March 18 2013 12:00 AM

What you should know before you go

Wednesday, May 2 —  Do you want to see “The Avengers”? No, not that ill-fated Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman/Sean Connery sci-fi-spy mess from many summers ago — we’re talking about the Marvel Comics superhero mash-up that’s right up there with “The Dark Knight Rises” and director Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” as one of the year’s most-anticipated movies.

Before you head to the theater, however, you might want to do a little homework, refresh your memory and catch up on some previous epics you might have missed. Here’s what you need to know about in order to get the full “Avengers” experience.

Your designated super-villain is Loki:
Hopefully, you saw “Thor” last summer and you’re familiar with Thor’s insanely jealous, power-mad adopted brother, played by Tom Hiddleston. He’s the engine of evil behind the chaos that erupts at the start of “The Avengers.” His plan to enslave the people of Earth — he really enjoys having people kneeling before him — relies on the Tesseract, a cube of pure power that can create portals between universes.

The Tesseract — have I seen that before?:
You have if you saw “Captain America; The First Avenger” last summer. It was the fabled treasure that the sinister Red Skull, a.k.a. Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), and Hitler’s “deep-science division” were trying to utilize in their scheme to win World War II. Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), successfully kept the Tesseract out of the Nazis’ clutches, but 70 years later it is once again causing trouble.

The Hulk is back — again?:
His slogan may be “Hulk smash!,” but the Incredible Hulk has not exactly been a smashing success with moviegoers. The 2003 “Hulk” (with Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner, who accidentally unleashes his inner monster) was such a critical and financial disappointment that director Ang Lee apologized for it at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. That led to one of Hollywood’s first franchise “reboots,” as director Louis Leterrier took a stab at refreshing the origin story, with Edward Norton as Banner. Lee’s “Hulk” made approximately $132 million at U.S. box offices; Leterrier’s grossed just under $135 million, so not exactly the kick in the pants the Hulk team was hoping for. Since neither Bana nor Norton made an indelible impression on audiences, Mark Ruffalo plays Banner in “The Avengers.” Maybe the third time will prove to be the charm.

Who is this Hawkeye character?:
You caught a brief glimpse of Jeremy Renner as the ace archer Hawkeye in “Thor.” He gets considerably more screen time — and some actual dialogue — in “The Avengers,” as his character is given a substantial, surprising subplot.

What’s Scarlett Johansson doing in this movie?:
More than holding her own against some major-league teammates. Previously introduced as the cryptic Russian beauty Natasha Romanoff in “Iron Man 2,” Johansson gets an opportunity to fully immerse herself in the mysterious world of the Black Widow here. Far from merely being a decorative add-on, Johansson is a key player. Who needs super-powers anyway?

What movies are crucial to see before “The Avengers”?:
“Thor” and “Captain America” are the two that are most pivotal to the “Avengers” plot. It certainly would not hurt to have a working knowledge of the background of Iron Man, a.k.a. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), although if you only have time to watch one of his films, go for “Iron Man” over “Iron Man 2.” The “Hulk” films are purely optional.

Is the 3D worth the extra money?:
Not really. Without spoiling anything, the movie is certainly exciting (and funny) enough without the extra effects. They are fine, but if you see the "flat" version, you shouldn't feel cheated.

Should I stay through the end credits of “The Avengers”?: Do you really need to ask?

'The Avengers' opens Friday at theaters nationwide. Celebration Cinema locations are hosting a marathon of "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Iron Man 2," "Thor," "Captain America" and "The Avengers" on Thursday. Tickets are $30. Visit the Celebration Cinema webpage for times and locations.