In the new movie American Assassin Dylan O’Brien plays Mitch Rapp, a young man who’s had a hard life. His parents died in a car accident when he was a teenager and his fiancé was killed by terrorists while they were on vacation. With nothing left to lose he sets out on the path to revenge, seeking to take out the kinds of bad guys who took everything from him.
That puts him on the radar of the CIA, which quickly recruits him for a black ops assassin until. Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanna Lathan) sends him to veteran operator Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to shave off the rough edges and make him a useful asset. As the two investigate a series of recent attacks they find the one thing tying them together may be an old trainee of Hurley’s long-thought dead or otherwise out of the picture.
The first poster is presented as a redacted document, with all but the title, the names of the cast and the promise that it’s “Coming soon” blacked out and obscured. It’s easy to read most of that text, though so you can see comments about “assets,” “targets” and so on, enough to get the idea that we’re dealing with spy stuff here.
The second poster offers an actual look at the characters and the world they’re operating in. We see O’Brien, Keaton, Lathan, Negar and Kitsch, all arrayed along the left side of the poster and affecting various stances in relation to their character. You can see military helicopters in the background along with both the Kremlin and Eiffel Tower to give you a sense of the locations the story will take the characters to.
The third effort was pretty standard to the action genre, just showing O’Brien and Keaton with guns drawn. No copy or anything, this one is just selling the star power.
As the trailer begins we meet Mitch and hear about the problems he’s had since his parents, and later in life his girlfriend, were killed. Since the latter event he’s been after the kinds of people involved and now someone wants to channel that in a specific direction. So he’s enlisted in an elite program and assigned a mentor in Stan Hurley, a lone operator who’s asked to train Mitch. Hurley’s skeptical but ultimately takes him on. After that it’s about showing the kind of action Mitch gets himself into in his quest for vengeance and/or justice.
It’s a tight trailer with appropriately somber mood music in the background. O’Brien is clearly the focus here since it’s his story we’re following, though Keaton is well-represented as well. It presents a story that’s about seeking to address the wrongs that have been done to you. That in itself isn’t super-compelling but the overall package of what’s being sold here looks more than a little interesting.
A red-band trailer opens with the shooting of Mitch’s girlfriend on the beach and we hear someone talking about his desire for revenge and plans to take those responsible out. He’s told there are people who can help him reach those goals and he signs on to be trained by Hurley, where he excels in learning how to kill people. He soon get an assignment to help take out a terrorist who’s just surfaced and has a nuclear device. It turns out this baddie has a personal connection to Hurley, seemingly his former prodigy. Lots of shots of action both personal and bigger – including something involving a couple warships at sea – that finishes things off.
This one offers much more of the story on how Mitch gets involved with the program and the mission he and Hurley are sent on, which helps a lot. It’s a tighter, more interesting journey that’s being sold here, even if it all comes off a little Bourne-ish. The action is over the top and ridiculous, of course, but that’s par for the course so you just have to go with it.
Online and Social
The official website for the movie opens with a version of the key art on the front page. there are prompts to buy tickets, watch the trailer or follow the Tumblr-based site. Clicking “Enter the site” or scrolling down both have the same effect, taking you into the site’s content.
From there you can keep scrolling to use the menu to explore the three main sections of material. “Video” just has one trailer. “About” has a brief synopsis along with information on the book the movie is based on and bios of the cast and crew. Finally, the “Gallery” has a collection of production stills to browse.
There don’t appear to be links on the main site but there were also Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie where the studio shared updates. Interestingly, the URLs for the Twitter and Instagram profiles are @vinceflynnfilm, name-checking the author of the source book. Makes me wonder what sort of contractual obligations were being fulfilled here since that branding had to have a reason, especially considering the potential search impact it and name recognition.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Various TV spots sold the movie in different ways. Some like this one are all about the action, presenting a high-tension story about killing the bad guys before they do something terrible. Others like this one get to that eventually but first spend some time establishing the relationship between Rapp and Hurley. None go into Rapp’s motivations, though, obviously feeling that’s the weakest of the appeals of the story.
Some social advertising was done with the trailers, particularly in the last few days before release. It’s likely at least a bit of other online and outdoor advertising was done as well.
Media and Publicity
O’Brien and Kitsch took on most of the press duties, it seems. They appeared on early morning and late night talk shows to talk about filming. One big topic was an injury O’Brien apparently suffered while filming a recent installment of The Maze Runner series. He talked about recovering from that serious injury and whose learned determination from the recovery, lessons that helped him while filming this movie. Keaton also jumped in a bit to talk about the nuance he liked in the story, which is what convinced him to join.
The long road the story took to the big screen also was covered, as the movie has been in the works for a number of years, necessitating a few changes to the story to bring it more up to date with the world. There was also discussion of how advantageous placement of the movie’s trailer, in this case in front of the surprisingly successful The Hitman’s Bodyguard, may help what looks like a mid-grade piece of fluff resonate with the audience.
I’ll say I have to agree somewhat with Scott Mendolson’s take about this probably doing way better than it has any right to. There’s apparently a desire for middle-of-the-road popcorn action movies these days and this falls squarely into that category. There’s nothing all that notable about the trailers or the press push or anything, but the competition at the box-office isn’t all that substantial this weekend so the audience may turn out for a revenge-driven action story.
What the campaign seems to be doing more than anything is set this up as a potential franchise launch, though not as overtly as something like the marketing for The Mummy did. Instead, we’re watching the origin story of a Jack Ryan-type operative who combines personal motivation and a dedication to the craft with love of country. If this succeeds it’s easy to see at least a few more of the Mitch Rapp stories making their way to the big-screen.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.