Theme park folk tend to fall into one of two camps, those that like big honkin’ roller coasters and those that like the heavily themed attractions of Disney and Universal. Other than a few places like Knott’s Berry Farm and Islands of Adventure that feature both types of attractions for us switch hitters, parks tend to be one or the other, meaning a choice must me made. For the coaster freak, the choice is often Six Flags, and it is evident that Magic Mountain chose the coaster path. Sure there are kiddie rides and the three obligatory types of water rides (log(ish), raft, boat), but for thrills guests ride the rails. When I perused their map recently, it was surprising how few twirl and hurl rides they have, most appearing to date from the 70s or earlier. But on Wednesday, with the opening of Justice League Battle for Metropolis, things got a bit more diversified in Valencia.
Remember when Disney first announced Midway Mania? Anybody that had ridden Spiderman at Islands of Adventure expected a ride like that with interactivity, but that isn’t what was built. Sure, it’s fun and popular, and the competitive nature means rerideablility, but it is arguably more game than ride. Nobody would have expected that Six Flags of all companies would build the type of ride many envisioned 10 years ago, but that is precisely what has happened.
And thus it came to pass that after installing Justice League in several of their parks, Six Flags has now debuted the most detailed version yet at Magic Mountain.
On July 11, the night before the public premier, the park hosted a media preview, and despite the 5 hour drive, there’s no way that your humble narrator was going to miss it. I’ve been fortunate to attend similar gatherings in our parks by the Bay, but this was on a whole ‘nother scale. For one thing, Six Flags theming usually means “slap some red, blue and yellow paint on that track, stick a logo on the side, and call it Superman”. Justice League has a story, utilizes characters. Therefore it involved not just a track designer, but DC Comics, Warner Brothers and various companies responsible for audio, effects, etc. All of the groups were spotlighted like the Houses of Hogwarts during a gathering in the Great Hall, although they neglected to specifically thank Internet geeks writing for theme park websites. Food isn’t unusual at these things, but there aren’t generally trays being shuttled about by attentive wait staff, and there certainly isn’t a jazz big band, and there is always an absence of cocktail dresses. Now, obviously, they’re being nice to us because they are hoping for kind words to follow. Although I strive to be consistent in my opinions and not be influenced by a few freebies, it seems important to be up front with you about the situation.
Many of the food offerings were from the newly re-branded Ace of Clubs BBQ joint. My general policy towards food at Magic Mountain has always been don’t get hungry, but if paying guests receive the quality offerings we had, that policy may need to be rethought. The ride also empties into a gift shop (was there any doubt?), and we had a couple of hours to take it all in before the real fun began.
Finally we reached the point that normally kicks off these events and endured, er, enjoyed some speechifying by the like of park president Bonnie Sherman Weber and John Woods of the Sally Corporation, builders of the “best DC themed ride in the world!”. Things brightened up when the sun was fully down and the lights were extinguished as the skies above the Hall of Justice exploded in celebration (but only after the backing hillside was thoroughly hosed). It was a good 10 minute display (uninterrupted by a fool and his drone as was the case on July 4 at California’s Great America; no, I am not making that up) with a series of superhero anthems building to a crescendo of lasers and fog with confetti swirling around the Justice League standing strong and proud before us when the lights returned (Ladies and Gentlemen, for tonight’s performance the part of Aquaman will be portrayed by Supergirl as her persona will not require expensive and erosive water effects).
Now I’m not the type to give away the movie’s ending, but in light of some of the description and photos that follow, I’m hitting the red button.
ALERT: Spoilerman sighted in the vicinity!
Directly the doors were opened and we joined the queue of, whoa, all these designers, producers, technicians and executroids don’t half create a line, do they? Well, perhaps these LA people will only ride once. Entering the building we gathered for the first of two preshows in a space fronted by a video screen, with statues of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing sentinel in the back.
After the story setup, the second preshow is encountered, hosted by the newest member of the Justice League, Cyborg. As an animatronic figure, Cyborg may not ever be mistaken the the Auctioneer pirate, but it looks great with fluid, if a little slow movements. Cyborg explains how he will be controlling our “hover-car” and familiarized us with the weaponry. It all looks wonderful. For a quick getaway after he concludes, you’ll want to lurk around the back left sector of the chamber.
The promised land was in sight as we strolled into the final queue consisting of a single switchback and informative signs detailing point values of the various targets. The “hovercraft” is reminiscent of Spidey’s scoop though smaller with only six passengers. They feature the same full range of motion tilting and pivoting in a multitude of directions. The mission is straightforward: some of the League have been captured by Luthor, Joker and his doll Harley Quinn; commence rescue.
What follows is four minutes of unrelenting, frantic mayhem! While it is a 3D ride, there are also scenes featuring practical sets and animatronics including a variety of effects from movements to fog (the blue fog will protect you from Joker’s laughing gas) and flames. The transitions are quite seamless with no feeling of obviously going from screen to screen. It seems like only yesterday and 4 Presidents ago that the mist projection in the rat chamber of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye was so problematic, a situation greatly improved when said effect sailed to the Caribbean. Without details just allow me to say that the use of this effect during the Battle for Metropolis is simply masterful!
Throughout the adventure the pace is hyper-kinetic squared, and only intensifies as the story progress culminating in a subsurface pass through a virtual inversion before the expected conclusion (hint, the ride isn’t called Lex Luthor’s Magnificent Masterpiece, izzit?) Now the resolution isn’t at the level achieved by Transformers at Universal studio, perhaps the only real negative, yet it isn’t perceived as a distraction. One reason not to harp on the clarity is that is is all happening on a scale unfathomable by the human brain. I was tipped off to the presence of a pitchfork in the first scene worth points o plenty, but I couldn’t spot it even on my ride through without shooting at anything. It would require many passes like that to begin absorbing it all. And who’s going to ride it that often without playing the game? Not I. And according to a how would you doubt it display at the ride’s terminus, for a microcosm of the space time continuum I was in the lofty heights of a score in the top 10% of all time. Then we had to exit the vehicle.
There were enough in attendance to compel a 30 minute wait for our maiden voyage on Justice League, but satisfaction was attained as it transpired that a significant number of the more LAme people were one and done, and by ride number five the only delays occurred due to the two preshows for myself, about half a dozen members of the catering staff and a couple of other workers. And I can report that an accompanying friend who was concerned about multiple rides due to motion sickness was along with me 4 out of 5 times; those are Trident gum numbers there friends and neighbors. If Magic Mountain maintains everything, and the effects function properly as a matter of course rather than a matter of luck, then this is a homerun/hattrick/touchdown/dunkshot/grandslam addition to their roster.
Opening day proper started early with the sun shining, leaning in hard, bearing down unyieldingly. Earlier than is considered ideal for those up late enough to have been riding Riddler’s Revenge with exactly zero other people on the train, Ultimate Single Rider as it were. But some of the more dedicated followers of fashion donned costumes of their favorite DC Comics character for a record attempt for such a gathering inside of a theme park, got to ride before anybody else, and Six Flags was kind enough to provide photographic evidence for any Jokers that need to established an alibi.
Despite the drive involved for an overnighter that also included some coaster rides before the return commenced, my fatigue was completely justified. I can’t even whine about needing a nap because I know how hard the MiceChat crew is currently working in Anaheim at the D23 Expo. So maybe we can all catch our collective breaths, and I’ll return next time with more fun to share.