Film critics around the country are attending Marvel’s 30+ hour marathon leading up to Avengers: Infinity War. Which begs the question: why?
At this very moment, as you read these words, bleary-eyed writers around the country are cursing their editors and doing their best to stay awake during AMC’s Avengers: Infinity War marathon. The 31-hour marathon, which began yesterday and will culminate this evening in the first screenings of the latest Avengers movie, have been the subject of plenty of conversation since they were announced, ranging from incredulity at the time required and general perplexity at how some people choose to spend their time. Then, seemingly as one, a variety of major outlets decided to send real film critics to cover the event, leading to some of the most half-hearted subtweeting of public screenings you’ll ever find in your feed.
I don’t get it. I don’t understand why outlets would send critics to a non-newsworthy theater event at a theater chain most simply tolerate. I don’t understand why critics would agree to cover a gimmick they’re bound to hate. And I don’t understand why we’re collectively so fast to look down on the Marvel marathon while celebrating other multi-movie marathons. You can argue that our time is better spent exploring any elements of film or film history, but the truth is, we never bat an eye when institutions like Exhumed Films and Nitehawk Cinema program an overnight collection of high-profile horror films to ring in the Halloween season. Maybe those films weren’t designed to be quite the mass-market commodity that Avengers is, but when you boil it down to a series of community interactions, the differences really aren’t that big.
Genre festivals are a particularly good touchpoint for this marathon. Horror festival scholars note that people seek out the communal experience as a means of imbuing these films with additional importance, both of the screenings themselves and as a way of differentiating themselves from other horror fans. So it is with the Marvel marathon. Plenty of people may choose to catch up on one, two, or even six MCU films in the weeks before Infinity War‘s release, but it is the liveness of this event – and the endurance element of sitting through 30+ hours of movies – that creates a singular cinematic experience for everyone involved. Moviegoers have a unique experience that also brands them as more ‘die-hard’ than other members of their subculture. Not bad for a measly $75.
Which is why I don’t understand the rush to have film critics capture these festival moments. Sure, there is value in treating the Marvel marathon as a collection of fascinating human interest stories – the Los Angeles Times has done this so far in its coverage, while Jason Bailey of the New York Times has highlighted several of the diehard fans he’s met along the way – but the entire experience is structured around the value of this experience to its respective subculture. Even casual fans of the MCU likely won’t care that some audience members have proven themselves more committed to the cause than others; strictly from a coverage standpoint, the only people who are likely to care about the marathon experience are the ones sitting next to the writers in the theaters themselves. And forget about any insightful coverage of the movies themselves; with every site (including ours) undertaking a chronological rewatching of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’d be hard-pressed to find any additional insight in hour 27 of a continuous rewatch.
Of course, all of this is even presupposing everything is done with the best of intentions. There are also those whose coverage of the Marvel marathon veers closer to performative self-flagellation, an act of cinematic endurance meant to simultaneously cement the marathon as beneath their interest while demanding praise for attending it. I’m not even sure why these events warrant entertainment coverage; outside of a vague demand for all things superhero-related, the Marvel marathon doesn’t constitute forward-looking ‘news’ and will immediately be overshadowed by reviews, analysis, and box office coverage of Avengers: Infinity War itself. That’s why the entire exercise tends to rub me the wrong way. No Hollywood franchise – or, for that matter, its fanbase – is above reproach, but the whole thing has a kind of sideshow aesthetic that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with film criticism or education.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this weekend the internet will be full of sharp pieces of film criticism that humanize the folks who take time off work to spend a day at the movie theater with close friends and strangers alike. Maybe there’s some insight to be had into fan culture from moving away from the relative anonymity of the internet and into a physical space with fans of the Marvel franchise. If this marathon is treated as an opportunity for discovery, not just derision, then I’ll be the first to share articles highlighting the fan experience for those whose fandom remained wholesome throughout the first decade of the MCU. But another, larger part of me keeps coming back to our mothers’ collective advice: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I have a feeling some of these pitches might’ve been better off left in the draft folder.