What it's like to actually watch 27 straight hours of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

You know how things sometimes seem like a good idea on paper, but get a bit dicey in actual execution? Let’s go ahead and put the insanely ambitious Ultimate Marvel Movie Marathon on that list.

When the studio announced the 27-hour marathon of every single Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie leading up to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I thought it might be a fun idea to sit in on one and see what’s its like to devote more than a full day to reliving Marvel’s entire catalog on the big screen. At once.

Having now gotten a good night’s sleep and a few hours’ perspective, I can form words coherently (mostly) and say the Ultimate Marvel Movie Marathon is a fun, exciting, frustrating, stinky, long, exhausting and insanely cool idea. One attendee joked it was “the ultimate test of human endurance,” and he wasn’t really wrong. Man was not built to sit in a darkened theater in less-than-comfy chairs for 27 straight hours. It’s not natural.

But, not surprisingly, the best thing about the marathon wasn't actually the movies — it was the fans. Cramming a couple hundred Marvel acolytes crazy enough to brave this experiment into one stinky room created a camaraderie that was basically the microcosm of a hyper-focused fan convention. We laughed, we cried — we all talked about how Daredevil was awesome but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty terrible (seriously, like is everyone who watches this show hate-watching out of obligation at this point?).

It was a room full of all the good people from your favorite geeky comments section, and the entire place cheered for every single Stan Lee cameo in every movie. That’s fandom in its most pure, unadulterated form.

I drove a little over three hours to the Regal Cinemas at Atlantic Station, in Atlanta, Ga., which was one of just a dozen or so theaters participating nationwide. This was a good location for a few reasons — the first being it was the only one even remotely close to me, but also because it’s housed in a big downtown shopping district surrounded by walking-distance restaurants. All attendees were given a wristband for easy access, and one can only eat so much popcorn before dying. So, yeah, restaurants were a major plus.

About a dozen or so fans showed up a couple hours early, myself included, because I sure as heck wasn’t spending 27 hours sitting on the front row staring up Robert Downey Jr.’s nose. I have trouble sitting still for just one movie without having to get up and move around, so I grabbed an aisle seat beside Georgia native R.J. and his girlfriend, who were big Marvel movie fans and thought the marathon would be something fun to do before they settle down for full-fledged adulthood. As a 29-year-old who left his poor wife (love you, honey!) to care for an almost-4-year-old alone for two days to go watch movies, I respect their planning.

With my bottomless cup of Cherry Coke and massive bucket of popcorn, let the journey begin.

6 PM: Iron Man, or “The Perfect Way to Start Anything”

This film has always been at or near the top of my list from Marvel, and seeing it on the big screen again was almost worth the price of admission. It’s an elegant film that tells a fantastic story, with wit and world-building thrown in seamlessly. Looking back all those years, it's amazing how far Agent Coulson has come since his first pop-in cameo — not to mention the nice nod to War Machine. The crowd was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in those early hours, and there was no better film to enjoy while still coherent.

8:25 PM: The Incredible Hulk, or “The One Everyone Forgets”

Seriously, I almost forgot this movie is actually a legitimate part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sadly, my neutral-to-fond memories of this film were thrown out the window after seeing it again. There’s a reason Marvel scrapped pretty much everything from this flick (even the post-credit scene): It’s a mess. Edward Norton is not a good fit as Bruce Banner, while he and Liv Tyler have about as much chemistry as two cardboard boxes.

This isn’t really a movie about anything, just about random things happening and a villain who creates himself because the film needs someone for the Hulk to fight. Swing and a miss.

10:35 PM: Iron Man 2, or “The Really Bloated One, And I’m A Little Tired”

We’ve all seen Iron Man 2, and we all know it's kind of a world-building mess as Marvel was trying to set up as much of The Avengers as possible before telling Thor and Captain America’s origin stories. Those faults take on a new brightness when you’ve been sitting in a dark theater for almost five hours already. I spent about half of this movie standing in the back of the stadium-style theater stretching my legs, trying to figure out why anyone thought Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash was a good idea.

It needed more Happy Hogan. A lot more.

1 AM: Thor, or “The Beginning of Crunch Time”

You never really know how you’ll respond in a setting like this, and it took the start of Thor for people around me (myself included) to start crunching the numbers and realize we still had seven movies and about 17 hours to go after this one. That’s a lot of movies, and a lot of time. Especially at 1 a.m., when your internal clock is telling you it’s bedtime (not to mention the dark theater you’ve been in for seven hours). This was the point at which about a dozen or so people trickled out to go home/their cars to get some sleep.

As for Thor itself? Still a fun film, and it’s great to go back and see the beginnings of Loki before Tom Hiddleston became one of the greatest things about the MCU.

3:10 AM: Captain America: The First Avenger, or “That Weird Place Between Night and Morning”

This is still a fantastic movie, and the period setting was a huge move for Marvel to prove they could tell stories in a new way that broke from the status quo up to that point. Knowing where these stories eventually lead, it’s fascinating to see the foundation and easter eggs for everything from Hydra (Arnim Zola’s face projected almost-screen-like in a magnifying glass) to the Tesseract.

This is also that weird place between late night and early morning, as we all realized we were sitting at the halfway point (before Ultron), which seemed to give the room a boost. It’s also the point I had to take a few minutes and step outside to jog around the theater like a madman to keep from going stir-crazy.

5:30 AM: The Avengers, or “The Awesome One You’re Too Tired to Enjoy”

For me, this remains the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Joss Whedon crafted a comic-book movie masterpiece to bring all these disparate pieces together in one heck of a fun flick. But have you ever tried to watch it at 5:30 a.m. on zero sleep? Yeah, that’s where it gets kind of weird. Fans were still cheering for the big moments, but a decent chunk of the room had uncomfortably passed out with cricked necks — or just sprawled out on the dirty floor.

I dozed in and out of this one, sadly. But what I was awake for was awesome (my subconscious must have stepped in to make sure I didn’t miss the Hulk and Loki).

8:48 AM: Iron Man 3, or “I Really Want Some Waffles”

There’s something about the sun coming up that helps give you a jolt of energy, and after stepping outside at the end of The Avengers’ shawarma scene for some fresh air before this one started, I only had one thing on my mind: breakfast. Specifically, waffles. Turns out I should have planned a little better. I’d stationed myself somewhere with a lot of restaurant options ... that all opened at 11 a.m. and didn’t serve breakfast. Luckily, there was a Publix across the street, so I hacked together a breakfast from any single items I could find. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t find waffles, because my body was craving something at least mildly nutritious at this point.

As for Iron Man 3, it remains one of my favorite Marvel films, and reaffirmed its place back on the big screen. Seeing the entire narrative up to that point all at once, you can see Tony Stark’s growth and how the revelations from The Avengers have taken a massive toll on his life and psyche. It’s an organic progression of the world, used to tell a deeply personal tale — and includes some of the best one-liners this side of Joss Whedon. Hats off, again, to director Shane Black.

11:15 AM: Thor: The Dark World, or “This Movie Still Isn’t Very Good”

Watching these back to back (to back, etc.), it makes you realize the creative hot streak Marvel went on from the close of Iron Man 2. They made four straight movies that were good-to-great, then the Thor sequel hit. It’s not for lack of trying. Tom Hiddleston absolutely steals the show, but man, after watching so many better movies around it — this one stands out even more as a dud. It also kind of killed the buzz in the room, a bit, because the last thing bleary-eyed, exhausted people need is a movie they’d rather skip.

So, yeah, I skipped out for about a half hour and got a sub sandwich for lunch.

1:45 PM, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or “The Home Stretch”

This movie really captured that emotional sweet spot between accomplishment and legitimate, physical exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Winter Soldier, but at this point I think everyone in that theater would’ve voted to skip the next two movies and just put on Age of Ultron. Right then. A few people had finally just passed out in exhaustion, and at least two guys were snoring (quite loudly) from the floor in the back of the theater.

But, looking ahead, watching Iron Man 3 and Winter Soldier before Age of Ultron were almost a better prep than those double screenings of the two Avengers films. All these story points and characters were still fresh in my mind, and the effects of Winter Soldier play directly into what’s up in Age of Ultron.

4:20 PM, Guardians of the Galaxy, or “The One That Totally Doesn’t Fit”

Seriously. Just, wow. Guardians is one of my favorite movies, ever, but you never realize just how far out in left field it is until you watch it as the culmination of something this expansive. This movie doesn’t fit at all in what Marvel is doing (yes, I know it does with Thanos, but not yet), and that’s what’s so great about it. After 20 hours of Iron Man, Thor and Cap — Rocket and Groot were a blast of gloriously fresh air.

It was almost a deeply exhausted palate cleanser space adventure to make way for Age of Ultron. The room also caught some momentum at this point, as we all knew what was next. Well, except for that one guy who was still asleep on the floor. Rest easy, friend.

7 PM: Avengers: Age of Ultron, or “OH GOD DON’T FALL ASLEEP NOW”

The whole room went up in cheers as the trailers started, and every big moment got a roar from the crowd. But man, I was feeling it at this point. I almost had to hold my head up at a few points during the slower scenes. Regardless — seeing every Marvel movie directly ahead of Age of Ultron had a profound effect on how I viewed it. More than any other Marvel movie, Age of Ultron absolutely relishes in the universe it has created. It crams in more characters, more easter eggs, more nods and more everything. Is it kind of busy, and does it (occasionally) lend itself to pandering? Sure. But this is still a fun movie. You can tell Whedon was getting tired here, and the editing job isn’t nearly as seamless as the first Avengers film (see: Thor’s mostly absent side quest).

But this is a massive adventure that fits comfortably within the universe and canon Marvel has created. It can stand on its own, sure, but by doing that, you’d miss half the context if you took it that way. It makes constant nods to the standalone films that paved the way, and slides in side characters from just about every franchise. The in-jokes are also fresh, and it makes Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) show-stealing performance all the better. Having been freshly reminded of where Marvel started, it made that final scene in Age of Ultron all the more poignant (don’t worry, no spoilers here).

Sure, the Avengers are a big deal — but the real star of this whole machine is the Marvel Universe itself, and Age of Ultron absolutely revels in it. Also, I seriously think that guy snoring in the back slept through Ultron. Whoops.

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