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Mission Marvel: I survived 59-hour marathon, all 22 movies in storied franchise

A haggard Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in "The Avengers: Endgame." He started the Marvel Comics Universe movie franchise with "Iron Man" and still is the best character, writer Brandon Pope thinks after surviving marathon viewing of all 22 movies. | Marvel Studios

Picture 220 “Avengers” fans packed in a humid theater, blankets and pillows in tow, hygiene, health and sleep thrown completely out the window.

This is a big moment in the world of movies, with the just-opened Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” the closing chapter in the superhero saga likely to shatter records.

AMC River East 21 was one of three theaters across the United States to host a 59-hour marathon viewing of all 22 movies that Marvel Studios has put out over the past 11 years in the storied franchise.

I was crazy enough to give it a go. And my bosses at WCIU’s “The Jam” morning show agreed to let me sit through the entire three-day event as long as I documented my experience along the way. And, oh, yeah, I couldn’t leave the theater building the entire time.

I was thrilled, my photographer Bill Klazura not so much. “I better get a comp day out of this,” he said. “Or five.”

From Tuesday through Thursday, comfort was at a premium at the Streeterville theater. People slept wherever they could find a spot.

“I saw two people tunneling across chairs, people sleeping behind posters and banners, and then there’s me sleeping in my car,” said Ron Martin, who came in from Joliet.

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Showering? No. Brushing your teeth? If you wanted to; they were giving people toothbrushes.Occasionally, I escaped to an empty auditorium to get away.

For the movies, I sat in the top row, right by a coveted electrical outlet. There were only four in the place, though theater also provided charging stations in the lobby.I wanted to eat as clean as possible to fight off fatigue. Falling asleep during one of the older Marvel movies would be fine. But “Endgame?” The ultimate assembly of on-screen heroes? You don’t want to be that guy.

To help avoid an “EndNap,” I solicited advice beforehand from dietitian Kathleen Ready of Vista Health System, who said: “Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. You’re going to need lots of that. Just keep it light.”

Movie-theater food tends to be heavy — and Ready wouldn’t let me count popcorn as a vegetable — so the options there were limited.

Since I couldn’t leave the place, I’d packed light snacks, like apples and protein bars. For meals, I opted for flatbread pizzas and chicken tenders and took a hard pass at pop, instead drinking nothing but sparkling water and coffee — and a 5-hour Energy shot that a friendly couple offered near the final stretch when I couldn’t turn down the boost.

Fans came from all over the state and beyond — all to sit in a smelly theater for days and watch movies they’ve seen many times before.

“I’m a Wonder Woman fan, but if they have anything with Groot in it, I’m there,” said Christie Williams, who drove three and a half hours from Jackson, Michigan, with her family. “I would definitely come to a marathon here again. This was unlike anything I’ve done before. “Laughing with the people, enjoying their company. It made the films more fun.”

Robert Firestone of Overland Park, Kansas, said he felt a sense of community among the Marvel fans.

“It’s kind of fun being around nerds,” Firestone said. “When you’re back home, there’s not a lot of support. But here everybody just understands. Some people are into motorsports, some people are just into superhero movies.”

“These movies allowed me to be me,” said Adam Sokeland of Evansville, Indiana. “They allowed me to be open about my love for superheroes without having to deal with ostracism. It just feels good.”

You’d think a person might be Marveled out after 59 hours of these movies, but they don’t get stale. There’s humor and heart and characters with enough personality to match their powers.

Robert Downey Jr., whose “Iron Man” kicked this whole thing off, takes the lead among them. “RDJ” made the role of Tony Stark his own, a billionaire/playboy/philanthropist portrayal only a fool would try to top. I was in high school when “Iron Man” came out. Seeing it again on the big screen brought back warm memories of Friday matinees, cookie-dough bites and post-movie speculation with my friends, my mom, aunt and uncle:

“What’s going to happen next? What did that post-credits scene mean? Will they bring to life any more of my favorite characters from the comics?”

By now, we’ve seen a woman become a super-powered space cadet, a man who talks to ants, a king of a fictional African nation and a ragtag group of aliens with a talking tree and raccoon. Marvel made “make believe” believable.

Brandon Pope is a reporter for WCIU-TV’s “The Jam.”

<a href="https://www.wciu.com/thejam/team/brandon/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brandon Pope. | WCIU</a>
Brandon Pope. | WCIU