After 46 years, Six Flags Magic Mountain finally has a dark ride worthy of standing up to the Disneys and Universals that have long ruled the Southern California theme park scene.
The new Justice League: Battle for Metropolis 3-D shoot-em-up dark ride is equal to Universal's Transformers 3-D and Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man dark rides and better than Disney's Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters dark rides.
That's high praise for the Valencia amusement park, which has never had a themed indoor dark ride and is better known for its towering roller coasters.
I had high expectations for the highly touted ride, and Justice League didn't let me down.
Set to open Wednesday, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis combines motion-platform ride vehicles with a shoot-'em-up video game that plays out on a series of 3-D movie screens.
Six Flags has rolled out similar versions of the Justice League ride at parks in Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Mexico, with additional clones debuting this year in New Jersey and Georgia.
Themed to the crime-fighting team of DC Comics superheroes, the new ride's back story finds Lex Luthor, the Joker and Harley Quinn teaming up to kidnap the Justice League superheroes and unleash a sinister laughing gas on the unsuspecting citizens of Metropolis. The mission: Rescue the Justice League and save Metropolis from destruction.
Justice League: Battle for Metropolis saves the best scenes for last, which play out on a pair of 60-foot-wide curved screens. Riders simulate a corkscrew inversion while shooting at armed villains aboard a subway train in one subterranean scene. During a car chase scene, riders navigate a simulated vertical loop while racing through downtown high-rises teeming with flying Lex-bot droids.
For me, the highlight of the ride was a series of targets projected on a fog screen that riders shoot at with laser blasters before passing through in their ride vehicle. The illusion reminded me of the Davy Jones mist projection on Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, with an interactive twist.
The Justice League attraction uses several impressive animatronic figures in themed settings throughout the ride to break up the video-screen scenes. The Joker straddles a cannon-cycle in one of 10 scenes, while Harley Quinn fires a laughing gas bazooka in the finale. The best sight gag involved a rack of falling oil drums flanked by a pair of animatronic bad guys that riddled our car with bullets from smoking automatic weapons.
Justice League: Battle for Metropolis would likely draw a PG-13 rating for simulated violence. The ride racks up a high body count, with human bad guys falling in a blaze of laser gunfire -- a major departure from your typical Disney or Universal dark ride.
The shoot-em-up game play distracted from the ride's attempts at storytelling and disrupted the visuals on the screen. In a futile effort, I rode Justice League one time without firing a single shot just so I could follow the story and absorb the visuals -- while other riders continued to light up the screen with blaster fire. I reclaimed my weapon in subsequent rounds and eventually claimed the top score in our vehicle: 126,132 points.
Sally Corp. vowed to compete head-to-head with Disney and Universal with Justice League and have largely succeeded, with help from Oceaneering Advanced Technologies on the ride vehicles and Alterface on the interactive gaming elements.
But, of course, the theme park world never sits still. The Spider-Man attraction that was once considered the best dark ride in the industry has been surpassed by a new leader: Universal's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It will take a lot more magic than Six Flags and Sally Corp. can currently muster to best the boy wizard.