In some ways, The Avengers is exactly like Police Academy 6: City Under Seige.

Let me explain.

By the time we’d reached the sixth Police Academy film, those who still bothered to watch knew the drill. Bubba Smith was the gentle giant of the wacky cop force. Leslie Easterbrook was the curvaceous but tough Capt. Callahan. David Graff’s Tackleberry loved guns, and Michael Winslow made funny noises with his mouth. Explanations weren’t necessary because we’d lived with these characters for years, and their quirks were part of the fabric of the Police Academy formula.

Same goes for The Avengers, which isn’t really “Part 6,” though it is the sixth film in a string of features Marvel Studios has rolled out in order to set this blockbuster up. And so, as a result, casual moviegoers grabbing a ticket to Joss Whedon’s massively entertaining movie because it happens to be the first movie of the 2012 summer season might be completely lost.

And that would be frustrating.

Certain blockbusters play to anyone. Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible is the perfect example. My wife isn’t a die-hard action junkie. But she’ll watch the hell out of Ghost Protocol because so long as you know Tom Cruise is the good guy, it’s open and accessible and a whole lot of fun for everyone.

The Avengers is the opposite. Whedon didn’t make this film for non-fans, and it doesn’t hold your hand at any point on the ride. We start pretty much where Captain America: The First Avenger left off, referencing key points from the end of Thor and Iron Man 2 because Whedon and his crew assume – and rightfully so – that you watched all five Marvel “prequels” (for lack of a better word) and are ready to hit the ground running in The Avengers.

Would I like The Avengers less if it stopped to explain what was happening every two minutes to accommodate non-fans. Absolutely. At 142 minutes, Whedon’s film bursts with geeky goodness and requisite exposition. Adding more to clarify where Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skardsgard), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) or Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) fit into the Avengers equation would drive rabid followers insane. But by plowing through, Whedon’s drawing a line in the sand and essentially telling non-fans to grab a ticket to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel instead.

So be warned, casual blockbuster attendee. While the marketing machine has been whirling at full speed for months proclaiming The Avengers to be the first “must-see” movie event of the summer season, I’d like to just clarify that statement. Of course, it’s totally possible for anyone to simply buckle in to Whedon’s roller-coaster car and thrill to the sensory overload that comes with the ride. It’s clear who Whedon’s heroes and villains are, and the hour-long action set piece that concludes The Avengers is one of the most breathtaking sequences you’ve ever seen in a comic-book movie. The bar has been raised.

But I’d argue it’s a “must see” mainly for those who’ve already seen Iron Man, its sequel, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Otherwise, when Hulk smashes, you might yawn or, worse, check your watch.

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