Avengers Assemble: Flight Force Improves on the Old Aerosmith Roller Coaster at Disneyland Paris

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Avengers Assemble: Flight Force Improves on the Old Aerosmith Roller Coaster at Disneyland Paris

Beyond the coaster itself, there are really only three things I love about Disney’s Aerosmith coaster: Ken Marino’s wordless cameo in the preshow, the old Velvet Underground and MC5 show posters in the queue, and the very specific weirdness of somebody’s grandmother screaming “DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY” out of tune and out of time directly into your ear while you’re blasting through a couple of loops. The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has long been the most peculiar and out of place ride at any Disney theme park, and those are the only three things I’ll miss about it whenever it’s inevitably rethemed.

I feel comfortable saying that after a recent trip to Disneyland Paris. Walt Disney Studios Park, the younger of the two theme parks there, had a version of the Aerosmith coaster from 2002 to 2019. It closed that year to undergo a retheme into an Avengers ride, as part of the construction of a European outpost of Avengers Campus. Last week I rode that version of the coaster, now named Avengers Assemble: Flight Force, and unsurprisingly the retheme is a slight improvement on the original.

It all comes down to what feels right at a Disney park. A roller coaster featuring one of the most notoriously libidinous and drugged-up bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s never made sense, no matter how sober and family friendly Aerosmith had become by the time the ride opened in 1998. The band didn’t even have much of a Disney connection; they were never on the company’s in-house record label, Hollywood Records, and the one major hit they had from a Disney-released movie, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from 1998’s Armageddon, isn’t one of the songs featured on the coaster. (Melodramatic Diane Warren ballads don’t really scream “thrill ride,” you know?) It was a baffling relationship from day one, and that’s why a retheme has been anticipated by many Disney fans for almost as long as the ride has been around.

Even if Disney hadn’t fully assimilated Marvel Comics into its corporate sprawl long ago, Iron Man and Captain Marvel would be a better fit for a Disney park than the band whose two most famous members were nicknamed the Toxic Twins because of all the chemicals they hoovered up back in the ‘70s. Those two Marvel heroes are the stars of Flight Force, as they team up with park guests to keep a barrage of Kree missiles from destroying Earth. The roller coaster trains are actually space rockets outfitted with some kind of heat sink that will draw the missiles away from the planet, you see, while the superheroes harmlessly blow them up in the vacuum of space. It’s not much as far as a story goes, but it’s no less impactful than trying to get to an Aerosmith concert in time.

The new preshow dumps all remnants of the Aerosmith ride, of course. Instead of stumbling upon the band goofing around in a studio with the ever-silent Marino and their no-nonsense manager Illeana Douglas, you now just walk through another one of Disney’s bland technocratic Avengers headquarters, a silver and blue expanse that might as well be a hospital waiting room. This joyless walk is worth it when you get to its end and are briefed by an impressive Iron Man audio-animatronic (helmet on, of course). Brie Larson appears via screen as the cosmos-spanning Captain Marvel, explaining in English the details of the attack to Iron Man (who exclusively speaks French). Recent Oscar nominee Kerry Condon reprises her MCU role as Iron Man’s latest digital assistant Friday, so you have two characters who only speak English and a third who only speaks French—clearly a practical decision for a theme park with a large English-speaking customer base, but also the kind of weird narrative choice that will keep you puzzled long after the ride is done. It loses some of the charm and dad joke goofiness of the original Aerosmith preshow, but the new audio-animatronic makes up for that; it’s a more exciting and more classically Disney piece of tech than the pseudo 3D screen used in the old ride.

From there you’ll enter the loading station and board the train itself. Shoulder restraints come down from above, surrounding your head and sitting snug against your shoulders and chest. (If you’re wondering about size restrictions, I’m a 5’ 8” pear-shaped porker who carries most of my weight in my gut and rear and I was able to fit on Flight Force and the original Aerosmith coaster without any issues.) Once you’re on board it’s the same physical experience as the rockin’ version of the ride; it starts with a launch that rockets you forth at 57 miles per hour (sorry, Euros, you’ll have to do your own metric conversion here), directly into the first of three inversions. Along with Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, it’s the most extreme coaster at any Disney park, and it feels even more intense than it is due to being set in almost complete darkness. It’s done in under 90 seconds, but it’ll probably stick with you for a little while after if you have any motion sickness issues. It’s not as formidable as top-of-the-line coasters at parks like Cedar Point or Dollywood, but it’ll mess you up more than pretty much any other Disney ride. (Except those damn tea cups, of course.)

The ride experience is the same, but all the props and scenery from the Aerosmith ride are gone. They’ve been replaced with screens featuring Captain Marvel and our Gallic Iron Man flying about and shooting down those space missiles. They banter back and forth, but unless you’re bilingual you’ll only pick up on one half of the chat. That’s not really a problem, or anything—you’re here for the discombobulation, not the conversation. The fact that there is something of an actual story during the ride itself now, instead of just static scenery en route to a concert, makes this a step up on the original, even if that story was jotted down on a cocktail napkin in under a minute.

What’s important is that this new story, and the ride’s new Avengers-based music, and the appearances from Iron Man and Captain Marvel, all create a deeper and more comprehensive atmosphere than the earlier version of the ride. Getting to the concert in Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster—i.e., the main thrust of the ride— is literally presented as an afterthought by Aerosmith. There’s something to be said for that amiable laziness, but if your roller coaster is going to have a story it’s probably best for it to feel a little more motivated. You’re not rushing because you somehow forgot you’re playing a huge concert and don’t want to be late; you’re rushing because you very urgently have to save the whole damn world. Avengers Assemble: Flight Force will also no doubt be more popular today than a ride based on a band that started in the ‘70s and hasn’t really had a hit since before 9/11.

Flight Force might be an improvement on a ride whose existence never made a lot of sense to begin with, and it might feature a genuinely great audio-animatronic, but it’s still not at the creative level that Disney was once known for. It reappropriates the original ride in a smart and entertaining fashion, but its building and line has the bland, lifeless, corporate aesthetic that makes Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventures such a drag. Instead of trying to capture the boundless awe and whimsy of the original Marvel comics, its content to follow the anodyne aesthetic of the Marvel movies, where most buildings look like the generic mixed use condo developments that infest recently gentrified neighborhoods throughout America. If you’re going to send us to space, at least make it feel like we’re actually in space—something that the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster at EPCOT does a good job of. At least being in France is a good consolation for not feeling like we’ve left the planet.

Avengers Assemble: Flight Force isn’t necessarily a great attraction, but it’s a solid rebrand of an aging ride whose time (if it ever actually existed) had clearly come and gone. It wouldn’t work at Hollywood Studios in Florida, or even be legally possible, due to the complicated theme park rights to Marvel characters, but it’s proof that Disney is more than capable of improving on the original Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster whenever they decide to send Aerosmith packing. It’s still not the unique, must-ride E-ticket that Walt Disney Studios Park needs to justify its existence, but if you’re at Disneyland Paris and want a quick jolt of Marvel-branded thrillpower when you’re not enjoying the splendor of Disneyland Park next door, it’s definitely worth a park-hop.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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