Movie Maniac

April 29, 2012

Multiple origin stories later, ‘Avengers’ finally assemble

It’s going to be a superhero-crowded summer at the movies, with the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and now “The Avengers,” which opens Friday.

The latter film is directed by Joss Whedon, which piques my interest. I’ve come to appreciate Whedon’s spirit and creativity. He also wrote “The Avengers,” and his scripts usually crackle with sharp wit.

He’s developed quite a loyal fan base, too, through his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly” TV series. (I absolutely loved “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a short-film project he made with Neil Patrick Harris.)

But he’s not exactly a household name. “The Avengers” could change all that — it’s by far his highest-profile project to date.

It’s also the culmination of several superhero films (all based on the comic books) leading up to “The Avengers.” Here’s a review guide:

•  “Iron Man” (2008) — The origin story of wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident. He ultimately decides to use its technology to fight evil. The film spawned “Iron Man 2” in 2010, which pitted Stark against Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke).

•  “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) — This was technically a do-over, after Ang Lee’s disastrous “Hulk” in 2003, and tells the origin story of scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), who after a gamma ray experiment gone wrong, transforms into a giant green monster whenever his pulse rate gets too high. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
•  “Thor” (2011) — Origin story of the powerful but arrogant blonde-headed warrior (Chris Hemsworth), who is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live among humans on Earth, where he gets googly eyes for a young woman (Natalie Portman). (A sequel is set for 2013.)
•  “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) — Origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a puny runt who wants to join the Army and go off to war. But after being deemed unfit for military service, volunteers for a top-secret project that bulks him up and transforms him into the heroic Captain America. (A sequel is rumored to be set for 2014.)

It seems there was a plan for the films to converge into “The Avengers” early on, no doubt reinforced by the gargantuan success of “Iron Man.” So some superhero bits turned up in other movies (for instance, Captain America’s shield appeared in the background of a scene in “Iron Man” and Thor’s hammer appeared in a post-credits sequence at the end of “Iron Man 2”).

But linking it all together was Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who appeared in all the superhero installments so far (minus Lee’s “Hulk”).

In “The Avengers,” Fury forms the top-secret international peace-keeping operation S.H.I.E.L.D. and recruits the superheroes to stop an evil plan that threatens global safety.

All the aforementioned heroes join S.H.I.E.L.D. (and all the actors reprise their roles save for Norton; Mark Ruffalo will play Hulk in “The Avengers”), but the group also includes Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — who didn’t get an origin film but did appear in “Iron Man 2” — and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who didn’t get an origin film, either, but appeared briefly in “Thor.”

Whew! Got all that? The whole thing certainly has come a long way since 1963, when “The Avengers” comic book was first published, written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

And it seems to just be getting started.

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