Sunday, 9 October 2022

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy: The Live Immersive Experience by Secret Cinema

The Secret Cinema has hit the headlines recently with a $100million expansion plan funding from TodayTix, the discount ticket platform to find a permanent home in Los Angeles while continuing to deliver wonderful immersive experiences in strange temporary warehouse conversions around the edge of London. We have regularly enjoyed these experiences since our first encounter in an open-air site near the Olympic Park for Back to the Future in 2014 and have seen how their expertise has grown and they have refined the execution and engagement and I suspect the money-making capability!

We had dived into secret missions in Star Wars (2015), adored the cabaret feel of Moulin Rouge (2017), loved the rain falling in Blade Runner (2018), and delighted in the exploration of the different locations in Casino Royal (2019) and were overwhelmed by the weirdness of Stranger Things (2020). In each, we learned that the more you get into it, engage with the characters, and follow the clues the more enjoyable the experience becomes. It helps if you know the backstory and have seen the film, but it is not essential although their cult status as movies adds to the appeal.

And so, it was an easy decision to book Guardians of the Galaxy and find our way to Wembley Park tube station as a member of the Atomic Dreamers clan (costume colour blue) to explore Contraxia. As always, we arrived early as we had learned the interactions are much easier in the first hour before the venue fills up and once again impressed by the efforts fellow travellers had gone to with their costumes. The exterior of the building as always does not reveal the effort and detail that is invested in the interior creation of these worlds.

In this version, the interaction has been refined and simplified into a race to gather units (points) for your clan in a battle of the six clans to be named the winner. Easy points are earned by trading items such as CD’s, mix tapes, posters and miniature figurines in a haggle for points- it helps if you can sing a verse of the songs in the trade. Indeed, the eighties music vibe dominates the experience. More points can be earned by gathering Specimens won in competition with opposing clan members. Although it is just as fun to watch others taking part. There is nowhere to sit down so you are on your feet for the two-hour experience before the Cinema itself opens.

The best of all is to engage with the characters from the film wandering around the site to ask random questions or seek clues. Take care or else the Nova Corp troops will march you off to Prison. We spoke to Quill, Drax and Gamora, the 3 main Guardians, all very much recreating the on-screen personas and look, and had private meetings with Peter in Despatch and Zewdita in her fortune-telling alcove and met our Clan Captain Aquilla. We followed the pink twin's Carina and Rhomann for a while too. The one thing you know is that your pathway through the event is unique.

The final battle sequence is impressive with the appearance of Little Grout and Rocket and plenty of lively physical action with a good quality sound mix and lighting show. Disappointingly they dropped the simultaneous live action in the cinema during the film show which was a highlight of previous events and replaced it with a neon light show to reflect the onscreen flashes and bangs. This is clearly a money-making enhancement allowing them to use the actors in a rerun of the preshow for a second audience (who don’t want to see the film) and who prefer a later arrival time. While that makes sense it weakens the Secret Cinema element and focuses everything on the immersive preshow element.

It all feels very well run with stage managers everywhere stewarding the crowds and making the spaces for the action and the energetic audience ( I am definitely not the target demographic) enjoying themselves in an upbeat party atmosphere but not a covid mask in sight. If you know the film or are looking for a good night out with mates its worth the trip but don’t expect to be transported on an adventure with a strong narrative as in the wonderful Star Wars and Casino Royal experiences which were outstanding and set a very high bar for what follows.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Price of Ticket: £59
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