How Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Tells A Marvel Superhero Story In Theme Park Ride Form

With Walt Disney World's Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind roller coaster recently opening to the public, there's been lots of buzz about the attraction's technological innovations and plenty of discourse on how well it marries the Marvel franchise to Epcot's edutainment vibe. But what of the ride's story? Disney describes Cosmic Rewind as a "story coaster," but does it deliver on this front?

Well, given the attraction squeezes an entire Guardians' adventure into an experience typically defined by guests gleefully screaming while grasping a lap-bar for dear life, it does a decent job capturing the look, feel, personality, and narrative style of the James Gunn films. In fact, while it has a fleshed-out beginning and end, it comes off less like a standalone tale and more like an action-packed sequence ripped right from one of the movies.

The story, which Disney Imagineering worked on with Gunn, features the full primary cast (although Rocket's performed by a "voice-alike"), as well as an appearance from Glenn Close as Nova Prime Irani Rael. Terry Crews also makes his Guardians debut as Nova Corps Centurion Tal Marik, a welcome comedic character and close associate of Rael.

On top of the authenticity these collaborators bring, the ride's pre-show more than does its part to set-up and shape the story. Park guests are invited to the Wonders of Xandar, a pavilion mimicking the other country-based World Showcase exhibits around Epcot. The mock pavilion is where this abbreviated Marvel yarn begins to unravel, as visitors — technically waiting in line — learn about Xandar, its people, and its technology.

The stakes are elevated, however, when this passive, museum-like experience turns us Terrans into more active participants. Nova Prime extends an invite up to her ship, where we're to witness a demonstration of the Cosmic Generator, a portal-hopping device that significantly speeds up space travel.

Story-driven set piece

But as with most theme park attractions, and Marvel films, the proceedings are interrupted by a villain, in this case Celestial Eson the Searcher. The big bad — who made a brief, civilization-wiping appearance in the first Guardians' film during the Collector's ominous Infinity Stone explainer — crashes the party, steals the Cosmic Generator, and states his plans to use it to trigger a Big Bang do-over and "erase an error," aka destroy humanity. 

As expected, this kicks the story into overdrive, sending guests into "evacuation shuttles" to track Eson until Star-Lord and his ragtag crew of day-savers can show up. As the tension ratchets, the tale morphs into a high-speed chase through the stars. The Guardians arrive, wielding their Celestial-thwarting skills and signature banter in equal measure, while '70s and '80s pop songs serve as the soundtrack to this mini-adventure. And again, that's exactly what this story is: A bite-sized tale that feels a lot like one of the films' action scenes.

In terms of fitting into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cosmic Rewind isn't canon. Disney parks' Marvel attractions unfold in a separate timeline, although this one does take place after the events of the first film. It's not an especially deep or complex story, but rather serves as easy-to-swallow entertainment that does right by the characters and universe it's based on.

Serious Marvel fans who soak in the pavilion and pre-show elements, search for Easter eggs, and allow themselves to figuratively go along for the ride, will enjoy a meatier story with some extra narrative nuance. But even if you're not a True Believer, the major beats of Cosmic Rewind's plot are compelling and overt enough to deliver a story-driven, cinematic experience that can be appreciated by anyone who's ever seen a superhero or science fiction film.