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I survived the Marvel Movie Marathon on Chick Fil-A, an iron will, and love

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Marc Bernardin
Apr 30, 2018

I have, like lots of people, made a litany of questionable decisions over the course of my life. That time I decided to drive my car around the bases on my high school's baseball diamond. Or when I went to a low-end strip club in New Orleans that employed a plumbing pipe painted gold as a stripper pole. Or any time I've gone to White Castle.

But when looking back on deciding to marathon 12 Marvel movies in the theater, 31 hours, soup to nuts, it's clear that it wasn't a good idea. Nor could it have been. Oh, it had the potential to be a GREAT idea, or a horrible one. But it was never going to be a reasoned, well-considered, good one.

None of that stopped me from plunking down $100 for the Avengers: Infinity War marathon, of course. Sponsored by Nerdist and held at the El Capitan Theater, on Hollywood Boulevard, this marathon started at noon on Wednesday, April 25, and culminated on Thursday, April 26, with the 6PM showing of Infinity War, an hour earlier than every other theater in Los Angeles. That's around 31 hours in a movie theater watching the following flicks, in this order: Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Black Panther (2018) and, finally, Avengers: Infinity War.

No sequels, save Civil War and Avengers movies. No outside food or drink. No retreat. No surrender. Here's how those 31 hours went.

Day One

12:30PM: Check in for the event began at noon, with the first film to start at 1pm, so I figured I'd split the difference. We had assigned seats, so getting there early meant little. There was a line spilling out the front of the El Capitan Theater and down into the side alley. Some people in cosplay, others in pajamas, all super-hyped.

1:00PM: I get to the check-in desk. They hand me a laminated event badge, which has my seat number on one side and the list of movies on the other, and a small book of tear-off vouchers. A couple of concession stand vouchers, meal vouchers — Chick Fil-A was providing the Wednesday's dinner and all three of Thursday's meals for free, and the concession stand was open for the duration — poster and gift vouchers. Then, metal detectors, bag inspection and, boom, inside.

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1:10PM: I'm sitting in the orchestra on the far left. In the seat to my right is an older gentleman in a leather bomber jacket and thin white hair pulled into a ponytail. As I sit down, I resist the urge to call him the Rhinestone Cowboy. "Looks like we're going to be riding together," I say. He doesn't respond. I decide that if he ever does say anything, I'll call him Buffalo Bill, which is even worse. On my left is a young woman from San Diego named Danielle. She's dressed as Thor and, with a shot-putter's build, could likely do some mean damage with or without a hammer.

1:15PM: A "team member" from the theater — the El Capitan is owned by Disney so, yeah, every employee is a "team member" — comes out to kick things off and give us some ground rules. So long as we have our badge on, we can come and go as we please. Since Nerdist is the host, a bunch of their staffers will appear throughout to introduce some of the flicks, along with special guests. This dude — let's call him "Jimmie" — is really pumped for this.

1:20PM: Clark Gregg, the one-time glue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Agent Phil Coulson, takes the stage to rapturous applause. There will be a lot of rapturous applause over the next day and a half. This is a rapturous crowd. Rapture will play large at the very end of this. I'm just saying. The Son of Coul entertains for a bit and then bows out. Every time an actor takes the stage, and there were quite a few, I start to get a USO tour feeling: The shiny celebrity talking to wartime infantrymen during a lull in the hostilities.

1:29PM: Cosplay contest. A word of advice for cosplay competition entrants: If there is a little kid wearing a pretty decent Black Panther costume also competing with adults, and the crowd will crown the winner via applause, that little kid will win. Thor-Danielle was like, "I ain't even getting up there. I know how this is gonna go."

A note about the movie seats at the El Capitan Theater: You know how your average high-end theater in a major city will have super-cushy seats that cradle your ass like a gentle lover? Or motorized recliners that make you feel like you're taking a popcorn-scented first-class trip through the looking glass? The El Cap doesn't play that, homie. These baby iron maidens come at you like, "Reclining is a sucker's game and cushion is for the weak. Entertainment costs, Dolores, and the price is pain."

1:38PM: Teensy T'Challa won the cosplay contest.

1:39PM: IRON MAN. Still holds up. But we all knew that. So many Marvel movies would employ a similar time-shifting opening structure. Here it's Tony on the humvee, it gets blown up, then we flashback 36 hours to see how he got there. Thor does it, The First Avenger does it, Guardians does it. It's at its most effective here. This movie very much rides on the power of personality. If Robert Downey Jr. weren't so magnetic, if Jeff Bridges wasn't so fun to watch, this flick would never get out of the really aimless second act—which is, essentially, just a guy tinkering in his workshop for a while and going to a party.

This was a crowd that would, over the course of 30 hours, cheer at every introduction of a major character. Tony Stark: YAY! Pepper Potts: YAY! Agent Coulson: YAY! Agent Coulson says the word "SHIELD": YAY! And so it goes.

3:45PM: After Sam Jackson talks to Downey about the Avenger Initiative, I leave my backpack (filled with healthy snacks and two portable chargers) and my sweatshirt in my seat and get up for popcorn and soda. The theater is maybe 75% full, even though the El Cap marquee boasted that the event was sold out. Maybe some folks were waiting until after The Incredible Hulk to show up. Maybe some couldn't get out of work. Who knows?

3:55PM: THE INCREDIBLE HULK. This movie, often the green-headed stepchild of the MCU, starts better than I remember it. The action is pretty solid, the plot moves at a brisk clip. I think this would hold higher in some fans' esteem if the casting wasn't so off. Edward Norton is strong as Bruce Banner. He doesn't have the empathy that Mark Ruffalo would bring, but he's doing good work. No, the problem is that Tim Roth playing a bad-ass military operative who eventually gets a CG-muscle makeover just doesn't convince. At all. He's been excellent as the villain before, but his malice is a venal, cerebral one, not a physical one. And at this point in her career, Liv Tyler had one speed: Bambi, either in or out of headlights.

4:00PM: I return to my seat with the movie already started. I put the soda in the cupholder (which takes about one-fourth of the El Cap seat space), put my backpack under the seat, then move my sweatshirt so I could sit. What I couldn't see in the dimness was that my sweatshirt sleeve had draped over the cupholder and that my pulling was going to launch $8 worth of Diet Coke up and onto the person right in front of me. Which it did, loudly and with great panache.

The irony was not lost on me that The Incredible Hulk opens with an accident at a soda factory.

Yeah, I was that asshole, one movie deep.

5:20PM: I get up and walk outside. I do this in-between every movie. Aside from only one of the 12 we're going to watch, it's not like I haven't seen them before. But about 10 years ago, while in the hospital for pneumonia, I got a blood clot in my calf that, had it dislodged, could've killed me. Deep-vein thrombosis. So now the kind of immobility that comes with long plane rides or, yes, sitting in a movie theater for a day-and-a-half is something that needs to be punctuated with walking for a stretch. I run into a dude named Ryan who's taking a vape break. He went to a screening on Tuesday and won a ticket to the marathon. So here he is again. My people. I walk back in just in time for…

5:25PM: THOR. Pros: The relationship between Thor and Loki are what make this movie work. Two sons vying for the love of a distant father. The romance with Jane Foster is kinda thin, but it's functional. I hope the casting director got a muffin basket for finding both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. The moment where a humbled Thor earns his hammer back is magical. Cons: There is no good reason why 80% of this movie is shot in Dutch angles, where the horizon refuses to be flat. It's as if director Kenneth Branagh didn't trust the drama to be involving enough so he thought, "Well, if I shoot it like 1966 Batman, it'll at least LOOK like comic book programming." It never fits and only distracts.

5:40PM: A couple of rows behind my assigned seat, there's a completely vacant row. As much as I liked Thor-Danielle and was invested in devising a way to get the Rhinestone Cowboy to like me, I liked and was invested in space a bit more. So I moved. Eminent domain.

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7:20PM: Dinner break. The first Chick Fil-A meal — a fried chicken sandwich — goes down easy. We were moving at a good clip before, no more than five or ten minutes between movies, but now we have an hour. Back outside for air.

8:20PM: The Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan, trots out to exhort the assembled masses to madness. He seems a good bloke. Too bad he's so hideous looking.

8:33PM: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. For my money, the single most defining moment of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is a 90-lb asthmatic diving on a grenade. Tony Stark is the MCU's mind and Steve Rogers is its beating heart. And it ends with Cap doing the very thing he would later chide Stark for lacking the conviction to do: sacrifice himself, his happiness, his chance for a dance with the girl he loves (Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter), to save millions. Director Joe Johnston brought some of his unironic Rocketeer flair to this period piece — and it works like a charm.

10:38PM: It occurs to me that Steve Rogers is probably a virgin. Maybe while on War Bond tour, he made time with a chorus girl, but I don't think so — he just doesn't seem to be that guy. It doesn't seem as if Natasha Romanoff broke him off a piece and Steve's kiss with Sharon Carter in Civil War was their first. America's greatest soldier is, therefore, pure as the undriven snow.

10:43PM: A recorded intro from Joss Whedon tees up The Avengers. He says that he'll be rooting for Avengers: Infinity War as an ex-husband. "You're looking well. The other guy seems to be treating you okay." Then Paul Bettany comes out and talks about how Whedon rescued his career by making Jarvis the anchor for Vision. I don't remember what else he said, he's just so damned charming and British.

10:48PM: THE AVENGERS. We had just never seen anything like this before. The structure is a little clunky — Loki's plan doesn't make a ton of sense; the Thor/Iron Man/Cap fight in the woods has no dramatic purpose — but it doesn't matter. We were getting Earth's Mightiest Heroes on screen together. Before The Avengers, the closest we'd ever gotten to a real crossover was Bruce Wayne saying, during Batman & Robin, "Now I know why Superman works alone." The big moments all still play, even if Captain America's uniform looks like Play-dough.

11:15PM: My phone is at 56%. My knees are at 42%. I'm fighting the urge to sleep. Maybe it's because I've seen The Avengers more than any other MCU flick, but this is getting hard.

Day Two

12:43AM: Loki stabs Coulson through the chest. "Goddamnit, Joss!" belts from a guy in the crowd.

1:13AM: Michael Rooker ambles out to intro Guardians of the Galaxy. It's not clear if he's drunk, tired, both, or neither — and this is just Rooker's natural state. He bounces from thought to thought without much connective tissue before leaving the crowd with the obligatory "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!"

1:16AM: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. When this was announced, it was the Marvel flick I was most concerned about. Could they do a space-opera comedy and have it fit, tonally, with the rest of the movies? And here's where I learned the magic of the MCU: Their tone is "fun." Even when it's serious, like Winter Soldier, it's fun serious. And, damnit, Guardians is just a good time — with some seriously emotional underpinnings. It's about a bunch of broken toys who learn they're stronger together — and who learn that they can't heal alone. Chris Pratt is the goods.

2:15AM: I just woke up from a micronap. Deep sleep ain't easy for a big guy in small seats. I'm missing about 30 minutes of movie.

2:58AM: Popcorn farts.

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3:30AM: I walk out onto Hollywood Boulevard. No, literally, I walk in the middle of the street and just stand there. No cars for miles. Apocalyptic, just like the inside of my brain.

3:35AM: I walk back inside to see Brian Tyler, who wrote the score for Avengers: Age of Ultron humming a few bars on the stage. I think this might be a delusion. Not sure.

3:38AM: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. The highs are a bit higher (the opening action sequence, the party at Avengers tower) and the lows are a bit lower (Ultron's 58th monologue, the idea that Natasha is a monster because of her barren lady parts). It's a movie about Tony's guilt more than anything else. Important for his ongoing story, but not the greatest installment.

4:47AM: I am awoken by the deep sound of someone in this theater snoring like a buzzsaw. It was bound to happen. I'm just thankful it wasn't me. (I think.) But the most sleep I got, I got during Ultron.

6:20AM: Breakfast. It's beginning to look as if this entire marathon is cover for an experiment to see what happens if people eat nothing but Chick Fil-A for 30 hours. I had a biscuit with fried chicken on it. Sally forth. I walk out into the predawn Los Angeles and, for the eighth time, question my own judgment.

6:30AM: Raffles. I don't pay very close attention to what they're giving away, as I've never won a raffle in my entire life. Ghiradelli chocolates and Pop figures, I think.

7:00AM: Judging by the line for the Men's Room, they're collecting good Chick Fil-A data. I change my shirt, put on deodorant, and brush my teeth. I might be living like a mole person, but I don't have to smell like one.

7:15AM: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Brother against brother. A villain who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it — and succeeds. The introduction of Prince T'Challa of Wakanda. The incorporation of Spider-Man into the MCU. The airport fight, one of the best set-pieces ever put to film. Hell, yes. Resonant. All of that said, I fell asleep just as Cap and Bucky get in the quinjet to head to a Russian missile silo.

9:15AM: DOCTOR STRANGE. Aside from the Guardians films, this is the most visually inventive MCU picture. The story is pure pulp: Rich, broken white dude goes to the Far East for skills, ends up in a monastery to learn, brings back said skills and becomes a defender of the whatever. Benedict Cumberbatch is quite solid, Benedict Wong is fun, Mads Mikkelsen is having a blast, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnetic. The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is still problematic — seriously, you just solve the whitewashing issue by saying that every thousand years there's a new Ancient One; this one is a white lady and the next one will be an Asian dude — but she's great.

9:16AM: But I need to walk, for real. So I take the first 45 minutes of Doctor Strange and lazily stroll around the block, grab some coffee, sear my eyes by looking at the evil daystar.

11:00AM: Lunch. Chick Fil-A nuggets. I paint my face with the sauce like a moist, delicious William Wallace.

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12:10PM: Spider-Man: Homecoming was supposed to have started by now, but Jimmie the Team Member says they've got a small hiccup but they hope to start as soon as they can. Personally, I think they're gonna trot out someone awesome and that someone awesome is stuck in Los Angeles traffic.

12:25PM: Tom Holland comes bounding out, full of the kind of energy I can only vaguely remember. Probably because he's showered and slept at some point over the past day. I smell like victory, he smells like lilacs. Holland says that it's been a while since he's seen Homecoming so he's gonna stick around and watch with us.

12:30PM: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. So friggin' endearing, I can't stand it. It is fundamentally about the experience of being a kid, of being in high school, of having to prove yourself to the adults around you, of having to prove yourself to yourself. Holland is pitch-perfect and Michael Keaton delivers a villain that you can absolutely understand. His motivations are clear and his plan is crystal. Also, as a New Yorker, I will respect any flick that features a bodega cat. Because all bodegas have cats and that attention to detail means a lot to me.

12:48PM: I can hear Holland laughing, about three rows behind me.

1:15PM: Holland shouts into the darkened theater, "I'm sorry, I've got to go! But you guys are legendary!" Then I realize that I've been at this for 24 hours. I'm not sure I've done anything for 24 hours straight aside from "not dying." And, right now, I'm not sure I'm succeeding.

2:10PM: A hearty chorus of whoops when Peter Parker, trapped under a fallen building, says to himself, "Come on, Spider-Man! Come on, Spider-Man!" Maybe it's because we are also on the downhill of this particular trip, so close to the promised land, but we've been beaten and bruised… Maybe we're all cheering each other. I'm not sure. I do know that my brain is so compromised that I can see sound.

3:00PM: Winston Duke strides out, like a chocolate colossus, barking like a Jibari, to introduce Black Panther. He mentions that the bark is a bit like the f-word: it's one sound that has a multitude of contextual meanings. The dude is a linguist, too! But M'Baku isn't alone…he came with none other than De Bleck Pantha himself, Chadwick Boseman. And the crowd cheers, stands, gives the Wakandan salute, and fills their pants.

3:05pm: BLACK PANTHER. So, how does this one hold up? Pretty much as it did two months ago. It is a film full of heart and majesty and wonder. There isn't a single wrong choice in the casting — even the Tolkien white guys are solid. What drives Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger is totally understandable: You get why the bad guy is doing what he does, you might even say he's got a point, even if you'd never go to those same extremes.

4:00PM: I'm not tired anymore. I'm beyond tired. I'm the Beyonder.

5:30PM: Dinner break. Chick Fil-A has the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to trot out a grilled chicken wrap for dinner. DO YOU THINK I WANT TO BE HEALTHY NOW?

5:40PM: Remember all those empty seats I talked about? Not many of them filled in. A dude sitting in front of me theorized they were bought by scalpers who couldn't get anyone to pony up $300 on eBay. All the better for me.

5:45PM: There's a DJ here trying to whip up a whipped crowd. He's doing his best. Delirium has gripped a few marathoners, and they're dancing with doughy abandon. But the rest of us are thousand-yard-staring this dude down. He then moves on to announcing the last raffle of the night, complete with air-horn punctuations. More toys and gift bags and whatever. I haven't even been checking my raffle ticket to see if I'd won anything because A) I never win these things and B) let someone who'll love it win it.

5:50PM: DJ Mjolnir (not his name, but shoulda been) announces the big ticket raffle prizes. Over the course of the evening, each of the special Marvel guests that have dropped by have signed five posters. I sit up. I pull my wadded up raffle ticket from my pocket. The DJ calls the first number. I win. I never win. But I won.

6:14PM: Director Anthony Russo comes out to take us home. I don't remember what he said. I know, my job was to take notes and be, like, a journalist or whatever, but I have finish-line blindness and all I can see is the end of the road.

6:15pm: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. There are a gazillion reviews of this flick on the internet. Some takes are hot, some are reasoned, others are just whatever. I'll just say this: A movie this big shouldn't exist. This many characters, this many story threads, this many things happening…it's impossible. But Marvel is in the business of the impossible. The crowd was with this movie every step of the way. And the air audibly left the room at the finale. Some were devastated, others were angry, others still were supercharged.

9:00PM: I leave the El Capitan Theater. For good. I'm a little woozy, from both the 31 hours spent watching movies and the last movie I watched. I'm limping a bit. My depth perception is off. My skin has a deep-fried sheen.

Did I have fun at the Avengers Infinity War Marvel Movie Marathon? Yeah, the kind of fun I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. There was real pain, real deprivation. But there was also real community, real camaraderie. We all suffered for something we love — at least, those of us who didn't nip off home or to a hotel when it got rough — and there is something special about that.