5:02 p.m.—I arrived at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 Theaters an hour early to secure a seat for my upcoming ordeal. I reasoned that this was a good time to arrive, because it would be impossible to get there before the diehards, but it was plenty of time to secure a choice seat before the sane people started showing up.
This was the first of many foolish thoughts over the next 30 hours, in which I would be joining several hundred other fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in watching what AMC dubbed “The Ultimate Marvel Marathon.” It’s a back-to-back screening of every film produced by Marvel Studios to date, ending with the premiere of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. My thoughts about what time I should arrive were foolish for the same reason that comparing laser printers to kumquats is stupid: It assumes that there is some objective standard of “normal.” But when you’re dealing with a room full of people who have all paid about $70 for the privilege of sitting through over a day’s worth of superhero movies, one after the other, with only Junior Mints and 40 oz. Coca-Colas to sustain them, the idea of “sane people” has to be recalibrated. We are not sane people. We are Marvel people.
Some backstory: I thought it would be fun to attend the Marvel movie marathon, and so I suggested that it might also make a fun thing to write about. I picked out a spiral-bound notebook with Iron Man on the cover, just for the occasion. However, Marvel only held screenings of the Ultimate Marvel Marathon in eight cities, none of which are particularly close to Chicago, where The A.V. Club is located. So I chose New York City, my old home, and bought a ticket, thinking, if nothing else, that it would make for a memorable experience. Of course, scabies is also a memorable experience, but volunteers are not so quick on the draw for that one.
This event, by contrast, sold out in every single location it was held. Marvel has a dedicated fan base, one I have considered myself a member of since I was 10 years old, reading Uncanny X-Men and Avengers West Coast under the covers. As any Star Wars fan can attest, the force of childhood memories exerts a long pull, and living in a world where Iron Man is one of the most iconic movie heroes in existence has re-awakened my love for the Marvel universe. This love will be tested before my time here is done.
In the interest of keeping things lively, and also to help ensure that I didn’t run screaming from the theater when hour 16 rolled around, no longer able to sustain the tolerance for CGI-punching sound effects at deafening decibel levels, I asked my co-workers to come up with the rules by which I should abide during my stay at Lincoln Square. After some lively back-and-forth, during which film editor A.A. Dowd suggested I attend wearing 11 different shirts, emblazoned with the image of each titular superhero, and changing them between every film (a suggestion I rebuffed for reasons that included not wanting to risk death by nullification of the soul), the following nine rules were decided upon:
1. I am only allowed to consume what’s on sale at the theater.
2. If I need fresh air, I can move no farther than 15 feet from the entrance.
3. I must watch at least 20 minutes of every film (i.e., the “no closing your eyes at the beginning of Thor 2 and waking up three hours later” rule).
4. All social media is to be disabled for the duration of the marathon.
5. I am allowed one lifeline, whom I may contact three times during the marathon, for sanity’s sake.
6. I must note any appearances of vending machines in the films (i.e., the “inexplicable requirement” rule).
7. A note must be made of which moment in each film generates the biggest crowd reaction.
8. The Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: How happy is the audience to see him in each film? (This rule was proposed under a working theory that his cameo in the first Iron Man would be met with a roar of approval, followed by diminishing returns in each subsequent film, until there is a barely a shrug of recognition when, say, Guardians Of The Galaxy rolls around.)
9. Anyone in costume in the audience must be engaged with at some point.
In hindsight, I should have realized that these were not all good rules. Let me spoil the last one by assuring you I did not speak to everyone in costume, but in my defense, there were costumes appearing over the course of the marathon that were not there when I arrived. Everything else I stuck to, within the best of my abilities. (There may have been some vending machines that escaped my attention; my final tally here should in no way be taken as the definitive count, especially because I grew to hate this rule passionately, like a cyst or a guy who wears sunglasses indoors.)
And so my plan was finalized. I flew to New York early Wednesday afternoon, arriving shortly after 2, traveling to Manhattan, stopping for a quick lunch, and then heading right to the theater, which I would not leave until almost 29 hours later, when the final credits on the last film rolled. This meant that not only didn’t I get to sleep late the morning of the marathon, as many of my seatmates did, but that I actually had to get up earlier than usual, to get everything done before I left. I mention this now, not to hint at a “poor me” narrative, but only so that this story makes sense later on, long after I have likely ceased to do so. And now, on with our tale. Excelsior!
Wednesday, 5:20 p.m.—Why did I think this was an early enough arrival time? The theater is already two-thirds full. Anyone who ponied up to attend this marathon is going to be another dyed-in-the-wool Marvel maniac, someone who has no interest in strolling in two minutes before it starts and grabbing a seat in the far left front row. (This, too, turns out to be untrue. You know what happens when you assume: You make an ass out of you and people who don’t give two shits about dropping serious coin on something they’ll walk into six hours late.) Nonetheless, I manage to grab a halfway decent seat, six rows back and several in on the left of the middle section. The layout is roughly as shown below, but with a balcony as well, for those who like to look down on their films:
This makes it look as though I had a better seat than I did, however. There were perhaps 20-some seats across each row of the middle section, and my little ensconcement was notably further to the margins than it may appear. Again, this is not to bemoan my fate, but only to underscore that I was both a) dumb for getting there so late/normal-early, and b) full of rage when I discovered, 26 hours later, that Age Of Ultron would be shown in 3-D. Ain’t no party like a 3-D party offset by a difficult visual perspective!
Looking around, I see multiple couples in middle seats, napping on each other in preparation. Smart. I already feel underprepared. Numerous people have obviously been here for hours. I can’t fathom the commitment that would come with adding multiple hours to an experiment in ass-comfort testing, but I admire the dedication.
My neighbors on the inside, Mary and Tim, a very nice woman and her boyfriend, are from Philadelphia—they apparently heard about the marathon on the radio just this morning and came straight here, which bespeaks either an admirable or worrisome commitment to this experience. It’s mostly a younger crowd, but more diverse in age than I had expected. There’s a guy in his 60s, white-haired, wearing a track suit, and snoring peaceably. (There are a lot of advance nappers here, pros in the world of competitive movie marathoning.) Two ladies behind me are both reading copies of The Last American Vampire, and inform me that it’s pretty good. They both will turn out to be inveterate whoopers when it comes to these movies. A guy on the phone is describing how he packed the vegetables he prepped, which again confirms that I am horrifically untrained for something like this. A cameraman starts filming near us, and people offer up hearty “Whoo!”-isms, led by the vampire fans behind me.
Costume-wise, there’s not much, which makes sense if you think about it: This is going to be a very long night (and day and night again), so comfort is a premium. There’s a guy in a tuxedo with spats and a neckerchief, who speaks to me so coldly I abort the attempted interview, and some scattered folks wearing Marvel-themed onesie pajamas (which I don’t count as dressing up, because that’s a comfortable choice, and also because I don’t really want to make an adult wearing a onesie in public think I would like to be friends with them.) However, there are a man and a woman out in front of the theater, dressed as Captain America and Black Widow, taking pictures with anyone coming in, so I chat with them for a moment. The woman, Kelly Perez, is enthusiastic and vivacious, an ace cosplayer of four years who agreed to appear because she’s friends with the manager here. She is not attending the marathon, and I cannot blame her, after seeing how some of the male attendees interact with her. Our Captain America is a guy named Luis, who is attending the marathon, and is assuredly not a regular cosplayer. “I actually got this [outfit] to put on a dummy, and it’s my first time wearing it,” he tells me. “It’s very snug.” He will wear his outfit the entire time, and after hearing how it makes him sweat, I am glad I’m sitting nowhere near him.
I don’t take any pictures, in part because my iPhone camera is acting wonky, and also in part because I’m vain enough to not want to show the world what I look like either before or after the thick sheen of grease, formed by consuming nothing but AMC-approved concession-stand comestibles, takes over my skin. Right now I already look a little peaked and frazzled from the flight and hustle to get here. By the end, I will look like Gollum.
Everyone is very excited for the event to be begin. I’m a little nervous, honestly. Here’s another fact you need to know, for events later on to make sense: I have a heart condition that makes it impossible for me to have caffeine, or stimulants of any kind, really, unless I don’t want my heart to work any more. As a result, I’m not so good with staying up super late, or functioning on less than five or six hours of sleep a night. This means future employers don’t have to worry about the possibility of my developing a cocaine habit, but it also means that I will not, for example, get to join in the mass coffee exodus that will happen tomorrow morning after the first Avengers movie ends. So I fear for my staying-awake skills.
Once we’re all seated, the theater hands us a red card with our reserved seat number on it. This is to ensure that nobody can take your seat if, say, you decide to run home for a quick nap; but it also means that the theater has now created a horrifying fiefdom of Marvel nerds, all with deeds to their temporary property, which many will affix to the placards hanging from lanyards around their necks, like some deranged secret handshake.
There are hosts for our event, employees of AMC who are there to answer questions, maintain our enthusiasm in between films by hosting trivia giveaways, and to indulge in all the worst responsibilities of contemporary social-media-based requirements. For example, we are encouraged throughout the night to tweet, Instagram, and Facebook our experience, all with the requisite hashtags, of course, and are actually chided when our hosts feel there has been an inadequate amount of said hashtagging.
Captain Nathan, as this first host refers to himself, announces that there will be free refills on large popcorn and soft drinks, which receives what feels like an unnecessarily hearty response from the crowd. There are also discounts on hot dogs and nachos, which there goddamn better be if I’m restricted to deciding between them for any vaguely filling sustenance over the next 28-plus hours. Wild cheers greet the news that the concession stand will be open all night, as though there was the slightest concern that it wouldn’t be. They announce that they will have breakfast for us in the morning, of muffins and coffee, which is some of the best news I hear, and which also turns out to be a lie. Eventually, Captain Nathan takes a selfie with all of us in the crowd and then ambles off.
At 6:02 p.m., two minutes after the first movie is scheduled to start, another host takes the stage, which is the first time the crowd rumbles ominously. It will not be the last. We are here to watch our favorite Marvel movies, after all, not listen to the prattling of people who definitely do not possess any superpowers, unless forcing a crowd to hashtag as instructed if they want to receive prizes is a superpower. I wonder if I am being such a grouch about the whole hashtag thing just because my co-workers’ rules prevent me from using social media, thereby rendering me ineligible for these prizes. I don’t think so. Besides, the first movie hasn’t started yet and we’re already behind schedule. The crowd is restless—these are serious Marvel nerds, and while I feel very much at home among them, I also know the risk of angering them. Does AMC really want to risk the ire of grumpy dorks? After all, we can type some sternly worded tweets like you wouldn’t believe.
Finally, Host #2 initiates a countdown, and the crowd visibly ripples with anticipation. We all start counting—yelling, really—and when we hit “one” the lights go down, our host finally climbs the ladder down off the stage, and I take a sip of my large seltzer water (free refills!) with excitement. It’s time to begin.
6:16 p.m.—Iron Man
The award for biggest applause during this first film will be the uproar generated by the rapidly flipping pages of the Marvel logo, and it feels close to what the sudden appearance of an actual real-life Avenger in the audience would produce. But, then, this whole film generates a series of spontaneous applause breaks, punctuated by hoots and hollers for beloved characters. The opening riff of the AC/DC song “Back In Black” that kicks off the film earns massive applause. The title: thunderous applause. It makes me smile, and I happily chime in with clapping and cheers of my own. There is no better audience in the world to see these movies with—and I was in Times Square for the opening night of the first Avengers film. The first appearance of the armor? Forget about it. We probably be-winged several million angels.
Poor eventually doomed-then-reborn Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, gets giant applause, which will repeat itself every time he appears in every subsequent film. The moment when Pepper Potts presents Tony Stark with his old power source, engraved with the words “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart,” earns a collective “awwww” from the audience. There are boos for the bad guy, cheers for heroic moments, and generally it’s everything you could ask for in seeing a movie on the big screen. Of course, there’s lots of cheers that are solely a result of people who love this universe, too. The first mention of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s name elicits a stupendous response—like Richter-measurable levels of approval.
I’m not going to talk about the experience of watching each of these films again, because that would take forever, and I’m not here to re-review the Marvel movies, but I do want to note that I’m still discovering new things in these films. I never really realized before that the secret hero of the first film is Pepper—she’s the one who kills the bad guy and generally does everything right, something the third film makes explicit by making her the final hero. This movie plays like gangbusters. If Jon Favreau never does anything else of note, he should be proud of his legacy as the godfather of the Marvel Studios films, as the first Iron Man is legitimately a classic superhero film, in quality as well as popularity.
The ending of the film gets the second largest applause—the post-credits stinger where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up and says the words “The Avengers initiative.” At this point, everyone’s in good spirits, happy and animated. Things are off to a great start. I feel chipper, and content that this was the right decision. I’m having a great time.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Huge cheers
Vending machine tally: 1
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Marvel logo
8:29 p.m.—The Incredible Hulk
We’re closer to being back on schedule. AMC’s timetable is set up for precisely this reason: There are timed breaks, usually between 10 and 20 minutes, spaced after each film, to allow everyone time to use the bathroom, buy more concessions, and to allow our hosts more time to feed us trivia questions in exchange for prizes like posters and Avengers figurines. (At several points, they even give away headphones, and the mostly happy crowd almost gets ugly with the burning passion for free shit.) It’s dinner time, so I order a cheese pizza. My stomach isn’t the most robust, so my plan is to go with food that seems safest in the long run, meaning the least likely to cause stomachaches and bathroom-related disasters. There aren’t many options, so mostly this translates into avoiding stuff that could really cause problems, like some of the more exotic ice cream treats, or any meat-based product.
I had forgotten how much heavy lifting the introduction to this film does. The crowd is surprisingly enthusiastic for The Incredible Hulk, often considered one of the lesser Marvel movies, and with good reason, even though I personally have a soft spot for it, especially for Ed Norton’s live-wire performance, now overshadowed by Mark Ruffalo’s more subtle take. But between William Hurt’s hammy villain, and the uneven pacing, it would be understandable if the crowd was more muted in its appreciation. Again, I’m proven wrong: The audience goes apeshit. Huge applause beats, especially for the final confrontation between Hulk and the Abomination. The movie played well to this crowd, which pleases me, and maybe contributes to the fact that when it ends, I’m still feeling pretty good. Though I will say I already regret the pizza.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Big-time applause, for his cameo as a guy who drinks a soda tainted with Hulk-blood.
Vending machine tally: 3
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Hulk’s “Victory” moment, when he roars into the air with his foot on the neck of his vanquished villain. Could not have been bigger applause if Hulk had turned to the audience and said, “No, thank YOU, citizens of New York.”
10:47 p.m.—Iron Man 2
Two movies down, and I’m feeling good, even strong. These movies are so fun with a crowd like this. “I could do this all night,” I think, before remembering that I will do this all night, regardless of my thoughts on the matter. As our host spews trivia and pimps his required hashtags, I do some stretching, and mix some Emergen-C into a cup of flat seltzer, which IS NOT CHEATING BECAUSE IT IS NOT FOOD. It’s vitamins, and more importantly, a confidence-replenishing placebo effect for my health. Despite high audience spirits, these giveaways feel like they’re starting to generate more ill will than good. Perhaps sensing that people don’t enjoy the highly random nature of who wins the prizes, the hosts start forcing us to applaud people who are tweeting a lot, which feels insane. I look around, and other people are staring back at the hosts as well, confused looks on their faces. Why are we applauding heavy usage of corporate-approved social media hashtags? Now, they’re telling us to applaud the theater manager. What?
Finally, they leave, and Iron Man 2 starts, 12 minutes late. Even the enthusiastic response of the crowd can’t disguise the fact that this movie isn’t terribly good. At one point, someone near me sneezes, and roughly 30 voices call out: “Bless you.” There are moments of cheering, still: Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Tony and Pepper’s kiss—they all receive hearty approval from us. Still, it’s evident that no one considers this the high point of the marathon.
Also, a trend has begun: Seconds into the closing credits, they cut the music in order to give announcements about food and upcoming trivia, which pisses off basically everyone. There’s no reason for it: We’re all stuck here regardless, and nobody would rather hear our hosts drone about the same trivia we’re going to get in 10 minutes than the film’s score. This time, there’s not even an announcement; they just dim the soundtrack despite the lights still being off. Everyone’s a little puzzled. For the first time in the marathon, I’m feeling underwhelmed, and with less energy. I blame Iron Man 2.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Effusive, but briefer than before, for his cameo as Larry King.
Vending machine tally: I think 1? I feel like I missed a couple, though.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Honestly? Phil Coulson’s first appearance. Clark Gregg is a beloved man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The trivia really hurt things this time. The questions were super easy and the prizes confusingly distributed, so we’re barely even answering any more. Our tolerance for this tap-dancing is lessening. I get some nachos, because spoiler alert: I fucking love nachos. Nachos are God’s gift to humanity, even these dumb packaged ones where the chips have shrunk in size and there’s not enough cheese sauce. Provide better nachos, AMC! Still, it is perhaps my greatest exercise in restraint throughout this ordeal that I only order this one nachos, for fear of shredding my intestines with razor-sharp bits of chemically treated chip dust.
The hosts sense our restlessness, and rather than just starting the movie, they double down on their cheerleading duties. “Come on! You’re not excited?” says one host, demanding more cheers. Shut up, dude, it’s 1 a.m. Happily, he soon abandons this effort, and instead the theater starts playing surround-sound test noises. Loudly. Like, nature sounds. It’s confounding. Are they testing our reflexes? Are we supposed to collectively turn our heads to follow the animal sounds around the room? I swear to God AMC is fucking with us. Or maybe they’re punishing us for not hashtagging enough?
Either way, Thor finally starts. For the first time, the Marvel logo elicits only a belated, taciturn applause. This seems more a reflection of the hour than of people’s love for Thor, because the God Of Thunder is a fan favorite. It plays well, and people are responsive to the various hero beats and fan-fave character appearances. Still, toward the end of the film, I can feel myself beginning to get tired. Uh-oh. We’re barely one-third of the way through, but if I were at home trying to do this, I would go to bed, now. I actively tried to doze a bit during some of Thor’s slower moments, but apparently my body isn’t quite ready for sleep yet. This is the first time I’ve started feeling like it might be nice to be somewhere else, perhaps with a bourbon and a soft pillow. By the end of the credits, it’s almost 3 a.m., and it feels like it.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Still muted (he cameos as a trucker trying to pull Mjolnir out of the ground), but actually a little fuller than that for Iron Man 2.
Vending machine tally: Zero? I think zero, but I freely admit I may have dropped the ball on this one. I’m starting to resent having to keep an eye out for vending machines.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: First appearance of Idris Elba.
3:12 a.m.—Captain America: The First Avenger
The few remaining open seats, in the side aisles near the front and back, have been overtaken by people sprawled out, sleeping. It looks nice. I start to wonder if it would violate my terms were I to do the same. I suspect that if I fell asleep in a prone position, not even the blaring loud eruption of an earthquake on the Upper West Side would stir me, so I choose not to risk it. I buy some pretzel bites and settle into my seat.
For the first time, there’s no clapping at the mere sight of the Marvel logo. But, as if to counteract that lack of response, there are massive whoops for just about everything else: the first sighting of the Captain’s shield, Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan; even Stanley Tucci earns some hollers. “Tucci!” people yell. Sure, why not. I’m heartened by the humungous outcry of cheers that greets Peggy Carter, as Marvel’s Agent Carter was one of the most fun things on TV this year. Everyone is very on board this film, despite the much larger percentage of the audience who seems asleep.
And it’s about halfway through this film that I really start yawning. But, oddly, it only lasts for about 20 minutes. The scene where Bucky falls to his “death” hits the crowd like a ton of bricks, and somehow gives me a second wind. This is not the case for my neighbors. The people around me have all started snoring periodically, rustling when someone jostles them to be quiet and then returning to a quieter slumber. When the film ends, there’s a big applause and the guy on the other side of me (not-Tim) jolts awake and starts clapping immediately, almost on autopilot. It’s 5:10 a.m. when the credits roll, and I’m still going, like a deranged Energizer bunny who draws his battery power from crowd responses to character beats. (That reminds me: When I was coming out of the bathroom earlier in the night, I swear to God I saw someone dressed as the Nestle Quik rabbit, taking pictures with people. I have no idea why the Nestle Quik rabbit was there, but I’m convinced it was. It was too early in the proceedings then for me to be hallucinating. Now, in my second wind, I’m not so sure. If he appears again, I’ll start to worry something has gone wrong in my brain.)
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Big applause. Stan the man is back on track.
Vending machine tally: Zero.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: The ending. People dig this one, with good reason.
5:30 a.m.—The Avengers
Part of me is proud I’m outlasting so many of the younger, more initially excited people around me, who are now dozing peacefully—but part of me is worried this just means I’m headed for a big fall. Like, halfway through the second Thor I’m just going to collapse, my body breaking down into component parts consisting entirely of Avengers bobble-head dolls and undigested hunks of pretzel bites. Which, now that I think of it, may be the two main ingredients of AMC hot dogs. Perhaps this is how they manufacture them.
Oh God, the trivia is going downhill. The host asks whose voice was mixed with Mark Ruffalo’s to get the Hulk voice in The Incredible Hulk, and doesn’t understand why people are yelling at him that he’s wrong. (Remember who plays the Hulk in that movie, and you—unlike our host—will understand why people are shouting him down.) I’m tired enough that I’m feeling cranky and self-righteous right along with them. Yeah, get a clue, dude. This is the moment Avengers fans stop being polite and start getting real. And it comes just in time for the movie that ties all of Phase One together.
I buy some more pretzel bites and start drinking an orange Vitamin Water, both to mix it up with the seltzer and to give my body some sugar. I’m planning to nap during The Avengers, because I’ve seen it the most of any of these films. I am sad to report that my plan fails miserably. Even when I intentionally close my eyes and try some slow-breathing exercises an hour into this film, the soundtrack in the theater seems to increase as a means of counteracting my efforts. I think the notecards they handed out were just a tracking system to prevent sleep, and a sensor installed somewhere has registered the slowing of my breathing. This marathon isn’t just a series of films; it’s a massive experiment in hypnotherapy via sleep-prevention technology. Maybe there’s something in the pretzel bites? These are the kind of thoughts that make honest-to-god sense to me as the credits roll at 7:49 a.m., and there’s some disturbing scrawls in an Iron Man notebook to prove it.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Enormous cheers for his end-of-movie cameo. It makes sense—this is the film that gets the most applause of the marathon thus far, even with half the crowd dozing.
Vending machine tally: I actively resisted counting. By now my brain is in full-on rebellion against this exercise in minutiae. There’s even one initial checkmark under the vending machine column in my notes that has been crossed-out and replaced with the words “screw you, rule.”
Biggest crowd reaction moment: The Hulk slamming Loki into the ground repeatedly, obviously. Isn’t that always the biggest crowd reaction moment for this movie?
7:52 a.m.—Mid-marathon break
We’ve been given a 45-minute break until the next film starts, a chance for people to go get breakfast, coffee, freshen up and “start the day,” or whatever they’d like. Everyone except me, of course, because I am not permitted more than 15 feet from the theater doors. That promise of muffins turns out to be a sham, meaning my breakfast options are limited to popcorn, more pretzel bites, possibly a Häagen-Dazs bar.
I’m entering that zone of shock-consciousness, the state of mind usually relegated to college students who stayed up all night finishing a paper, and then stumble into class, bleary-eyed, turn it in, and promptly fall asleep. Only falling asleep is not an option—we’re at the halfway point. I do my best to take a short nap, sprawling out across three seats, a deeply uncomfortable position made more so by the bright lights and the people having a loud debate a few rows over regarding whether Ant-Man will eventually become an Avenger in time for the Infinity Wars movies. Shut up, nerds, I think, wearily, as I remember having spent 30 minutes internally debating myself a few weeks ago about that same question. The nap doesn’t happen. I try to weep a little, in light of this fact, but tears are not coming, either. It seems that the moisture required by tear ducts to produce them has been absorbed by all the pretzel bites.
I start to wonder if madness is always a gradual process, or if it can occasionally come all at once, like a hiccup, or a grand-mal seizure. I hope it comes before I’m forced to use the toilets instead of just the urinals, because I’ve seen what all the guys around me are eating, and I don’t want to be anywhere near the end result of that. Unless maybe that’s the trigger for the incipient madness?
Also, there are some little kids here whom I swear weren’t present during the night. I can only assume we’ve been here for so long that couples have actually met, had sex, and spawned over the course of this marathon.
8:48 a.m.—Iron Man 3
Everyone around me is either sleeping, has woken up from their previous sleep, or is consuming a seriously worrying amount of coffee. So nearly everyone is at attention for the third installment of Robert Downey Jr.’s metal guy adventures. Agent Phil Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, introduces the film via a short interview promoting Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. By now, we’re greeting him like a beloved uncle. My shock-zone brain wonders what he’d really be like as an uncle. He’d probably make you a lot of old-school music playlists and take you out for burgers. He seems like a stand-up guy.
By the time the credits roll, there is strong proof that Iron Man 3 is a legitimately great movie, as I am riveted the entire time, despite the rapidly collapsing physical and mental state of my body. My circadian rhythms seem to have simply stopped altogether, perhaps in self-defense. I feel pretty okay—like, weirdly okay. A third wind, maybe? Or perhaps it’s like how people dying of hypothermia start to feel all warm and snug.
The trivia sessions have now become a marathon unto themselves, as our cranky ambivalence has resolved into something resembling angry capitulation to our hosts’ whims. You want us to shout? We’ll fucking shout. We will slice our wrists open to get a damn extra-large T-shirt at this point. He takes suggestions for the next prize, and I offer to snap a child’s neck in exchange for a $10 gift card. My neighbors feel this is a reasonable suggestion.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: As effusive as ever. It’s starting to look like our theory was severely in error.
Vending machine tally: This rule can go to hell.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Post-credits stinger of Downey and Ruffalo yukking it up. America loves the science bros.
11:15 a.m.—Thor: The Dark World
I decide on more pretzel bites, as fake bread still seems the most safe-ish choice, and with any luck, will induce constipation. I take my seat right as the host is demanding more exhortations from the crowd, like a Sea World employee insisting on 10 more jumps through the hoop from exhausted dolphins. He says he can’t hear us—“Come on, aren’t you excited?” he barks. I’m pretty sure if I chopped his head off right now, it would get a bigger cheer than the teeth he’s pulling. He probably really resents this part of his job; the sensors are no doubt also monitoring his carnival barker skills, and if he fails, he’ll have to host next year’s marathon as well.
It’s worth noting that the same AMC promotional clip plays before every film, meaning those little anthropomorphized red dots have been selling the audience popcorn and warnings about being quiet eight times over now, with no variation. They are really starting to feel like family. These red dots have stories to tell. How did they end up with this job? What if they’d rather be in finance? (These are all notes that were taken during this stretch of films. Something is going very wrong upstairs.)
Everyone’s awake and their energy is back up now—and Thor: The Dark World reaps the benefits. The Marvel logo once more elicits widespread cheering, and Chris Hemsworth is greeted like we haven’t seen him in years. I drift in and out of consciousness for the first hour or so, though my notes suggest that I was studiously assessing almost every scene during this time. Still, I can’t make heads or tails of most of my comments. “Scene w/ Jane Foster getting infected w/ aether: too subtle for the common palate?” appears twice, as though I worried that I would forget such a penetrating insight.
Still the second half is rollicking good fun, and the final fight is a knockout, as evidenced by the repeated applause breaks of the crowd. Tim and Mary have slept through the majority of the last three movies, because they are sensible people.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Just off the scales. Christians don’t love Jesus as much as we love Stan Lee.
Vending machine tally: I’m starting to forget a world where vending machines didn’t haunt my dreams. Zero? One, maybe?
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Good ol’ Stan.
1:45 p.m.—Captain America: The Winter Soldier
There’s a half-hour break for some reason. I’m not hungry, or thirsty, or anything; it’s possible I exist solely on Marvel franchise obligations at this point. I feel calm. AMC’s trivia hosts continue to pound us into submission. They have established separate camps between the balcony people and the orchestral people, the better to pit us against each other, Sneetches vs. Star-bellied Sneetches style. I flee to the concessions area to escape the endless contest—there are people out here sleeping, charging phones, and mingling with non-marathon people, here for other films in other theaters. At one point I catch a glimpse of daylight, and it’s amost embarrassing how quickly I flee back into the security of perpetual non-time that exists in our wing of the building. Sunlight is a reminder that the clock is still turning, something I have no desire to be reminded of, lest I burst into flames.
More people are donning outfits, to the point where it’s starting to feel like the capitol from The Hunger Games. Infer what you will about 21st century America from that.
I really get into the vending machine tally on this movie. I decide that multiple appearances of the same vending machine should only count as one check in the tally. It’s unclear why this is suddenly a source of fun. Life is getting odd—sometimes I’ll blink and lose about five minutes, but I watched almost every moment of The Winter Soldier. Time ebbs and wavers. I use a lifeline and call my brother and his wife, but I genuinely don’t remember what I talked about, other than the marathon itself.
2:37 p.m.—Captain America: The Winter Soldier cont’d
I’m really enjoying the non-existence of social media. I debate having my co-workers set rules about me not using it in normal life. Also, I’m starting to look for hidden clues in this movie. About what, I’m not sure; but my notes for this one have lots of large question marks and sentences that end with, “...can the movie MAKE US think that?!?!” My neighbors give me some weird looks but I’m feeling good.
3:56 p.m.—End credits, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: No longer measurable by conventional means. Earth-shaking.
Vending machine tally: 2, but they are major ones.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: The reveal of the Winter Soldier. My biggest reaction moment comes when I realize I have some leftover nacho cheese sauce I can consume.
4:23 p.m.—Guardians Of The Galaxy
I feel great. It’s inexplicable. I mean, it makes no sense whatsoever. I have been sitting in this chair for almost 26 hours. Sure, I’ve stretched between films, tried to purchase the least objectionable food, and drank a metric ton of seltzer water, but there is no explaining this feeling. But it also seems like people in the theater are giving me weird looks, so I don’t want to go too far down this road of self-investigation. Some doors are best left closed.
This movie plays massively. Sure, the trivia before it was a nightmare, and the theater is starting to smell like the C train on a hot summer’s day, but the audience could not be happier. It’s like Beatlemania, only instead of the Beatles actually appearing, someone just held up pictures of the band members and everyone still lost their minds. It’s very fun, but it also makes me reconsider what a reasonable level of fandom is, at least for myself. Every character gets thunderous applause for their first appearance on-screen. Watching it this time, it feels like a foul-mouthed, absurdist Pixar movie, only with the requisite climactic CGI battle that seems to be a contractual mandate of every single Marvel movie post-Avengers.
The movie induces a sense of floating. All cares have subsided, all desires sated, all needs met. It’s like 1984: I’m at a Marvel movie marathon. I have always been at a Marvel movie marathon. I will always be at a Marvel movie marathon. This is life. Words are becoming other words. Up the down staircase. Here we go.
Stan Lee Applause-O-Meter: Tangerines.
Vending machine tally: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” as played by zithers.
Biggest crowd reaction moment: Pretzel bites pretzel bites pretzel bites.
7 p.m.—Avengers: Age Of Ultron
The moments leading up to this movie seem to slow to a crawl, and build to a crescendo. All of the madness that was nibbling at my mind is falling away, replaced by a sharp clarity and appreciation of the bizarre nature of this moment. I look at my last two pages of notes and have the good sense to realize I was becoming a crazy person. But things are coming into focus now, and the crowd around me is approaching Obama-inauguration levels of rapture and excitement.
We play a final round of trivia, and it’s like no one has ever played trivia before in the history of the universe. It’s insane. People in the balcony and the main floor are getting into arguments about which section gets to be heads and which is tails in the coin flip to determine where the next question is directed. The concept of trivia itself is debated, as though it were invented solely for this moment. Someone wins a set of headphones, and there are literal howls of despair from people who didn’t get the question right.
The crowd begins chanting. “AGE-of-UL-tron”—clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. This is beyond anything I have ever experienced in a movie theater. Opening night in Times Square has nothing on this. These are the true believers, the Marvel fanatics, the ones who have sacrificed money, sleep, and two days of their lives to surround themselves with other fanatics and soak in every minute of the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. It’s beautiful, and terrifying. The host makes us chant “AMC! AMC!” in order to start the film. You bastard. But we comply, because anything is fair game, who cares, we’re at the apex of this ride. Avengers: Age Of Ultron is here.
How was it? That seems almost incidental. I was awake for the entire movie. That’s the big achievement, by far. Whether I liked it or not is somewhat akin to asking someone who just spent all day in a competitive eating competition if they appreciated the hint of rosemary in that last hot dog. We willingly took on this challenge, and the experience overtakes the nature of the content at some point. I will say, there was more applause and cheering during the last film than for any other movie of the whole endeavor. That felt nice. The marathon is something that grew in significance as it progressed, and despite the fact that I would 100 percent never, ever do it again, it’s a weirdly treasured memory in my mind, already taking on the rosy glow of nostalgia.
When I was leaving the theater, I turned to the neighbor on my left—the not-Tim-and-Mary neighbor—and asked him what he thought. He breathed, deeply. “I don’t want to hear any more ‘woo!’s ever again,” he said.
And now I can tell people I have a gold medal in something.
P.S. I went and saw Age Of Ultron again, 48 hours after the end of the marathon.