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‘The Avengers’ opens ‘super’ summer movie season

By Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer –

PHILADELPHIA — By sheer numbers, the caped crusaders, masked crimebusters and spandex-ed superheroes lining up at the movie box office for the summer season — which begins next Friday when “The Avengers” opens — has to be the largest gathering of comicbook-spawned dudes (and dudettes) in the history of summer movies.

In “The Avengers” alone, there are, of course, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor, brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to save the world from a demented Norse god (Thor’s evil sibling, Loki).

(PHOTO: Christian Bale as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action thriller, “The Dark Knight Rises,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.)

By the time Labor Day comes around, the multiplexes will have been home to not just the previously mentioned gang of Marvel Comics neurotics, but to Spider-Man (“The Amazing Spider-Man”), Batman (“The Dark Knight Rises”) and those alien-tracking G-men (“Men in Black 3”). So, if you’re counting the openings, that’s a new franchise crammed with old standbys; a reboot with a replacement web-slinger (Andrew Garfield replacing Toby Maguire); the third brooding Bat-installment starring Christian Bale, and Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones back in black, 10 years after their last caper with sinister ETs. Pricey sequels, one and all, and if any of these $125-million to $200-million-budgeted behemoths tank, studio chieftains will be sweating bullets. (They’ll be sweating bullets anyway.)

But wait, there’s more.

Summer 2012 is crammed with sequels, with spinoffs, with remakes, with book and old TV show adaptations and reimaginings of fairy tales and myths. In short, you’re going to have to search high, and low, for a film that actually began life as an original idea. Hollywood isn’t called an industry for nothing and the corporate conglomerates that oversee the studios want to ensure that what has thus far been an up year in attendance, and revenues (thanks in no small part to “The Hunger Games”), continues that way. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be surprises on screen in the coming months, or satisfying filmmaking or innovation and invention. Just that you may have to look mighty hard to find it.

Here’s a list of some high-profile releases opening between May 4 and Labor Day, and the reasons we might want to see them.

“The Avengers” (Friday) The Wikipedia entry on this Marvel/ Disney release (“the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”) says that development of the little indie came together with “a grant from Merrill Lynch.” Kind of like workshopping your screenplay at Sundance, or taking a screenwriting retreat at the Yaddo colony, isn’t it? The superhero confab includes Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/ Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/ Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/ Hawkeye. It’s looking huge. — Steven Rea

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (May 4) Cash-strapped British pensioners (including Bill Nighy, Judi Dench) retire on the cheap to ramshackle hotel in India, run by Dev Patel. John Madden (“Shakespeare In Love”) directs a stellar cast, including Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. — Gary Thompson

“Dark Shadows” (May 11) “Reveal yourself, tiny impostor!” Barnabas Collins says to the singer in the TV set in what may be the only laugh the trailer for the Tim Burton-directed, Johnny Depp-starring has to offer. A big screen redo of the shlocky small-screen series about an 18th-century vampire who finds himself, confusingly, in the 1970s. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz, and Mrs. Burton, aka Helena Bonham Carter. — S.R.

“The Dictator” (May 16) Sacha Baron Cohen poses as a nutty tyrant named Gen. Admiral Aladeen, who wanders around New York City causing trouble. One gag has “Aladeen” convincing tourists he’s plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Anna Faris plays his girlfriend. — G.T.

“Men In Black 3” (May 25) Will Smith goes back in time to fight an alien (Jemaine Clement, from “Flight of the Conchords”) with a younger version of the Tommy Lee Jones’ character, played here by Josh Brolin. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the $215 million production was plagued by delays and cost over-runs. — G.T.

“Moonrise Kingdom” (June 15) So what if the trailer looks like a parody of a Wes Anderson movie? (Tents, terriers, Bill Murray, French pop music.) It IS a Wes Anderson movie — about two love-struck runaway pipsqueaks. And Ed Norton, Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand are in it. Although it premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, a few lucky folks have already seen it, and one appreciative soul described it as a cross between Anderson’s own “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and the 1979 two-kids-fall-in-love “A Little Romance,” starring a pipsqueaky Diane Lane. We’re there. — S.R.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” (June 1) This is confusing: Bella Swan is being chased by Thor, under orders from the heroine of “Prometheus” (see below)? “Twilight Saga” star Kristen Stewart takes a stab at the old fairy tale, full of femme-empowerment and sword-and-sorcery chops, while Chris Hemsworth is the titular predator and Charlize Theron the evil queen out for Snow’s blood (a very different interpretation than Julia Roberts gave in the recent “Mirror Mirror”). — S.R.

“Hysteria” (June 1) Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy star in this comedy about the introduction of the vibrator into Victorian society. — G.T.

“Prometheus” (June 8) “Everybody knows there’s a connection to ‘Alien,’” says Guy Pearce, who plays the intergalactic mogul Peter Weyland in Ridley Scott’s space thriller. “But it’s turned into something far grander in its philosophy and its ideas. … It’s a real, stand-alone science fiction epic of the grandest proportions.” With Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Patrick Wilson. — S.R.

“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June 8) Alex the lion, Marty the zebra and Gloria the hippo on the loose in Monaco, and on the run from a taxidermist (Frances McDormand). Animated sequel features the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith. — G.T.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (June 22) The 16th president of the United States gets the Spielberg treatment later in the year (with Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe), but in the meantime, why not try this action-horror mashup, from the bestselling book by Seth Grahame-Smith? Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, under the auspices of Tim Burton. — S.R.

“Brave” (June 22) Pixar goes to the highlands, in this computer-animated 3D yarn about a defiant Scottish princess (the voice of Kelly Macdonald) who has to use her wits, and her archery skills, to overcome a pesky curse. Hey, how about a bow-and-arrow competition with Catnip Evergreen? — S.R.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” (July 3) We get a new web-slinger (Andrew Garfield), Spidey gets a new love interest (Emma Stone), and the franchise gets a new director — Marc Webb, of “500 Days of Summer.” Rhys Ifans turns up as Spidey’s nemesis, Lizard. — G.T.

“To Rome with Love” (July 6) Woody Allen heads to Italy with his “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” star Penelope Cruz, and with Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Alec Baldwin and Roberto Benigni (who was already there), for an episodic ensemble piece set in the city of Fellini, De Sica and killer gelato. — S.R.

“The Dark Knight Rises” (July 20) Batman/ Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) flirts with a new girl (Marianne Cotillard), keeps an eye on Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and does full-on battle with Bane (Tom Hardy), who wants to burn Gotham to the ground. With Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. — G.T.

“The Bourne Legacy” (Aug. 3) The “legacy” part means that Jason Bourne (i.e., Matt Damon) isn’t in this sequel/ spin-off. Instead Jeremy Renner, fresh from his Impossible Missions Force gig, gets the assignment as a special agent on the run from various international baddies, and various factions inside the CIA. With Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and returnees Joan Allen and Albert Finney. — S.R.

“Total Recall” (Aug. 3) A remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/ Paul Verhoeven hit, but one that puts a new spin on the original Philip K. Dick sci-fi story about artificial memory. Featuring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, John Cho and Jessica Biel. — G.T.

“Sparkle” (Aug. 17) Whitney Houston’s final film, about a Supremes-like singing group, fronted by “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks. The soundtrack includes Houston and Sparks performing R. Kelly’s “Celebrate.” — G.T.

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