- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - As superhero summers go, this one is truly super.

Amid one of the most-promising box-office seasons Hollywood has ever served up, three movies stand above the rest.

The first weekend in May brings “The Avengers,” the ensemble adventure teaming Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man with such fellow Marvel Comics heroes as Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” follows over the Fourth of July as Marvel’s web-slinger gets a fresh origin story, with Andrew Garfield taking over as teen-turned-superhero Peter Parker.

Finally, in late July, there’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” with Christian Bale returning as DC Comics’ masked vigilante in the finale of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

These three are the gold standard for fans: “The Dark Knight,” Tobey Maguire’s three “Spider-Man” flicks and Downey’s two “Iron Man” movies are the six top-grossing superhero adventures ever.

Add in solid receipts for solo turns of “Avengers” co-stars Chris Hemsworth in “Thor” and Chris Evans in “Captain America: The First Avenger” _ plus the lure of a new incarnation of the Incredible Hulk by Mark Ruffalo in “Avengers” _ and summer’s superhero meter is off the charts.

“`The Avengers’ is literally one of the first books I followed regularly. … Some of the work that was done in there was really groundbreaking and really epic,” said “The Avengers” writer-director Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). “It’s great fun to take characters that you are so invested in, because you grew up with them, and get to put words in their mouths and figure out what they’re going to be doing with their lives for a while.

Of course, there’s plenty to fill in the gaps between superhero sagas.

Other action tales include “Men in Black 3,” with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones; Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron’s fairy-tale makeover “Snow White and the Huntsman”; Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi with “Prometheus”; “Avengers” co-star Jeremy Renner’s “The Bourne Legacy”; Colin Farrell’s remake “Total Recall”; and the board game adaptation “Battleship.”

Cartoon makers offer up the Scottish adventure “Brave,” the latest from the animation virtuosos at Pixar, while talking-animal franchises return with “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”

The comedy and music front brings Adam Sandler’s fatherhood story “That’s My Boy”; the all-star song fest “Rock of Ages”; Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill’s suburban romp “Neighborhood Watch”; Sacha Baron Cohen’s tyrant tale “The Dictator”; and Whitney Houston’s final film, “Sparkle.”

And what would summer be without vampires? Johnny Depp turns blood-sucker as he reunites with director Tim Burton for “Dark Shadows,” a big-screen take on the gothic soap opera. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” has the great emancipator taking down the undead.

Like director Whedon with “The Avengers,” `’Amazing Spider-Man” star Garfield practically has Peter Parker in his DNA. Garfield has been a huge Spider-Man fan since age 4.

“I know the character really well. It’s part of me already. It’s like I’ve been preparing for the role for 24 years,” said Garfield, who hints that destiny is at work in this version as orphan boy Peter’s search for his parents puts him on a path with the mutant spider that endows him with superpowers.

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