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What you need to know before seeing AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Unless you live in an ice cave, you know that AVENGERS 2 opens on May 1.

When it does open, all your friends will go see it, then ask what you thought about it, and What This Movie Means for the next 10 Marvel movies. Those films will feature Thor, Iron Man, Loki, and 16 other characters, and they will make $18 billion dollars.

Let’s get you educated on the whole Marvel shebang, then talk about why Marvel, against all odds, has taken over movie theaters for the next century.

Before you spend $42 on Imax tickets, 5800 calories worth of popcorn with fake butter drizzled on it and 72 ounces of Diet Coke, watch this video to refresh your knowledge of all things Marvel:

And now I’ll get serious for a moment.

Why have the Marvel movies rocked the box office so hard?

(1) They’re all part of a mega-story.

Instead of separate heroes battling their own Villains of the Week, we’ve got heroes battling the same bad guys.

Thanos, Loki and the Infinity Stones throw a shadow over every movie.

SHIELD and HYDRA also cut through the movies, with Samuel Jackson and that bald agent who died and came back playing important roles.

The folks at Marvel worked hard to insert setups that wouldn’t pay off in movies that hadn’t even been made. They’ve got a master plot figured out that handles the entire arc of these films. It’s brilliant.

(2) Humor complements action.

DC decided to go dark and grim. Marvel picked humor as its counterpart, and it’s worked wonderfully.

Dark is hard to do without losing your PG-13 rating. People who love dark, grim action movies are used to R-rated stuff. And hey, I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy. HOWEVER: If you want kids to shell out $12 a pop for tickets, and parents to plop down $30 for the Blu-Ray, it’s safe to go with humor and get an easy PG-13 for every Marvel movie.

(3) Real character development instead of boring stasis.

Most superhero movies follow the same pattern. The first movie is the best, with the origin story (average person to hero) and the best villain. Second movie has TWO villains, a new love interest and new sidekicks. Third movie has THREE VILLAINS, another new love interests and so many sidekicks you lose track. Then they reboot this hot mess with a new star and new director.

The problem isn’t just the multiplying villains. Most comic book movies fail because the character only suffers, sacrifices and grows in the first movie. Every other time, they’re boring and unchanged.

Marvel avoided this problem by plotting out the meta story, with villains that hang around and heroes that keep on changing and growing.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER was a perfect example of this. Captain America actually brings down the corrupted SHIELD, even though it leaves him adrift, a soldier without orders to follow. You see him suffer, sacrifice and grow as a person. Instead of finishing off the bad guy in the climactic fight, he lets the bad guy punch him senseless, because it’s his old friend, Bucky, and he’s willing to risk death to get Bucky back to normal.

Now, for fun, here are three ways to bait friends who happen to be Seriously Into Comic Books:

(a) ask whether the depleted uranium claws of Wolverine can penetrate the fancy reflective shield of the patriotic guy

(b) declare that Superman could whip all those wussy Marvel guys with his eyes closed

(c) add the caveat that Batman could kick Superman’s butt, and blow them away with your knowledge that this happened in Frank Miller’s epic comic book where Batman does, indeed, bring Supes to his knees, BECAUSE HE’S BATMAN, then

(d) argue passionately that Aquaman deserves his own movie, then when you’ve got them convinced, say you were only kidding. Aquaman is the worst.

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