Iron Man, at the time, was a cool-looking action movie that happened to be based on a comic I'd never read. The film was funny, engaging, and explosive enough to convince me to sit through The Incredible Hulk, which was rumored to connect with Iron Man somehow, despite my complete lack of desire to see what I (more or less accurately) predicted would be 90 minutes or so of either a green guy punching things or a wimpy guy not punching things. I looked forward to Iron Man 2, which cemented my interest in this Avengers movie that these new Marvel films were working toward. Fantasy and mythology generally aren't my cup of tea (or mug of ale, as it were), so Thor was a strictly perfunctory viewing that left me no more excited about the character and his world than before. Captain America was the last obligatory piece of the puzzle; WWII is an interesting time period but overdone in the entertainment world, and Cap fell into the "mostly just punches guys" category of superhero that doesn't usually interest me. Fortunately, the film exceeded my expectations and got me genuinely invested in its characters. So that was two Avengers out of four to get me psyched for the team-up movie.
The first half of The Avengers is everything I'm tired of seeing in movies: origin stories (in the form of assembling the team), heroes spending more time fighting each other than the villains, and mind control making the good guys either ineffective or subservient to the bad guys. The second half is everything I want out of an action movie: eye-popping visual spectacle, great one-liners, and heroes being awesome. I was more excited than ever to see the continuing adventures of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, but Thor 2 still couldn't get me to care about the Norse god of gratuitous shirtlessness. Captain America had proven himself worthy of my interest (I say that like it means anything), so I was curious to see Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy probably would've had my money regardless of its affiliation with the MCU, because I've never been one to turn down comedy and action in space. Phase 2 of this huge film endeavor was in full swing, and with the connections getting stronger and the movies looking more up my alley, I was officially hooked.
To gear up for Avengers: Age of Ultron, my wife and I started getting caught up on the MCU TV series, starting with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Everyone loves Agent Phil "Everyone's Favorite Character" Coulson, but I had trouble connecting with the other characters at first. I quickly warmed up to the show as those connections I love kept working their way into the story, and as the show kept subverting my expectations. There were several times where my wife and I would go, "Noooo! Don't tell us you're going to do that to us!" and then they didn't. AoS was different from your average monster-of-the-week espionage show (assuming those exist), and it had both humor and heart, so I was willing to forgive a few of the less-desirable plot points along the way. The first season ended on a very high note, which made the second season's incongruously serious tone, loss of focus on external connections and character development, overemphasis on the generically evil main villains (to the point where we started calling it Agents of Hydra), and insistence on doing exactly what you expect all the more unpleasant.
Agent Carter proved to be a more evenly enjoyable experience. My wife raves about how they nailed the time period and how Peggy Carter is a wonderful example of how to write good female characters. While I agree, I also found myself missing the superpowers and high-tech gadgetry that are so integral to the rest of the MCU, despite the best efforts of Howard Stark. I also don't feel like I have as deep of a sense of the characters as I'd like, but there's always next season.
As for Age of Ultron? Well. There's a story behind that one. It's called the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.
Previously, my longest movie event was approximately 20 hours of Harry Potter, eight films in all. Similarly, the longest I'd ever stayed awake continuously was 36 hours—rising early to sing at a summer church service, hopping a plane to France, not sleeping on the plane because I was a fool, and sightseeing for an entire day before hitting another pillow. I knew I had it in me to do this.
This, of course, being two days at the movie theater to see Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron, one after the other, with a break of 20 minutes or so between films. I lost track of how long I'd been there after the 30-hour mark. Between striking up conversations with strangers in line next to me, packing a change of clothes and a stick of deodorant in lieu of showering, and not sleeping until my body shut down on me during Snore 2: The Dark Theater, it was just like being at a comic book convention.
My brother-in-law and I got there a good five hours before the start of the marathon. You might think that's excessive, but when you're also reserving seating for your wife and your father, and when the alternative to waiting is risking front-row neck strain for 11 straight movies, queuing up early sounds downright sagely. The challenge here was that the marathon didn't start until the evening; despite my best efforts to sleep in, I had already been awake for several hours before arriving at the theater.
Every other crazy marathon I've done has started in the morning. Wake up, roll out of bed, Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition. You don't start a marathon, let alone one of this magnitude, around the time most people are getting home from a full day of work. I can trick my body into thinking I'm staying up extra late if an all-day marathon spills over into the next day, but there's no way to disguise a 20-hour extension to the part of the evening reserved for warm milk and pajamas.
The odds were against me staying up the whole time, but smart planning and a lot of unexpected support kept me going.
What worked: Sleeping in beforehand. A trunk full of outside snacks, including muffins, Pop-Tarts, Clif bars, fruit snacks (shaped like sharks, because that's important), apple juice, assorted chips, and snack cakes. Meals from the snack bar at meal times, and snacks from the snack bar only when nothing else would do, and never the same thing twice. Drinking caffeine-free root beer throughout Day 1 and water throughout Day 2. Between movies, stepping outside for fresh air and sunshine (when available) and enforcing a mandatory bathroom break. Chatting with people. Cheering with the rest of the theater when something satisfyingly cool happened, or when Agent Phil "Everyone's Favorite Character" Coulson showed up. Having the theater manager and a local YouTube comedian interact with the audience every other movie, asking trivia questions and giving away posters.
What didn't work: This wasn't my living room.
I think about all the marathons I've done at home, from the aforementioned Harry Potter one to the 2012 Mega Man Megathon, and they were successful in large part because of the venue and structure. You can stand up, walk around, grab hot food or a drink refill, make a pit stop, change seats, and crack wise at the screen without worrying about bothering the people around you, tripping over things in the dark, getting caught waiting in line, or having to wait for the fryer to heat up. You can cut the break time between movies down to however long it takes you to swap out the discs after the credits are over (which would have trimmed entire hours off of this marathon). You can plan a proper breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert at the times you need them the most. There's something to be said about the energy of a movie theater crowd and the spectacle of seeing these films on the big screen, but the Ultimate Marvel Marathon almost felt like more of an endurance test than a marathon.
The entire first half of the marathon, I was fine. I was excited, well fed, making notes between films, and asking my family for a critical assessment after each film. (Age of Ultron notwithstanding, we'd seen them all before; amusingly, one of the other people in the theater was seeing all of these films for the first time!) There was a stretch during the wee hours of the morning, somewhere between Thor and Captain America, where I began to question how I was going to make it through another day after this, but when I stepped outside during the break to find that the sun had returned, simply knowing that it was time to wake up and start the day was good enough to keep me going.
Eating nothing but packaged snacks and concession stand food for two days has a way of making you reevaluate any aversion you ever had to vegetables. When everything available is fried, salty, sweet, or some combination thereof, you need to be a tactical genius to eat well enough to stay awake and feel good about it. On the plus side, I have now tried everything on the concession stand menu that ever piqued my interest, except (regrettably) the Oreo churros, so I need never gamble on untested movie food again. Spicy chicken is delicious.
As a side note, if you ever do a marathon like this one, plan your budget like you're spending the day at an amusement park.
In addition to food and drink, the concession stand was selling Marvel figurines; the largest drink cups had a lid with a divot on top where the figurine base would plug right in. As we waited in line, people were trading figurines like they were pogs on a playground. Iron Man, Thor, and Ultron were common sights, with the occasional Cap and Hulk, but there were rumors of the elusive Black Widow. The figurine packages were unmarked, but it wasn't long before people started realizing they could tell which figurine they had in their hands by pressing against the bag to determine the shape of the figurine inside. Those poor cashiers spent the next couple hours being asked to feel their packages.
I was less discriminating and took the first figurine I was given...which turned out to be none other than Black Widow. Very cool. Plugging her into my drink lid was a mistake; her glowy blue nightsticks almost poked my eye out every time I leaned in to take a sip from the straw.
There are plenty more stories to tell from the marathon, but two things I took away from the event were a greater appreciation of Tony Stark's character arc, and a sense of wonder at how so many movies from so many different directors and writers and actors could not only have such seamless continuity, but also maintain a consistently high standard of quality. Each and every one of those movies is at least a 3 out of 5 in my book, with even the weakest entries being no worse than "merely average." Eh, I suppose The Incredible Hulk is really more of a 2.5, but still. The MCU is a vast, rich place with some superbly developed characters and an ever-complexening (is that a word?) history. I was psyched to come back for more.
Then there was Ant-Man. Like practically everyone else who said, "...Ant-Man?", I was not terribly excited (and besides, if we're talking shrinky people, I prefer The Atom). I've read a bit of the earliest Avengers comics, so I had an idea of what I was in for...but I didn't expect to like it so much. A few story flaws, sure, but overall a very funny and exciting addition to the MCU.
Daredevil was a bit of a departure from...well, everything else in the MCU, not to mention everything I normally watch. Dark, both visually and tonally. Violent. Normal. In a world of superheroes, it's a show about lawyers and thugs and corruption. Well done? Most definitely. My wife and I are only five or six episodes in, but so far it's an intriguing and engrossing show. It's also emotionally exhausting to watch. And this is where I see my dedication to the MCU beginning to waver.
I watched a trailer for Jessica Jones. It looks great. It looks like something I won't enjoy. I think back to The Dark Knight, what an incredible piece of cinema it is, what great performances and cinematography it has, and how I really don't like it. I can recognize when something of good quality is not my style, and as the MCU continues to diversify, I'm going to see more and more films and TV shows I wouldn't choose to watch under normal circumstances. And considering it's taken more than a year to get through those few episodes of Daredevil, I predict it's the TV tie-ins that are going to be my downfall. I can sit through two hours of another Thor movie, but I don't know if I can commit to 17 more hours of AoS if it's anything like the second season (which, based on the trailer I saw, seems all too likely).
Beyond that, the MCU has competition. Star Wars is back in full swing with the first installment in a new trilogy, two spinoff movies in the works, and countless more to come—and my wife and I are barely through the first season of The Clone Wars and haven't even started on Rebels. Star Trek has a new movie and TV series coming out next year; my expectations are low, but if the latter ends up being any good, it'll likely take priority over anything else I'm watching. At least I've given up on staying current with the DC Comics film and television universe, which strikes me as disorganized and unattached to the source material.
Still, I'm excited for what will be in theaters during Phase 3 of the MCU. Even if I can't keep up with the universe at home on the small screen, any excuse to get out to the big screen is usually a good one. And who knows? Maybe I'll have trained my body to go without sleep for three days straight the next time an Ultimate Marvel Marathon rolls around.