Eight decades of Marvel comics, movie props and famous costumes have been packed into a museum exhibition in Wellington. It may sound like a dream for Kiwi Marvel fanatics, and it is, but even casual fans will leave in awe.
And you can trust me on that because I got to check it out. It’s located in Wellington’s brand new Tākina Convention & Exhibition Centre, opposite Te Papa.
Everything I Learnt At 'Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Exhibition'
There’s a lot to Marvel and it’s all pretty sick
Starting at the entrance and through to the end, the walls are covered in Marvel’s 85-year history.
There are actual comics from the 1960s, scribbled with notes from Stan Lee and the illustrators, props and outfits that were used in the multi-billion dollar movie franchise. There are also interactive screens that tell you everything about the greatest force in pop culture there is today, and how it came to earn that title.
Ben Saunders and Patrick Reed were tasked (if you ask them, honoured) with fitting the franchise’s vast history into one exhibit. As co-curators, they realised that creating a purely informational museum show would not be enough for the characters they’ve loved since a young age.
“We want to make sure that we can entertain and, at the same time, enrich,” Patrick told me. “It’s not meant to simply be entertainment, it’s not meant to simply be an advertisement for Marvel’s latest projects.”
“No matter what your level of interest is in Marvel,” he added. “You will be able to walk away from this seeing some things you recognise that lead you into that larger story and walk away with a greater appreciation for these creations and this entire universe of imagination.”
Marvel goes all out on everything
Seeing the detail on Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther suit - the stitching made up of Wakandan lettering - had me in awe.
The same goes for just about everything in the exhibit: Tom Holland’s Spiderman Suit, the comic page that birthed the Avengers, and the Infinity Gauntlet that was the subject of two multi-billion dollar movies.
Despite them being completely still in their display cases, the intricacy of their design was somehow more exciting than anything that could happen in a movie or TV show.
“No matter how good your home set up is,” Patrick said while standing in front of the Black Panther suit, “there’s still levels of detail and craft in these items that you would never be able to see on the screen.”
“The degree of work they put into these things to create reality on set is staggering.”
Ben added that the props and comics lining the walls are “some of the most important and influential popular culture of the 20th century.” He compared early Marvel comics to Motown music of the 1960s and how it influenced the modern rock music we hear today.
“Nobody thought that people would remember it the following month, let alone 50, 60 years later.”
Museums can be fun
Among all the props and comics are genuinely fun displays, turning it into more of a playground than a museum. Doctor Strange’s section is a psychedelic room of mirrors, inspired by Ben’s school mates who would get high and go to their local museum.
On a smaller scale, there is a small glass window where a holographic Ant-Man runs across before being kissed and picked up by The Wasp.
There’s stuff for kids too: An interactive comic panel which you can colour in the style of Marvel’s three main illustrators, photo ops with many of the heroes, and lighting effects that will have them yanking on your jeans to come and stare at.
After walking through the gift shop and out of the exhibit, I asked Ben and Patrick how Marvel can dominate pop culture to the point of record-breaking movies, 80-plus years of success and, of course, a God damn museum exhibition.
"The relatability of these stories, no matter how huge and epic scale they get, remains truthful and allows them to continue to resonate no matter what form they take and no matter what generation they’re speaking to," Patrick said.
“There is a core of humanity and creativity in Marvel’s characters.”
Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Exhibition will be on at the Tākina Convention & Exhibition Centre until the 28th of April 2024. It’s a trip through a pop culture force that you’ll stay at far longer than expected.