one exception: the Hulkbuster simulation. “That one’s really fun.”

Here you stand in front of a screen that puts you inside the massive Iron Man uniform built to subdue the Hulk. Flail your arms and Hulkbuster flails his too. Lift your leg into tree pose and Hulkbuster will do the same. A good few minutes of fun, that.

If you’re not an Avengers fan, or have only the most casual appreciation of the Marvel Universe, well, the S.T.A.T.I.O.N. experience may feel kind of like the holding area before you step on to a thrill ride at Disney World, where you pass the time looking at props while an actor in a space costume tells you about your “mission.” But the price of admission would probably turn you off the idea before you get that far.

Since you asked, general admission is $29 plus $10.55 in fees and HST. Tickets range up to a $98 VIP experience and a $248 “time stone pass” that entitles you to five exhibit visits. (I’m not sure who would need to go twice, let alone five times, but I’m sure they’re out there.)

Admission is kind of steep for a 60-to-90-minute novelty Marvel exhibit. But in a year with so few new in-person events, it actually feels worth it to get out of the world for a moment and immerse yourself in a fantasy. And true Avengers fans will love it.

As the Young Critic concluded after our guided media tour: “It’s a good escape, but they talked about Covid too much.”

Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. continues at Yorkdale Shopping Centre until January 31, 2021. Tickets and info at avengersstationcanada.com.

Two Uncultureds in two days! Don’t get used to it. We’ll see you in a week or so. Thanos knows when you’ve been bad or good. So be good and click the ♡ for goodness sake.