"Your fate is in your hands!"
So warned AMC Theatres' ad copy for the The Ultimate Marvel Marathon, a 27.5-hour screening of all 11 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, capped with a screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the newest installment in the franchise. Tickets were $70. Popcorn and soda were unlimited. Sleep was discouraged.
Since I had seen only seven of the 10 Marvel films that have been released since 2008, and being in possession of a fairly comprehensive shelf of superhero comics, The Ultimate Marvel Marathon presented a unique challenge: Could the self-described Nerd King of Nerd Mountain survive nearly 28 hours of shrieking fans, violent robots, deafening explosions and Gwyneth Paltrow? There was only one way to find out.
With Mic copy chief Esther Bergdahl (whose enthusiasm for The Ultimate Marvel Marathon rose in direct inverse proportion to my own) at my side, I would brave hours upon hours of eyestrain and salty snacks.
The rules of the Ultimate Marvel Marathon were simple and finite:
1) I would remain in my seat during every film, rising only during designated inter-film breaks.
2) Tweeting, texting and Instagramming were limited to inter-film breaks.
3) I would subsist entirely on food obtainable at the concessions stand.
In return, I would take home an exclusive Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron collector's pin and a limited edition print (I hoped it would be Hawkeye).
It all seemed so easy. I was wrong.
3 p.m.: The sizable queue is dressed in everything from Hulk hoodies to Iron Man T-shirts to urban streetwear (me), but Captain America is far and away the favorite of this crowd of 700 people. A guy hands out Monster Energy drinks. Mine is flavored "Zero Ultra," which has no sugar and is in a shiny white can. I save it for later.
3:07 p.m.: Esther and I take a pair of prime orchestra seats (a decision we would later learn had defined us into unbreakable caste roles that we could never have comprehended at the time).
3:14 p.m.: The theater is playing selections from the scores and soundtracks of the preexisting Marvel films. The guy to our right bought 10 tickets and hopes to scalp the remaining seven. He's sitting with two women in stretched-out Avengers T-shirts. Although I may never be able to definitively determine their relationships to each other, I quickly determined their relationship to me: The People Who Ruin Movies.
3:16 p.m.: "Hooked on a Feeling" from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack plays for the first time.
3:26 p.m.: We meet Louie, an AMC employee in a green Hulk hat who informs us that all refills of our 130-ounce tubs of popcorn are free. We're also allowed cigarette breaks at 3 a.m., to answer the very specific question of a man in an Iron Man T-shirt behind me.
3:49 p.m.: "Hooked on a Feeling" plays for the second time.
3:56 p.m.: I get a new seat partner to my left! He is from Japan and is wearing a black T-shirt with a glowing thingy underneath in the style of Tony Stark's electromagnetic pacemaker thing. We never exchange a single word.
4:34 p.m.: Louie gets up and does his spiel on the free gallons of popcorn again. "Your current seat will be your seat for the remainder of the event!" I immediately become uneasy with my seat choice.
4:46 p.m.: Louie, drunk on power, realizes that we are a captive audience of hundreds of people stuck in our seats and "wants us to take the opportunity to talk to you guys about an AMC Stubs Card membership."
5:00 p.m.: A line from the Johnny Storm/Captain America slashfic I'm reading, easily the highlight of the marathon so far: "Johnny exclaims as he approaches, and, as soon as he's within reaching distance, Johnny grabs at him, pulling him close and kissing him. He tastes like cheap beer and nicotine."
5:13 p.m.: The people seated behind us (a cute young couple, roadtrippers from Toronto in matching Avengers T-shirts) ask Esther to let them watch her episode of Agents of Shield via a memory stick. She says yes and they are so, so happy. Everyone around me is delirious with happiness.
5:26 p.m.: Our first bucket of (theoretically limitless) popcorn! It's 130 ounces of freshly popped and buttered corn, but we elected not to pay $0.49 for a packet of cinnamon or white cheddar flavor powder, so it's healthy.
5:41 p.m.: Louie comes back to remind us that we are bound to our chairs until we grow into them like that poor 480-pound woman in Florida. He asks for a show of hands of the people who haven't seen all 10 existing Marvel films. I raise my hand, along with maybe a dozen other people, and am properly shamed. More importantly, Louie announces that if we survive the next 27.5 hours, we get a Flava Flav-style medal as a reward. Ever since Little League began awarding medals just for participating, I've been obsessed with getting rewards for passivity, so this is a big deal for me.
6:03 p.m.: In a trivia round, a girl named Rachel wins a poster and everyone behind me starts screaming "Raaaaachelllllll!" à la The Dark Knight.
6:04 p.m.: We're four minutes behind schedule and I start to panic. What if every one of the films has a longer and longer delay that compounds on the previous delays and eventually we just catch up to the next installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the marathon doesn't end? (This kind of thinking is why I shouldn't do marathons.)
6:08 p.m.: After Louie leads a(n entirely unnecessary) countdown...
Iron Man: Tony Stark Abuses Robots
6:15 p.m.: I'm immediately skeptical about the montage of Tony Stark's fictional media coverage. I know Tina Brown had a flair for unconventional covers, but when has Newsweek ever run a full-splash cover story about a weapons contractor? Why would Vanity Fair have a dedicated tech journalist whose only specialty was bedding the chieftain of the military-industrial complex?
6:18 p.m.: Amount of time passed between the beginning of the film and the first sexist depiction of a female journalist: 10 minutes. The "reporter" works at Vanity Fair and went to Brown, but that doesn't mean she's above sleeping with a known misogynist dirtbag to get a quote!
6:21 p.m.: Gwyneth Paltrow calls the Vanity Fair reporter "trash" and somewhere Alison Bechdel's nose starts to bleed and she doesn't know why.
6:25 p.m.: I'm pretty sure these Jericho missiles violate the START II Treaty.
6:38 p.m.: The Bald Bad Guy's pimp ring tho!
6:52 p.m.: Calling it now: The CEO who wears a pinkie ring and smokes a cigar while riding a Segway is the bad guy.
7:04 p.m.: Tony abuses his helper robot for the first time. I do not think this is funny. The robot is just trying to help, Tony. What kind of sociopath builds a sentient robot only to abuse it psychologically? That's like a building a robot that can feel pain and setting it on fire.
7:44 p.m.: The Pinkie Ring Guy just threatened a nerd and everyone cheered and I have no idea what's going on.
7:49 p.m.: The robot that Tony abuses? Yeah, it just saved his life. Hope you remember that in the next 17 films, Tony.
8:04 p.m.: The Coulson guy says "Just call us S.H.I.E.L.D." and the audience is freaking out.
8:09 p.m.: The movie is over and my legs are already killing me (I know it was dumb to do squats only three hours before I sat down for a movie marathon, but Friends Don't Let Friends Skip Leg Day, guys). Is it possible to get deep vein thrombosis in three hours?
8:28 p.m.: My first non-popcorn sustenance: Two all-beef hotdogs! Plus some Cookie Dough Bites for later and a second bucket of decidedly less fresh popcorn.
8:31 p.m.: The worst part about putting a timestamp on everything you do is when you have to write down "Finished two hot dogs in three minutes." I am disgusting.
The Incredible Hulk: Thirst-Fest
8:40 p.m.: For those of you who, like me, forgot that this was a film, it stars Edward Norton's Arms, which won the coveted Oscar for "Most Surprising Thing to Appear in a Film" at the 81st Academy Awards.
8:45 p.m.: Edward Norton plays with his abs and a Brazilian guy slaps him across the face. The Incredible Hulk is, so far, pretty kinky.
8:56 p.m.: There are so many hot guys in wifebeaters in this movie. Director Louis Leterrier's thirst is palpable.
8:57 p.m.: Someone, somewhere in this theater, is vaping. So much for those 3 a.m. cigarette breaks.
9:45 p.m.: The Hulk is just a very literal interpretation of a mad scientist, if you think about it. He's a scientist who gets really, really mad.
9:55 p.m.: Second bucket of popcorn finished. My mouth feels chalky.
10:22 p.m.: The Incredible Hulk ends, to a near-universal audience consensus that it wasn't nearly as much of a rotten shit-fest as we had remembered.
10:25 p.m.: Just got cruised at the concession stand by a twinky Marvel fan! This marathon just got interesting.
10:34 p.m.: "Hooked on a Feeling" plays for the third time.
Iron Man 2: Women Are for Kicklines or Kicking Ass
10:36 p.m.: Is the little red robot in the AMC pre-roll Ultron? Because if so, I'm siding with the robots. Not only do they put out Tony Stark when he's on fire, but they also provide straws for the thirsty and comic relief during overly dark movies about superheroes.
10:42 p.m.: I try not to talk during movies, but I squeaked "Oh my God!" during Tony Stark's introductory kickline because I recognize one of the Ironette Dancers — hi Krystal!
10:50 p.m.: So far, this movie has featured Olivia Munn, Kate Mara and Leslie Bibb, returning in her celebrated role as the slut-shamed Vanity Fair reporter, which means that Iron Man 2 has hit the trifecta for actresses cast in anti-feminist depictions of female journalists. You go, Jon Favreau!
10:56 p.m.: Leg Day was a horrible, horrible idea.
11:11 p.m.: In what becomes a running theme, three or four obnoxious assholes who probably don't have girlfriends scream whatever thought crosses their minds when Scarlett Johansson appears onscreen, usually variations on "So hot!" and "Brains out!"
11:36 p.m.: Two tubs of popcorn later, I'm thirsty enough to try cracking open my can of Monster. I discover that the worst thing about Monster is how good Monster tastes. It's like how cats love the taste of antifreeze because it's so sweet.
11:48 p.m.: We get it, assholes, you find Scarlett Johansson attractive.
12:35 a.m.: So. Many. Robots. Fighting.
12:46 a.m.: At the film's conclusion, only four observable people are sleeping through the retro-style Stark Expo theme song. I envy them.
12:50 a.m.: I finally get the index card with my seat number written on it. I am Index Card J-109. I am a number.
1:03 a.m.: AMC is pumping what sounds like sound effects from Jurassic Park into the theater's speakers at maximum volume. Even without the Monster, sleep would be impossible.
Thor: Bro-King of Yaaaaaasgard
1:04 a.m.: The name "Thor" is onomatopoetically satisfying.
1:09 a.m.: Director Kenneth Branagh is clearly a fan of Power Rangers: The Movie, because the Frost Giants look like jacked versions of Ivan Ooze.
1:11 a.m.: So far, I'm pretty into this Asgard place where Thor lives. Everything is shiny and clean and all the guys are wearing tank tops and top-knots. It's like David Barton Gym! More like Yaaaaaasgard, amiright?
1:14 a.m.: Thor is every nice bro you ever knew in college and secretly lusted after even though he was a little gross and refused to wear anything other than lacrosse shorts.
1:40 a.m.: Maybe second guessing my Thor Love for a second. So far, Thor has violated a centuries-old treaty, beaten up a bunch of doctors in a hospital, insulted his father-slash-king and browbeat an underling into committing high treason. Are we totally sure he's supposed to be the good guy?
1:50 a.m.: Thor was just shirtless for no reason. I get why he's the good guy now.
1:56 a.m.: Natalie Portman, audience surrogate, just drove off the road looking at Thor. Live your truth, girl.
2:09 a.m.: I can feel my heartbeat. Are we sure Monster doesn't have crack in it? Even pretty sure?
2:20 a.m.: The Kashi Go-Lean Blueberry Crisp cereal on Natalie Portman's table makes me feel so self-conscious about my Cookie Dough Bites.
2:30 a.m.: This movie is so freaking loud. Was Hamlet this loud?
2:40 a.m.: Odin sleeps in an enormous golden swan. Fierce.
3:06 a.m.: Thor is done, to muted applause, and Louie is back, threatening to give away more posters.
3:08 a.m.: The mezzanine is upset because the orchestra gets all of the best swag in our inane trivia rounds, and the orchestra is upset because the mezzanine spilled some kind of liquid on us before The Incredible Hulk. The orchestra/mezzanine rivalry grows stronger.
3:12 a.m.: I bury my face in my hands and groan for the first time. "Daylight will come soon," I mutter to no one.
Captain America: The First Avenger: The Hallucinations Begin
3:18 a.m.: My phone dies and time is revealed as a construct.
Time unknown: My body is vibrating.
Time unknown: There is not a single word of German spoken in this entire film about World War II. As we now know, Nazis only spoke English with a funny accent during the war. One of Hitler's earlier reforms.
Time unknown: Chris Evans just got out of the Magic Boyfriend Toaster Oven and I totally forget about my mental rant against the objectification of Scarlett Johansson.
Time unknown: Am I hallucinating this giant Rogers and Hammerstein-style musical number? I must be hallucinating.
Edit.: I was not hallucinating.
Time unknown: Things you should not carry 30 miles into Nazi-occupied territory: A tin shield the size of a trash can lid with the American flag painted on it.
5:06 a.m., according to Esther: I wake up to clapping. I assume Captain America made it out of wherever he was supposed to make it out of?
5:19 a.m.: "What is the name of the next Spider-Man film?" asks our quizmaster. I had no idea that there was another Spider-Man film planned. What is this new Spider-Man? Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark: The Movie? Spider-Men Two: Too Many Spider-Men?
5:26 a.m.: The prize for this round of quizzes is an extra-large Avengers T-shirt. "Seriously?" I wonder aloud. "I can't even turn that into a slutty tank top."
5:29 a.m.: Halfway there. Halfway there. Halfway there. HALFWAY THERE.
The Avengers: Captain America's Sweatpants
5:32 a.m.: Every time Coulson comes onscreen, the audience loses its damned mind. Every. Single. Time.
5:38 a.m.: Loki, Thor's emo adopted brother, describes himself as "burdened with glorious purpose." I have never identified more with a genocidal movie villain in my life.
5:43 a.m.: Judging by the reaction of the Four Horses of the Douchepocalypse, there's nothing sexier than Scarlett Johansson being punched in the face while she's tied to a chair. Fortunately, they are drowned out by the cheers of the (considerably smaller) female audience when she smashes her chair, throws guys down airshafts and breaks a guy's nose. I like to think that if she were in the theater now, this same series of events would take place.
5:51 a.m.: Speaking of objectification, does anyone know where I can get a pair of Captain America's sweatpants?
6:11 a.m.: Loki's monologue about the paradox of freedom is really resonating with those of us trapped in theater seats of our own choosing.
7:32 a.m.: Apparently I fell asleep during a big fight and woke up during a bigger fight (granted it could just be the escalated continuation of the first fight). This one's around Grand Central Terminal and looks really expensive.
7:48 a.m.: Have you ever listened to the music during the end credits of The Avengers? Like, really listened to it? It's awful.
7:52 a.m.: We now have a 55-minute break. Thirteen hours into our sentence, this much freedom is too much for most of the audience to handle. There is a near-insurrection during this round of trivia after a poorly worded question about Chris Evans playing both Johnny Storm and Captain America ends up in the wrong hands. The turmoil is exacerbated by the announcement that, contrary to what Louis promised us, there will be no truck full of muffins and cinnamon rolls this morning.
Iron Man 3: Tony Stark Abuses More Robots
8:51 a.m.: Iron Man 3 starts with Eiffel 65's seminal late-nineties electroclassic "Blue (Da Ba Dee)." Sixteen years later, it is still awesome.
8:56 a.m.: Tony Stark is back, still psychologically abusing that poor little robot. Why do the robots always have to suffer? Without his robot suit, Stark would be nothing but another drunk billionaire with a vulgar bachelor pad and hideously "edgy" facial hair. Maybe he abuses these robots out of misplaced self-loathing or insecurity? In any case, I identify with his robot, which I dub Squeaky. (Note: The robot's name is actually Dummy.)
10:11 a.m.: I think I feel asleep, because Ben Kingsley's Mandarin character was really terrifying at the beginning of Iron Man 3 (if a little bit of an Orientalist cliché) and now he's making "don't go in there" jokes after exiting a bathroom. Ben Kinsgley, Oscar-winning actor, announcing that he's dropped a deuce.
10:13 a.m.: Why hasn't there been a single villainess yet? #YesAllVillainesses
10:20 a.m.: The hot-ish main villain declares that "subtlety's kinda had its day." This surprisingly self-aware declaration is immediately followed by a cataclysmic battle featuring scores of robots fighting meaner robots with the president of the United States suspended in an Iron Man costume over a flaming Christmas tree.
10:53 a.m.: Oh sweet lord my hamstrings.
10:59 a.m.: Round 42 of trivia. According to our quizmaster, whoever gets the "most hyped-up, balls-to-the-wall excited" will win... I honestly can't remember what. Probably another T-shirt the size of a beach towel.
11:11 a.m.: Time to make a wish! I wish to never see another movie for as long as I live.
Thor: The Dark World: Natalie Portman Is a Horrible Scientist
11:15 a.m.: I scrawl "Thor 2: The Fucking Whatever" in my notepad.
11:16 a.m.: Before the film, yet another commercial for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. disguised as an interview with one of the actresses. You may remember Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from a two-year-old advertisement on the C train that the MTA still hasn't taken down.
11:18 a.m.: "...And from that darkness came the Dark Elves." Are you for goddamn serious, Anthony Hopkins? You have Silence of the Lambs money! You don't need to do this to yourself!
11:20 a.m.: Relatedly, the Dark Elves look like sex dolls.
11:31 a.m.: Thor is shirtless again and I can't even manage a saucy comment. I've become everything I've always hated.
11:45 a.m.: Natalie Portman is the worst scientist ever. "I have stumbled upon a gravitational anomaly that makes objects disappear into thin air! Rather than take notes or cordon off the area, I will instead hurl myself into it just to see what happens!"
12:01 p.m.: When I would get bored in class as a little kid, I would silently run my tongue along the inside of my mouth and count my teeth to pass the time. I start doing that.
12:02 p.m.: I have 28 teeth.
12:34 p.m.: I write what looks like "mumblehide" in my notebook, followed by "in the city of Not-Asgard." I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.
1:13 p.m.: I am in the concessions stand behind a woman with dyed red hair who is talking very loudly at me about how she has six Avengers collectors' pins and that she still eats candy for dinner sometimes.
1:24 p.m.: Reflecting upon my purchase of two hot dogs and a bag of Sour Patch Kids, I realize that I am in no position to judge anyone who eats candy for dinner.
1:42 p.m.: As I try to tuck my bag of sour gummy children into my bag, I become aware of the fact that the floor beneath my seat is completely soaked in... something. It's sticky and semi-dry and now so is my bag and most of its contents. There's no point in trying to assign blame in these kinds of situations, but that doesn't stop me from blaming the mezzanine. Bastards.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Sour Patch Kids' Revenge
1:52 p.m.: Captain America just killed, like, 15 hijackers and all I can think is, "Those guys probably had families."
2:23 p.m.: Emily VanCamp is in this?! I wonder if there's fanfiction of Captain America in the Revenge universe.
Edit.: There is not.
2:36 p.m.: I crack open the bag of Sour Patch Kids. At first, I delicately pick them out individually, savoring the greens (lime), yellows (lemon), reds (cherry) and blues (blue?), but, Sour Patch Kids being what they are, I eventually reduce myself to shoveling entire families of sour gummy humans into my mouth. Captain America probably wouldn't approve, but at this point he can go pound sand.
2:51 p.m.: Sour Patch Kids contain some kind of gummy acid that strips every taste bud off of your tongue, a fact I forget every time I buy a bag of them and then consume it in one sitting. My tongue is on fire.
3:01 p.m.: Tongue still feels like an open wound. My legs are shaking, which I originally thought was from the subwoofers or someone behind me kicking my seat, but it's actually just my legs. I seriously consider faking a seizure to get out of this finishing this marathon. Then I remember the medal.
4:15 p.m.: Louie says that we can go home and sleep if we want to. Everyone else boos and I give the saddest little internal cheer. The prize for this round of trivia: a pair of Captain America headphones, which everyone around me freaks out about. I want to win them just to rob them of a little joy.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Chris Pratt's Abs Go to Space
4:30 p.m.: Screw the Guardians of the Galaxy opening scene. You sit down to watch what you think is going to be a fun, frivolous movie about the friendship between a talking raccoon and a gigantic sentient tree, and what do you get? A little kid crying as his mother dies of cancer right in front of him.
4:40 p.m.: "Nebula, go to Xandar and bring me the Orb." This sentence is why people hate science fiction.
4:51 p.m.: Xandar is very clean and shiny and inoffensive. It's basically Space Vancouver.
5:05 p.m.: Chris Pratt's gym time pays off during a scene where he is showered with orange goo in a space prison to the many hoots and hollers of the audience's gay and female members. The Four Horses of the Douchepocalypse, perhaps frustrated that they haven't had their needs as adolescent men catered to by Hollywood in the last three minutes, begin mouthing off. "What about his acting?" one of them whines, in the presumed voice of a woman voicing the same concern about the objectification of women in film. "If he were a girl..." Esther, proud she-warrior and Guardians of the Galaxy skeptic, stage-whispers, "Because it's an entirely different power differential!" This shuts him up.
6:20 p.m.: How in the hell do my toes hurt so much? Isn't that a symptom of gout? Do I have gout now?
6:45 p.m.: I think my adenoids are swollen, too.
6:50 p.m.: During the last headphone giveaway, I scrawl in my notebook "What if I just went and snapped the headphones in half? And gave everyone the finger? That would be so awesome" I have no memory of writing this.
6:58 p.m.: I don't know who or what Ultron is, or what its motivations are, but I want it to win.
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Ultron 2016
My phone died again p.m.: Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the Olsen Triplet star as people with the semi-random powers of superspeed and "witchcraft." Taylor-Johnson is also gifted with the ability to pull off bleached hair.
Time unknown: Tony Stark creates an artificial intelligence named Ultron in order to enforce his idea of "peace" so that he can go back to boffing supermodels and building things that kill people. Ultron (predictably) becomes self-aware in about three seconds and goes haywire, murdering Tony's other artificial intelligence in front of him. Maybe Tony should stick to building robots that he can abuse?
Time unknown: Ultron found a body and it is kicking ass. Also Ultron is kinda gay? He's a little lispy and keeps singing old Disney songs. I'm liking Ultron more and more.
Time unknown: "Everyone creates the thing they dread." It took me 27 hours to get to the center of Tony Stark's psychology — Ultron did it in an hour. Maybe we do deserve to be replaced by evil robots.
Time unknown: I, like Tony Stark, have created something I thought would be beautiful that instead nearly destroyed me. It was attending this marathon. Humanity deserves to be replaced by sentient robots.
Time unknown: Ultron has created an entire army of Ultron-esque robots and sicced them on the Avengers in order to activate the MacGuffin Device and destroy the world and all I keep thinking about is how cool it would look if his (its?) plans came to fruition.
10:34 p.m.: The lights go up. The Avengers have "saved" the day (if you can call creating a sentient artificial intelligence bent on humanity's destruction, unleashing the Hulk on hundreds of innocent civilians, destroying the capital city of an Eastern European country, killing the sexiest guy in the movie and breaking up the Avengers "saving" anything).
10:44 p.m.: I get my medal! After nearly 30 hours, 11 movies, 260 ounces of popcorn, a box of Cookie Dough Bites, a bag of sulfuric Sour Patch Kids and a few surreal instances where I think I dreamed up musical sequences, the medal is very... unsatisfying.
11:02 p.m.: I arrive at my boyfriend's apartment and fall onto the floor. "You look... tired," he volunteers. "How was it?"
11:03 p.m.: "Before I bought this ticket," I said, "AMC asked me if I had the power to watch all 11 Avengers movies back-to-back. I can now say with confidence that I do not have that power."
9:30 a.m.: I wake up in a horizontal position for the first time in days to 21 pages of notes. Like Ultron, this creation may kill me. Unlike Ultron, I am not rooting for its success.