‘The Avengers’: What you need to know going into the Marvel superhero epic


By now you're likely aware of Marvel's big-budget superhero throwdown "The Avengers." You've seen the trailers, the TV spots, and posters all over your town, but if you missed any of the other recent Marvel films (or aren't a comic book geek), then you might be left scratching your head.

Just who are all of these heroes in Joss Whedon's superpowered ensemble, and where have you seen them before?

Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.)
Previous film appearances: "Iron Man" (2008), "Iron Man 2" (2010)
What you need to know:
Tony Stark is an arrogant, borderline-alcoholic, billionaire inventor who battles threats using a heavily armed, flying suit of armor he designed and built himself. The character starts "The Avengers" having previously been courted by S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to join the government's top secret Avengers Initiative, a project intended to assemble Earth's mightiest heroes in case of emergency. Stark is pitch-perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr., who will suit up again for the role this summer when filming for "Iron Man 3" begins.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (played by Chris Evans)
Previous film appearances: "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)
What you need to know:
Transformed from skinny weakling to supersoldier, thanks to a secret serum during the Second World War, Steve Rogers spent the better part of the 1940s punching out Nazis on the front lines as Captain America. Near the end of "Captain America," Cap crashes the Red Skull's plane in the Arctic and is presumed dead. Frozen and perfectly preserved, Cap is thawed out in the 21st century and ready for action when "The Avengers" starts rolling.

Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth)
Previous film appearances: "Thor" (2011)
What you need to know:
Thor is the Norse god of thunder and has a really big hammer with an unpronounceable name. Earth's heroes are skeptical of the blond bruiser when he arrives on the scene, mostly because he claims to be a demigod, but Thor soon painfully proves his prowess to key members of the Avengers. A sibling rivalry with his younger brother Loki, playing the villain yet again, will figure heavily into the plot of "The Avengers."

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson)
Previous film appearances: "Iron Man 2" (2010)
What you need to know:
As an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Natasha Romanoff was previously tasked with keeping a close eye on Tony Stark as his assistant. Although Black Widow has no superpowers per se, her beauty and expertise in weapons, martial arts, and espionage make her a force to be reckoned with. When the Avengers need a job done that requires stealth and subterfuge, they look to Black Widow. There's talk of the character getting her own spin-off film after "The Avengers."

Clint Barton/Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner)
Previous film appearances: "Thor" (2011)
What you need to know:
After a brief (but awesome) cameo in "Thor" last year, S.H.I.E.L.D. operative extraordinaire Clint Barton is set to return in "The Avengers." An expert marksman who favours a bow and arrow over a gun, Hawkeye will have the super team covered from a distance. The character has also been discussed as getting his own spin-off film after "The Avengers."

Bruce Banner/The Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo)
Previous film appearances: "Hulk" (2003) played by Eric Bana, "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) played by Edward Norton
What you need to know:
Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist with anger-management issues. Having been exposed to gamma radiation, whenever Dr. Banner faces emotional stress or anger, he can transform into the Hulk, a green behemoth that becomes bigger and stronger the angrier he gets. In this state, Bruce Banner is as much an asset to his fellow heroes as he is a liability, but the Avengers will need all the help they can get. Hopefully Ruffalo will get his own "Hulk" film out of this.

Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
Previous film appearances: "Iron Man" (2008), "Iron Man 2" (2010), "Thor" (2011), "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)
What you need to know:
Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a secret government agency charged with handling superpowered threats), creator of the Avenger Initiative (break glass in case of supervillain emergency), and star of more after-credit sequences than can be listed here (seriously, watch after the credits of every Marvel movie made in the past five years), Nick Fury proves that you don't need superpowers when you're the baddest dude in the room. Also: eye patch.

"The Avengers" hits theatres in Canada on May 4.

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