In a larger-than-life exhibit where giants of cinema like The Hulk and Thor dominate entire rooms, it was the ants that my son couldn’t get enough of.
For 3-year-old Gabriel, the sight of ants scattering when he walked (or ran or stomped) on them only to re-assemble in the shape of an arrow was ticklish. He giggled as he kept scattering the ants, which were actually a clever interactive projection that used a motion sensor to spread the ants in a way that would seem magical to a toddler. The repeating ant arrow points to the Ant-man display case, which features a costume similar to what Paul Rudd would have worn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s box-office hits that are spotlighted in the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit.
My son’s obsession with superheroes manifests in daily role play as Spider-man or Black Panther, a living room full of action figures, and too many minutes watching toy reviews on YouTube.
For weeks, Gabriel had waited in anticipation for the moment he entered Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. It was the first theme park-style experience of his life and all the colloquialisms that connote disbelieving joy would apply to his reaction: mind blown, epic, sweeeet. Located inside Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto’s North York area, the exhibit runs until October 29.
The experience begins with a recruitment to join the Marvel superheroes to defeat powerful villains. Then those recruits are released into the exhibit to begin their training. The first stop is Iron Man’s hall of armour. Gabriel, seeing a wall of suits, immediately fast-walked with arms open wide to the earliest costume of the comic book character. Like several other displays, the seven Iron Man suits are behind glass cases.
Those that aren’t include the massive 9-foot-10-inch Hulkbuster that dominates the opening gallery. There are also interactive activities like a role-playing video game where you can choose to be your favourite hero and opportunities to get your hands on some of Marvel’s iconic paraphernalia — Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer.
Five major characters — Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Black Panther, and Thor — each has a dedicated room while larger halls are occupied by secondary heroes like Ant-man, Black Widow, and Falcon, and villains like Thanos. All are part of the historically successful Marvel brand that has branched from comic books to film and TV, retail toys, and now exhibitions and parks.
The ubiquitousness of the heroes and the development of the storylines and characters snag new fans like Gabriel. I haven’t pinpointed when or why his affection for superheroes came about. It might be the fun colours of Spider-man’s costume or the dynamic powers of Iron Man’s blasters or The Hulk’s awesome strength. Maybe it’s the storytelling that connects to a child’s sense of wonder and possibilities or it could be the sheer amount of content that can feed an imagination that wants more. Whatever the source of Marvel’s sorcery it has spun a web on my toddler and the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. only deepened the connection.
Just before exiting he was given the title of “agent” and that was so satisfying an achievement to him that he whizzed through the inevitable (and extensive) retail area of the attraction without wanting a new toy for his collection. For all of Marvel’s wizardry that ability to make a child want for nothing more than the entertainment provided may be its greatest act yet.
MORE ABOUT AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N.
Location: Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 3401 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON (see map below). The exhibit is in the heart of the mall, near the LEGO Store and closest to the southeast entrance near the Apple Store.
Cost: Admission starts at $45.20 (taxes included) for guests aged 10 and older; the basic entry cost is $40.68 for kids 3-9 years old; children 2 and under are not charged. There are also rates for VIP pass-holders (with a special tour and gift), groups, and flexible-entry tickets. Visit the attraction’s website for details.
COVID-19 Policies: Masks must be worn inside the exhibition and retail store, and hand-sanitizing stations are throughout. Tickets must be booked ahead of time and guests enter the experience in a staggered entry that allows for some control of traffic, though there is no limit of how long you can stay in the experience once you enter. Plan for a visit that lasts 60-90 minutes.
The Name: The S.T.A.T.I.O.N. stands for Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network. Maybe not Marvel’s finest moment of creativity but the name works for marketing purposes.
Other Kid-friendly Spots in Yorkdale
LEGO Store: Across the corridor from the Avengers exhibit is the conveniently located LEGO Store. Kids and adults will become enthralled with the options they can build. There are massive displays of scenes from Star Wars to Seinfeld that make the store feel like an art gallery. When looking to make a purchase, there’s an array of choices based on ages and abilities.
KitKat Chocolatory: About 100 metres (325 feet) from the LEGO Store is a shop dedicated to a treat that’s beloved by generations. But who knew you could get s’mores-flavoured KitKat bars? Or a coffee-and-doughnut option? Best of all, you can create your own KitKat from a choice of toppings. Allow 45 minutes for the chocolatory team to build your own concoction.