Last week, movie-theater mega-chain United Artists held marathon screenings of all ten Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, capped off with the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Being a huge nerd and firmly aligned in the Marvel camp, I felt compelled to subject myself to 29 hours of bombastic blockbustery mania. So, last Wednesday, I hopped on a $6 Megabus from New York City to my hometown of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, to go to one of only 11 theaters showing the marathon.
Here's a movie-by-movie rundown of what happened.
6:00 PM, Hour 0: Orientation
Before the marathon begins, I see marathon-goers streaming past in Captain America pajamas and plastic Thor helmets. Someone's carrying an Avengers pillow. Many are cradling blankets. It strikes me how woefully underprepared I am: All I have is a backpack full of pens, paper, and oranges, which I'd been recommended by a worried friend.
6:45 PM, Hour 1: Iron Man (2008)
The first movie in what they called the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" is Iron Man. I haven't seen this movie in years, but everyone was excited in the theater. I learn we have an MC for the night, Andre of Black Nerd Comedy, a YouTube star who asks us trivia and doles out posters as prizes. Sample questions include: "What is the name of Thor's Hammer?" (Mjolnir) and "Who are the new brother sister team in Avengers: Age of Ultron?" (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). The marketing rep stands nearby, frequently checking his watch.
Iron Man is full of fraught politics that haven't aged so well. The bad guys are "terrorists" from all over the Middle East, but the action takes place in a cave in Afghanistan. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark blasts his way to freedom through sheer American ingenuity.
"Geeks abound," I jot down, glancing around to see people haggling and trading their character-specific 3D glasses, which we had been each been given. "Everyone still very lively," I note.
9:10 PM, Hour 3: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Edward Norton took a break from being wonderful to play The Hulk in this movie. Starring opposite Liv Tyler, he is the saddest Hulk, ever. He's tortured, on the run, and literally walks with his head down in the rain through significant portions of this movie. I remember hating this film when I first saw it, but it's got a decent enough plot for a Marvel movie. Bruce Banner's been trying to keep it cool as the Hulk for five years, and lives a quiet life of hiding in Rio de Janeiro—until his girlfriend's army dad hunts him down and tries to subdue him. At this point I'm still feeling good from all the popcorn, but I realize that this will be my seat for the next 26 hours.
11:25 PM, Hour 5: Iron Man 2 (2010)
This movie was made during the time when Marvel still wasn't quite sure what they were doing. They had a big hit with Iron Man and then The Incredible Hulk was just OK. So... Make Iron Man 2, right? This movie stars Mickey Rourke as a dreadlocked Russian thug/nuclear physicist. (To his credit, Rourke later trashed the movie, calling it "mindless.")
12:15 AM, Hour 6
Halfway through Iron Man 2, I take a break because I need to stretch my legs and also because I'm starting to feel really shitty. I walk to the concession stand because our MC reminded us all to stay hydrated. A bunch of bored-looking teenagers mill about behind the stand.
I catch the cashiers gawking at all of us nerds with our geeky get-ups. They shout for us to enter specific lines, one for refills, another if you're actually buying something.
Standing among so many other customers, I can't help but feel this is a huge cash-grab for United Artists. With 400 marathoners each forking out $65 for their tickets, plus over a day's worth of megaplex-priced drinks and snacks, it really starts to add up.
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1:50 AM, Hour 7: Thor (2011)
I've never seen Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh (yes, Hamlet Kenneth Branagh—I don't know why he directed Thor, either). And although it's getting late, I'm determined not to nod off. Spoiler alert: I nod off. I'm awakened by the enormous sound of a 30-foot-tall robot's laser breath.
4:00 AM, Hour 9: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
By this point on the Marvel's movie-universe timeline, they knew pretty well where they were going. So with Captain America they took a chance and set it in the 40s. I like this movie a lot, but its pace is so slow. Maybe if I hadn't just seen four other Marvel explosions, I wouldn't be so critical. But good lord, move it along, Steve Rogers.
6:25 AM, Hour 12: The Avengers (2012)
This is a hard one for me. I've seen The Avengers three times already, and 11 hours into a movie marathon is not the best time to see it a fourth. Instead, I wander the halls of the megaplex. Someone's camped out on the ground with a blanket and pillows. All the doors to the other theaters are open, and I see a woman her mid-20s with a huge Hulk pillow sneak in. She turns to me and says, "I need to sleep in peace," and vanishes into the darkness. I wander outside, because we've got wristbands that let us come and go as we please.
I speak to a chubby dude chain-smoking who came all the way from Indiana to see the marathon. He complains that his buddy's fallen asleep and says that he himself won't.
"I suffer from insomnia," he boasts, "so I usually go two days without sleep."
7:30 AM, Hour 13
I return to my seat to catch the end of Avengers and immediately fall asleep. I sleep soundly until the crowd goes crazy for that part where the Hulk smashes Loki into the ground over and over, not unlike the repeated smashing that's been going on all damn night.
9:05 AM, Hour 15: Iron Man 3 (2013)
In the lobby, two young kids and their father walk back toward the theater. The kids are in Avengers pajamas and rub their sleepy eyes, seeming quite content.
"Dude, your kids are rock stars," a stranger offers.
The dad explains that they had a deal: They'd all go do this marathon if the kids went to school on Friday. Thursday, however, they were allowed to skip.
"But Dad," the little girl asks, "did you tell them we were sick?"
"Shhh..." the dad replies, "you are sick."
Back in the theater, I start to think about a woman I met earlier in the night who is dressed up like Tony Stark. With her short-cropped hair and penciled-in goatee, she had bragged about her Tony Stark collection of memorabilia and said Iron Man is her favorite hero. She also said she had a terrible panic attack during one of the movies in the marathon, and almost needed an ambulance.In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is also struck with crippling panic attacks. It reminds me of the power these corny movies have to connect and empower people.
When an 11-year-old girl behind me was upset that she got a trivia question wrong (and therefore didn't win a prize) another fan, without hesitation, gave his prize to her. And when a young boy, suffering from developmental issues and dressed in a cape, stood in front of the crowd to give his best Iron Man pose (another competition) he was met with thunderous applause. When the community loves you as much as you love the content, there's a beauty to the fandom. The sense of unity—strengthened here by petty squabbles about who's the best Avenger, who's got the worst powers, and whether Bruce Banner or Tony Stark's the smartest—can be all encompassing as well as highly meaningful.
11:35 AM, Hour 17: Thor: The Dark World (2013)
By now I've withstood nearly an entire day's worth of explosions, gunshots, people screaming, and electronic gnashing sounds, but the question that pops into my head is: Am I drinking enough water? Again our MC is reminding us—"and not just soda."
From my notes: "Experiencing a sort of hallucination or lucid dream. Will occasionally slip into scenarios. Beginning to feel a little bit twitchy. Too much salt and sugar."
1:45 PM, Hour 19: Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
This movie is all about shaking up the universe the characters live in. I remember people freaking out about it when it came out, but in retrospect I think it's kind of whatever. When is Jon Hamm going to play a superhero? I ask myself.
4:20 PM, Hour 21: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I don't think my ears can handle much more. I keep writing that in my notes, "It's so loud... These movies are too loud..." and so on, again and again. I send an email to the concerned friend saying I'm fine. I remark briefly on how colorful Guardians of the Galaxy is, and as the movie ends I begin to feel relief. Like Captain America thawing after being frozen in ice for 70 years, I can see an end to my captivity.
7:00pm, Hour 24: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I've finally made it. By now the smell in the movie theater is sweet, a sickly mix of spilled soda, popcorn, body odor, and farts (after hour 22, for some reason, people really began to let 'em rip). I put on my 3D glasses as the crowd stirs with excitement. The movie's pretty damn good, as far as I'm concerned. James Spader plays the big baddie, and unlike other stars-playing-villains, he doesn't phone it in (even though his character is completely CGI, so technically, he is phoning it in). The movie's got everything you want in a Marvel movie—clever banter, fluid action, a non-plot—and then it even tries to ask some big questions about responsibility. Not too bad.
9:45 PM, Hour 29
To really emphasize the fact that I just spent 29 hours watching comic-book movies, my mother swings by to pick me up. I'm staying with the family for the weekend, using the marathon as a nice excuse for a visit. I look haggard, I smell terrible, I feel greasy, and I'm cranky.
Before I leave, I speak to a couple of fans still milling about the theater. I ask Ella from Scranton, Pennsylvania, how she felt after 29 hours of movie marathoning.
"Better than I thought," she replies. She lets me in on her secret to her marathon success: "Caffeine and catching the sunlight when it's out."
I also speak to her friend Johnny, who came up from Washington, DC.
"This was a great experience," he said cheerfully, despite appearing visibly tired. "Seeing these movies with all these fans? I don't feel like a lone nerd anymore. I'm with my family now."
Avengers: Age of Ultron is playing in theaters now.
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