Who has never dreamed of being a superhero? Being able to fly, to turn invisible or to shoot spider webs from the palm of your hands? They’re all powers that any human can only dream of. Until now, because that third superpower has become a reality for everyone! Walt Disney Studios (part of Disneyland Resort Paris, France) has just opened the new Avengers Campus with its dark ride Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure. We visited the campus shortly after opening to check it out. Join us while we try to save the Avengers Campus with nothing more than the flick of a wrist!
The opening of Avengers Campus marks the first phase of a multi-year investment plan, including a total investment in the Walt Disney Studios park of €2 billion. This investment, announced on 27 February 2018 by Bob Iger (then CEO of the Walt Disney Company), follows after years of complaints about the park. Guests consider the park too small, that it includes too few rides and is not interesting enough to stay for an entire day. Moreover, the idea of a park dedicated to show people the way films are created results in a series of areas which are not as immersive as the zones in the original Disneyland Park. With the investment plan, the Walt Disney Studios park will be ‘reimagined’ in a similar way to how the California Adventure park was around 2010. The park will be vastly expanded with a large lake, meant to host large shows, and new themed lands around the lake. On original sketches, new lands were envisioned to be themed around Frozen and Star Wars, though the Star Wars-land no longer appears in more recent releases.
The first land to be added however was not necessarily an expansion. Instead, the first phase of the plan included the severe retheme of the former Backlot-area of the park, which was transformed into Avengers Campus. After a construction time of almost three years, Avengers Campus was opened to the public in July 2022. The zone is themed in a similar way to the area by the same name that opened at Disney California Adventure last year. As the name indicates, it is based around the Marvel superheroes that are united as the ‘Avengers’. Just like in California, the Campus in Paris includes a dark ride that features Spider-Man: Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure.
A short history on Spider-Man
Spider-Man is not just any of the Marvel superheroes; he is probably the most popular and well-known character of all the Avengers. But the history of Spider-Man goes back a long way, to a time when the Avengers did not even exist. In 1962, Marvel Comics premiered the very first comic of the new superhero Spider-Man. The comic was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and followed Peter Parker, a teenager from Queens (New York). During a field trip to a laboratory with his class, Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which gives him supernatural spider powers, such as superhuman strength, the ability to cling to surfaces and the power to shoot spider webs from his wrists. Peter decides to use his new acquired powers to fight crime in his local neighbourhood, and thus becomes Spider-Man.
The Avengers, the alliance of Marvel-superheroes uniting to fight evil forces, first made their appearance in 1963. They were Marvel’s answer to the creation of the Justice League by their competitor DC Comics. The members of the Avengers have varied from time to time, but some Marvel-heroes happen to play a large role throughout the entire history of The Avengers. One of them is founding member Iron Man, the alter-ego of Tony Stark who uses the weapons factory he inherited from his father as a laboratory to become a superhero. Initially, Spider-Man was left out of the Avengers comic books, but he made his first appearance in the alliance in 1991.
Currently, the Avengers are best known from the recent films distributed under the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Starting with Iron Man (2008), the MCU would attempt to combine all the superheroes of Marvel Comics into one cinematic universe. The first film of the MCU in which the Avengers were assembled was released in 2012, featuring amongst others Iron Man, but Spider-Man was not yet part of the group. This was partly because Marvel originally licensed their characters to different production studios, which resulted in the situation that Spider-Man was licensed by Sony Pictures. Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures could not agree on a way to integrate Spider-Man in the MCU, which inevitably left him out of the first Avengers film. Instead, Sony even released two new films based on the character, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), that were set in an alternate cinematic universe.
In the meantime, the MCU became a huge commercial success, which resulted in the acquisition of Marvel Entertainment (the parent company of Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios) by the Walt Disney Company in 2015. With the large success of the MCU, pressure from the fans to include Spider-Man within the same universe arose. Eventually, Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Studios came to an agreement and Spider-Man made his debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016), where a young Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) is recruited by Tony Stark. The agreement between Sony and Disney also made it possible for Spider-Man to appear in Disney theme parks.
The Avengers Campus
Following the storyline of the MCU, the Avengers assemble whenever the world is in a dangerous crisis, such as attacks from extraterrestrial or interdimensional life forms. At one point however, Tony Stark realised that the world was in need of even more superheroes. In order to inspire new recruits and teach them to become superheroes, he came up with the idea of constructing campuses around the globe. Here, recruits can meet with famous heroes from the MCU, in order to be inspired to become a hero themselves. The first Avengers Campus opened in 2021 in California; Paris was the next, opening in summer 2022; and Hong Kong will receive the third campus in 2023, as the final phase of the expansion with multiple Marvel-based rides in that park. The main idea of a campus where anyone can become a superhero creates a truly immersive world in the Walt Disney Studios Park: instead of being spectators, as was the case in the original Backlot, guests are invited to become part of the storyline.
In order to construct the Avengers Campus in Walt Disney Studios Park, the former Backlot of the park was closed in September 2019. During the retheme, the former Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was temporarily closed and received a retheme, while the special effects show Armageddon – Les Effets Speciaux was permanently closed. The stunt show Moteurs …Action!: Stunt Show Spectacular remained open slightly longer, but was eventually closed in March 2020.
The look of the Avengers Campus is completely different from the former Backlot. Instead of entering a studio area, guests now find themselves on a clean and modern esplanade between industrial buildings. Storywise, Avengers Campus is built on a site which was originally one of the bases of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR). This organisation was co-founded by Tony Stark’s father during World War II as a special weapons division. The base later hosted S.H.I.E.L.D., the successor of SSR which was also co-founded by Stark’s father. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony Stark decided to use the base for the Avengers Campus. This can be seen in the architecture of the area, which consists of a basis of industrial buildings from the previous century, complemented with modern parts and façades clearly added by Tony Stark himself. In this sense, the buildings already tell a story of layered history, creating a truly immersive experience.
At Avengers Campus, guests can finally meet their favourite superheroes and see them in action. The Avengers can show up at any time, sometimes greeting people, sometimes performing shows or demonstrations from the rooftops, all meant to inspire the ‘recruits’ down on the street. The recruits can go for training at the Hero Training Center, buy or repair equipment at the Stark Factory, or have dinner at one of the many restaurants and food stands such as Pym Kitchen. Two of the major draws of the area however are both rides: the new dark ride Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure and the rethemed roller coaster Avengers Assemble: Flight Force.
The open day at W.E.B.
One of the buildings at the Avengers Campus houses the Worldwide Engineering Brigade (or W.E.B.), an institute founded by Tony Stark. W.E.B. is an institute where young bright minds (often children) use their intelligence for great inventions that might help humanity. The building is located on the site of the former Armageddon show, but now houses the new dark ride Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure.
When we visit the Avengers Campus, we appear to be lucky as W.E.B. is having an open day and we are able to visit the facility. W.E.B. receives us, along with many other visitors, in small groups which enables the engineers to give a small presentation of their work. Upon reaching the end of the first queue line, we are led into a workshop where we meet Sharon, an artificial intelligence computer who introduces us to Peter Parker, lead engineer at W.E.B.
Peter (appearing as Pepper’s ghost projection) shows us several new inventions by W.E.B., such as the self-replicating spider-bot and the brand new WEB Slinger vehicles. He only shows a miniature model of the vehicle, but tells us that riders of the true vehicle can have the same powers as Spider-Man. Moreover, he promises us that we can go for a test ride later. During Peter’s presentation however, a problem occurs as the spider-bots appear to get stuck in self-replicating mode. They start to consume everything in their way and even seem to find their way out of the W.E.B. building, which would be catastrophic for the Avengers Campus.
At this point, Sharon wants to call Tony Stark for help, but Peter insists not to call Stark. Instead, Sharon proposes to call Spider-Man. Spider-Man does not pick up his phone and Peter decides to move out to ‘find’ Spider-Man himself and call for help. When Spider-Man enters the room slightly later, he asks all of the visitors to help him. The open day is officially cancelled. Instead of going to test drive the WEB Slinger vehicles, we are actually going to use them to fight the spider-bots!
Saving the Avengers Campus
From the workshop, we are guided to a large hall where the WEB Slinger vehicles are waiting for us. Along the way we can see some of the spider-bots in the air vents of the building, making it clear that we must hurry. We are asked to take our WEBvision glasses (3D glasses) along the way, and then we get ready to board the vehicles and save the campus. The WEB Slinger vehicles are large and may look somewhat like a container. Passengers are inside a large cabin that surrounds them from most sides, apart from the front where they can look out of the vehicle. The cabin is divided into a front and rear side, each seating four passengers in a row. Riders sit back-to-back with a wall that separates both sides and makes sure that riders situated in the front or back part cannot interfere with each other.
We board our WEB slinger vehicle and immediately notice the absence of guns or other weapons that are generally equipped on an interactive dark ride. As Peter Parker explained in his presentation, the vehicles enable us to have the same powers as Spider-Man. With our hands and arms, we can shoot spiderwebs and disable the spider-bots.
After we board our vehicle and go through the standard safety check, we leave the station. Two vehicles are dispatched at the same time, following each other through the building. The cars can spin and alternate on which riders go forward and which go backwards. When riding multiple times, it is striking to see that the ride is mirrored for riders facing forward or backward, which means you always pass the elements of a scene in the same order.
Eventually, we stop at an interactive projection screen, where the first scene starts. We find ourselves in the ‘Prototype Storage’ of W.E.B., filled with crates, boxes and barrels full of prototypes and materials. Spider-bots are crawling between all stored goods, so it’s time to shoot! With subtle hand movements, we were able to shoot at all of the spider-bots, but we might hit a little bit more than that. All of the lighter weight objects in the game are actually not fixed. Hitting a crate with a spider web, will result in the movement or destruction of the crate. These objects can also be used to knock out the spider-bots.
After fighting the bots in the storage room, we move on to the laboratory of Hank Pym. Pym is a scientist who first appeared in the MCU in Ant-Man (2015). He has done years of research on the shrinking and growing of materials and people (Ant-Man for instance). While we’re trying to capture all the spider-bots in the lab, something goes terribly wrong, because one of the spider-bots grows into the size of a bus! Unfortunately, it manages to get away before we are able to capture it.
We continue our journey to some warehouse logistics facility. It is where Spider-Man almost gets trapped, frozen and transported elsewhere, but luckily, he manages to escape. Meanwhile, Sharon and Spider-Man think of a plan to start a chain reaction that will take out all spider-bots at once. All we need to do is hit the green glowing spider-bots in the next and final scene.
This scene takes place outside. Thousands of spider-bots are crawling through the campus and they have even taken over the Quinjet. We manage to fight a lot of the spider-bots before the giant bot reappears. It is one of the glowing bots and exactly what we need to hit. We combine our forces and all fire at the giant bot. When it explodes, it sets off the chain reaction, causing all spider-bots to self-explode and disappear. Mission complete: we saved the Avengers Campus!
The engineering of the WEB Slingers
Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering and is almost an exact copy of W.E.B. Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure in Disney California Adventure. The most notable change is the use of the French language in the Paris version. Key elements in the ride design are the WEB Slinger vehicles and the concept of using hand-movements instead of weapons. This concept is not entirely new: we have seen something like this before on Ninjago The Ride (Legoland parks around the world).
However, Spider-Man brings this concept to a whole new level. Where the Ninjago-system can see the single-direction aim of a hand via sensors built inside a sort-of dashboard (which simultaneously functions as a lap bar), the system of Spider-Man can see far more advanced and precise movements. To do so, the ride uses sensors almost all around the riders, which is the reason that the vehicles are shaped as containers surrounding the riders. Multiple sensors can precisely monitor the location of the hands and calculate the exact direction the rider is shooting in.
The system works incredibly well and enables us not only to shoot webs, but also to move objects attached to those webs by pulling them towards ourselves again. The Spider-Man hand gestures are easy to execute, making it even feasible for children to hit some of the targets. Aiming is also quite easy, which enables almost everyone to hit as many spider-bots as they can.
The satisfaction of Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure
After testing our skills at slinging webs, our thoughts turned to whether the ride had provided us with a feeling of satisfaction and succeeded in immersing us in a Marvel-adventure. And surprisingly, it actually does. Immersion begins at the esplanade of Avengers Campus, which features striking architecture and creates a pleasant environment to stroll around. A second glance leads to learning that there is a whole story behind all these buildings from different eras, deeply rooted in the backstory of Iron Man and the Avengers. This layered approach, providing a nice experience to any visitor but leaving many deeper elements for true fans, characterises the entire ride of Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure. Even for visitors who do not understand the backstory of the ride, the idea of using your hands to shoot webs at the spider bots is simple to understand and also very easy to execute.
The ride experience starts with the pre-show, where Peter Parker introduces the WEB Slinger vehicles and the spider bots. The pre-show room is richly decorated and the video starring Tom Holland is nicely done, incorporating the type of humour that fits his character. The most notable downside, and the major difference between this installation and the similar ride in Disney California Adventure, is that Peter Parker speaks French in the pre-show. Though his words are subtitled, a French-speaking Peter Parker is not exactly what international visitors might expect to see. Moreover, the words spoken by Sharon are not translated, leaving gaps in the conversation.
Although the ride is a bit short and features mainly screens rather than physical sets, the richness of the video content and the perfect combination with the hand gesture system is stunning. The ability to move objects around by cleverly slinging spider webs is a cool addition to the traditional gameplay of an interactive dark ride, and gives riders many more possibilities as to how they fight the spider-bots. Moreover, the scenes also include responsive elements that influence the course of the sequence. Some spider-bots in the game are programmed to start a motion, which changes the course of the scene when they’re not shot in time. The total ride, including only four scenes, might be shorter when compared to other Disney dark rides, but taking the continuous hand movement into account, the length of the ride is just long enough to give a convincing and yet not too tiresome experience.
With Avengers Campus, the Walt Disney Studios park intended to introduce an immersive area to the park where people could actually feel like being a superhero. Within this themed zone, Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure might be the experience that comes closest to this feeling, without losing the simple fact that we are not able to have super powers. Walt Disney Imagineering came up with a story which nevertheless enables us to act like Spider-Man, by means of the WEB Slinger vehicles. This makes a dream of many Avengers Campus visitors come true in a surprisingly convincing way, thanks to the motion-controlled interactive system and elaborate gameplay. The ride is simple enough for children or those less familiar with the franchise to enjoy, yet its theming is rich enough to please Marvel-fans as well. Spider-Man W.E.B. Adventure may not be the huge Disney dark ride some fans hoped for, but it is nevertheless a fun ride for the entire family. And fear not, that huge dark ride is probably coming up with the next phase of the Walt Disney Studios expansion.
© Dark Ride Database
Visit by Erik (31 July 2022) & Luc (5 August 2022)
Article written by Erik and Luc
Pictures by Luc (5 August 2022), unless indicated otherwise