How much is too much? That’s a big question when it comes to marketing in the modern era of comic book movies.
The new trailer for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a prime example, as not only does it repeat the mistakes of earlier films in unmasking Peter Parker to a plethora of friends and foes, but it also reveals the crux of the story: Tony Stark giveth, and Tony Stark taketh away (the spider-suit, that is). We saw significant chunks of action scenes between the wall-crawler and the villainous Vulture, and key fracture point in Peter’s relationship with Tony following a botched outing.
Hollywood marketing has undergone a seismic shift due to the rapid rise of social media; we exist in a time of teasers for teasers, and mini-trailers for trailers. Content is king, especially digitally, so it’s hard to knock studios for taking that path. But we really need to absorb that much? Trailers for comic book adaptations, in particular, have gone over the top, with a lot of pivotal moments revealed well ahead of the film’s premiere, often making the theatrical experience a little underwhelming. Is there no desire for surprise anymore? Sure, studios have to plug their main marketing touch points, but there’s a lot that can — and should — be held back from audiences.
We can also see over-spill in the trailers for “Captain America: Civil War,” which revealed a lot of the action sequences, including the fall of War Machine and an incensed Iron Man, a prime catalyst in reshaping the Avengers status quo. The footage already offered a look at Spider-Man’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; was the spoiling of the Rhodey development necessary?
Early footage from “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” gave away way too much on how DC’s Trinity — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — united onscreen, and the process through which Lex Luthor created Doomsday. Heck, the Comic-Con International reel showed the defaced costume of Robin in the Batcave, which would have had far greater impact if reserved for theaters.
However, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Justice League” have so far managed to keep to the opposite side of the spectrum, depicting a lot of action and gorgeous cinematography, but offering few hints about the plot or the primary antagonist. Still, the former did slip up by showing Kurt Russell as Star-Lord’s father, Ego. “Logan” sold itself well by depicting a vicious, untamed X-23, and a torn father-son relationship between Wolverine and Professor Xavier, but held back much to be divulged by the film itself.
Of course, the problem isn’t limited to comic book films; it affects most blockbusters. “Transformers: The Last Knight” sold out the Optimus Prime and Bumblebee fight, so again, is it a war for clicks, likes and shares? Content now doesn’t just premiere in cinemas, but on late-night talk shows and the internet, as seen with the “Deadpool 2” teaser, which star Ryan Reynolds debuted on YouTube even as it rolled out with “Logan.” That’s fine, because it teases fans, and sets a tone and tempo.
However, there are also instances where the initial marketing doesn’t match the tone of the film. For an example, look no further the amazing teaser campaign for director Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” all driven by Hans Zimmer’s inspirational compositions. The 90-second teasers came in two variations: The first was the on in which Jor-El, in voiceover, talked about his son’s destiny to inspire humanity. It had an epic shot of a butterfly on a chain, representing growth and liberty, and a young Clark playing with his dog, and throwing a red cape over his back. It also evoked Clark as a nomad, a la Mark Waid’s “Birthright.” The second variation featured Jonathan Kent giving a riveting speech about choices and inspiring the world, over similar visuals. Neither revealed the iconic suit, but both ended with Superman soaring in the distance. Perfection.
The thing is, they didn’t resemble the final film, which was filled with chaos and mass destruction. The longer trailers fell into the typical blockbuster mode and shared way too much: Superman handcuffed, Krypton’s destruction, Zod arriving at the Kent farm, and Metropolis under attack. In all fairness, these longer cuts, as revealing as they were, did paint a better picture of the gritty world Snyder envisioned, but we’d prefer to find that out for ourselves in cinemas.
That brings us to Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” teaser — the benchmark! Clocking in at 94 seconds, it hits every key note of Superman, not just as a character, but as a brand. From an advertising and marketing perspective, it strips down every iconic aspect, subtly, but with such impact. We open up a young Clark falling through the barn, defying gravity, but shielding his face because he still connects with humanity. This transitions into a shot of the Kent mailbox and farm, Martha Kent discovering a spaceship, the Man of Steel’s signature curl, what appears to be a Kryptonian landmass, the youngster in awe of his ship, leaping over fields, a glimpse of the Daily Planet, a rooftop rendezvous with Lois, people looking to the sky with wonder, Superman ascending to the sunlight, and finally, the hero hovering over the world before jetting off with a sonic boom to save someone in distress.
What made this resonate even more was Marlon Brando’s infamous speech, laid over John Williams’ “The Planet Krypton” (John Ottman actually composed on Singer’s movie). It told Superman’s story quickly, hitting all the nostalgic spots, while hinting that soon, we’d be moving away from the Christopher Reeve era. Sadly, the movie didn’t reflect that, and ended up being a long-winded love letter that adhered way too much to Richard Donner’s style. But what that montage did was lay out the ideal formula, and the art of the trailer: Be succinct. Be concise. Maybe use an epic speech. The villain need not be plugged in. And as James Gunn and James Mangold will tell you, it doesn’t matter if it’s ’80s glam rock or a Johnny Cash cover, a riveting soundtrack also helps. After all, that’s how we got that pretty badass “Fantastic Four” trailer from Josh Trank.
What happens after, well … that’s all on the studio and the director.