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Here they come, here come summer movies

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Batman (Christian Bale) takes on the Joker (Heath Ledger) in "The Dark Knight." Batman (Christian Bale) takes on the Joker (Heath Ledger) in "The Dark Knight."

Studio executives hope they've trained their audience well as the season of summer blockbusters arrives.

From May through mid-August, Hollywood will bank on the idea that there is at least one movie every week -- and sometimes two -- that you simply must see.

Summer features such box-office staples as Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Jack Black, and brings back beloved characters such as Indiana Jones, Batman, Speed Racer, Carrie and her "Sex and the City" gal pals, the "Narnia" kids, the Incredible Hulk and two very different agent couples: paranormal troupers Mulder and Scully and comic spies Maxwell Smart and Agent 99.

A look at the lineup:

MAY 2: Heavy hitters like "Spider-Man" and "Superman" are established big-screen figures, but the comic-book world has a deep bench.

Robert Downey Jr. takes the lead in "Iron Man," playing a wealthy inventor who lacks superpowers but does have a nifty high-tech suit of armor that really leaves an impression when he gives villains a knuckle sandwich.


Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges co-star in the tale based on the Marvel Comics hero, a man with a subversive sense of humor who starts off as "not the most likable fellow," said director Jon Favreau.

With "Iron Man" less familiar to audiences than Supe or Spidey, it took an actor of Downey's status to ease some worries Favreau had.

"My biggest concern was that it would slide into some B-hero wheeled out by Marvel, that this movie would be a poor man's 'Spider-Man,' " Favreau said. "Hiring Robert, the challenge shifted from whether it was going to be good or bad to how far we were going to push things and bend the genre."

MAY 9: Andy and Larry Wachowski turned virtual reality on its head with "The Matrix." Now they follow their R-rated franchise with the family-friendly adventure "Speed Racer," an adaptation of the animated show starring Emile Hirsch as the kid roaring along the roadways, Christina Ricci as his helicopter-flying girlfriend and Matthew Fox as mystery man Racer X. The film will also be released in IMAX.

A fan of "Speed Racer" growing up, Hirsch said he wanted in as soon as he heard the Wachowski brothers were writing and directing.

"Seeing 'The Matrix' for the first time when I was 13 to this day is one of my most memorable experiences ever in a movie theater," Hirsch said. "I already loved the show, and for guys of that kind of caliber to get involved with it could only be something special."

MAY 16: Things sure can change in 1,300 years, as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie learn when they go over the rainbow again in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," the second installment in the fantasy franchise based on C.S. Lewis' books.

Only a short time has passed for the siblings in England, but centuries have gone by in Narnia, which now is under the bootheel of the tyrannical Telmarines and mean King Miraz. The Pevensies encounter a new ally -- Caspian (Ben Barnes), the rightful heir to Narnia's throne -- and are reacquainted with old buddy Aslan the lion, again voiced by Liam Neeson.

The three years since the first movie, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," have resulted in huge digital advancements in how director Andrew Adamson could depict computer-generated creatures such as Aslan.

"It's little things like when Lucy first sees him this time, she runs up and gives him a hug. ... It's a great image to see a little girl hug a lion," Adamson said. "And there's a great shot in this film where Aslan actually tackles someone off a horse and rolls around on the ground with them. The level of interactivity makes it so much more real."

MAY 22: Cue the Indy fanfare. Henry Jones Jr. is cracking his whip again.


"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" reunites the dream team of Harrison Ford as the archaeologist-adventurer, director Steven Spielberg and creator-producer George Lucas.

It's been 19 years since the last movie, and the fourth film hurtles the aging Indy from his Nazi-fighting days of the 1930s to the Cold War era of the '50s, with Cate Blanchett as a Soviet operative and Karen Allen returning as Marion Ravenwood, his love interest from 1981's "Raiders of the Ark."

Unlike film franchises that crank up the action and effects with each sequel, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford are offering an old-school Indy.

"We did everything exactly the way we did it before, so if you expect F-14s flying into freeways, it ain't gonna happen," Lucas said. "If you expect this to suddenly have bells and whistles and have 10 times more whatever than the first ones, it's not. It's just like a continuation. It's like sitting down on a cozy old sofa that you've had for 20 years and having the same experience."

What sort of toll did the action take on 65-year-old Ford, who sustained knee and back injuries on some of the earlier "Indiana Jones" movies?

"I broke a fingernail," Ford said. "I walked away with a hangnail."

As for the big question fans have posed -- is co-star Shia LaBeouf the love child of Indy and Marion? -- neither Ford nor Lucas will say.

"I can't say that. I'm not allowed. Steven would kill me. You'll have to get that out of Steven," Lucas said. "If you get it out of him, then it must be true." 

JUNE 13: When we last saw Marvel Comics' big angry green guy, he was hopping around in the desert in Ang Lee's "Hulk," a critical and commercial disappointment. 

The Marvel gang went back to the drawing board for "The Incredible Hulk," starring Edward Norton in a new take that the filmmakers say will channel both the comic books and the 1970s and '80s TV show starring Bill Bixby.

The movie wastes no time explaining how Norton's Bruce Banner was transformed into a man who mutates into the Hulk when angered, said producer Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios' head of production. The story hints at what happened to him then jumps into the action, he said.

"This is not an origin story," Feige said. "We are assuming everyone buying a ticket will know Bruce Banner is a scientist on the run who grows into a green hulk 9 feet tall. That's all people need to know. So the adventure is off and running right from the beginning."

JULY 18: Batman is back with "The Dark Knight," reuniting star Christian Bale with director Christopher Nolan and pitting the soul-searching crimefighter against his greatest enemy, the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger in his next-to-last role. The film will also be released in IMAX, and Nolan filmed some scenes in the large-form technology.

With great buzz on Ledger's frantic performance and his demonic makeup, the Joker is the corrupted flip-side of Batman, who lives by a strict code despite raging inner turmoil.

"It's a fine line, something which we kind of toy with in the story, of this fine line, essentially both being freaks to most people, both being idealists," Bale said. "The Joker trying to show the hypocrisy of society and trying to show Batman that his way just ultimately can't work. These rules that he places on himself are just a joke." 


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