Taraji P. Henson plays Mary, a professional killer at a moral crossroads in this week’s new movie Proud Mary. She’s been doing her thing – working for the mob to eliminate their problems – for a while and is good at her job. That efficiency is thrown into doubt when a hit goes bad and she meets a young boy that causes her to question what she’s doing and why.
That sums up the brief plot synopsis Sony has offered for the film, one that kind of makes it seem like a gender-swapped version of Leon: The Professional. I don’t mean to diminish this movie with the comparison, but it’s hard to avoid the comparisons. Unfortunately, as we’ll see, the studio hasn’t done a whole lot to flesh out a unique identity for the movie in the minds of the audience.
A series of three posters came out over the course of several weeks that all used the same visual idea – a silhouette of Mary placed against a solid circle that itself is in front of a lighter colored background. Each features a different tagline, with the first and second telling us she’s “Killing for the man every night and day” while the third has “Execute with style.” The look is evocative of 1970s design trends, helping, along with the wardrobe and hairstyle, to clearly establish the movie’s time period.
Another set of three posters featured the same image, each one with just a different hue to it. In all of them, Mary’s face is shown while her huge hair is represented by a collection of photos showing other characters, cars, guns and skylines that hint at the crazy, violent and chaotic nature of the story. These are fantastic.
The first trailer, which debuted on Buzzfeed, starts out by immediately showing us what a bad ass Mary is as we see her exercising but also taking the time to do her makeup. After she’s dressed she selects her weapons of choice and sets out about her business. It’s not super clear which side of the law she’s working on, but it’s evident she’s incredibly good at her job.
Well I’m on board. The funky title treatment font gives it a nice feel of throwing back to the days of Foxy Brown and other classics from the Blaxploitation era of film. But there’s very little here that helps outline or explain the story at all. Why she’s doing what she’s doing and what sort of journey she goes on in the movie are completely missing. It’s certainly still an attractive product being sold, but there’s little substance, just style.
Online and Social
Sony hasn’t given the movie much of a web presence. The official website just has one of the posters, the trailer, a link to the movie’s Twitter profile and an “About” section with a brief synopsis and cast/crew lists.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There’s been limited advertising I’ve come across here. The trailer was used on social media as an ad when it was released but that’s about the extent of it. It’s likely there was other paid media run but I don’t have specific examples.
Media and Publicity
Henson showed up on the late night and early morning talk shows to talk about taking on such a physical, action-packed role and more. A few months ago she holed BET’s “Black Girls” Rock” show. Other than that there doesn’t seem to have been a huge press push for the movie.
“Lackluster” is a word that comes to mind pretty easily here. From the lack of significant advertising and publicity push to the way the marketing didn’t seem interested in sharing details of the story, there’s not much of an effort here to sell the movie with any sort of appeal beyond the action and violence. That unfortunately makes it seem pretty generic, interchangeable with many other movies that offer the same value proposition for audiences.
It’s all unfortunate since having a woman of color in a role like this seems like a great opportunity to do something unique and different. They could have played up the character’s humanity and compassion for the boy who comes into her life. They could have gone in a number of different directions. While I do think the campaign – with its butt-kicking trailer and bright, pop posters – is interesting and attractive, there’s so much more that could have been done to bring more attention to it in different ways.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
While I’ve seen a few more ads for the movie in the last couple days (likely the result of ad retargeting after I spent time on the official website), there’s still a general lack of urgency around the marketing, something Ira Madison III at The Daily Beast covers in-depth.