While the mission has become somewhat fuzzier and more ambiguous over the years, our initial goal in sending military to Afghanistan was to quickly and definitively rain hell down on the Taliban in the wake of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks. That story, of when everything was righteous and pure, is being told in this week’s new release 12 Strong, based on the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton, which tells the non-fiction version of these events.
Chris Hemsworth, Trevante Rhodes, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena and others all star as members of an elite squad who went overseas as the pointy end of the knife, a small force that could be flexible and lethal, acting as America’s strong right hand. Once in-country they find the situation is even more unexpected than planned. Operating without support or infrastructure, the group finds themselves needing to work with a tribal warlord whose allegiance is questionable and facing opposition sporting significantly more firepower than the horses and rifles they’re using.
Hemsworth is at the front of the first poster, riding his horse with the rest of his team behind him while the choppers kick up dust behind them. The basic point of the story about how these soldiers volunteered in the aftermath of 9/11 is at the top to hammer home the fact that it’s based on a true story.
The next poster uses the same idea of the soldiers, some on horseback, riding through the hills of Afghanistan. The same data and message about their call to duty is used as is the subtitle about the men whose story we’re following. The main difference is that instead of being largely obscured by smoke, this one offers a more clear view of the terrain they’re operating in.
Finally, a series of character posters put four of the leads in the spotlight on their own, most of them riding a horse but all of them clearly in the middle of a firefight, with rifles drawn and explosions lighting things up behind them.
I’m immediately inclined to dislike the trailer because it starts off with a man in the middle of a moment of domestic bliss before being called on to perform his stoic, many duty in a dangerous situation. In this case it’s going off to Afghanistan as a small, elite unit is deployed as America’s quick response to the attacks of September 11th. They’re quickly out of their element, 12 men on horseback expected to engage a fully-armed militia. We see the bonds of brotherhood among soldiers and the reactions of those back home. It’s all given a timely touch with the inclusion of a slow, mournful cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
Nope. This looks like the exact same movie we’ve seen a number of other times, whether it’s about soldiers or drill operators or anything else. Hard pass. Online and Social
The second trailer isn’t a whole lot different from the first, showing the resolve of the men heading into battle and the emotions involved in leaving their loved ones behind. We get the same idea of the odds they’re up against and the uncomfortable situation they’re in once they’re in-country. There are a few bits of new footage here and there to hammer some points home but it’s the same package being sold to the audience here.
Online and Social
The Tumblr-based official website features the key art in the main panel of the front page, showing the combat the four leads are engaged in.
The first section of content is “Synopsis” where you’ll be able to read a story recap that also includes plenty of information and background on the actors and others involved in making the movie.
After that, the “Gallery” has at least two dozen production stills, if not more. “Videos” has both trailers, the second of which is also accessible via the “Trailers” button below it. Finally, there’s the “Soundtrack” section that takes you to a page of options for you to stream or download the album. At the bottom are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one played as condensed versions of the trailer, showing the decision each soldier makes to go into Afghanistan with no backup and not much in the way of a plan, facing overwhelming odds to do what they felt was needed.
On social media those videos, both long and short, were placed as promoted posts. Also getting a paid boost were posts from Hemsworth’s own account showing him and others involved in the movie attending a recent NFL playoff game with one of the soldiers on whom the story is based.
Media and Publicity
The trailer debuted on USA Today along with an interview where Hemsworth and producer Jerry Bruckheimer both offered their thoughts on the story, how they got involved with the film and more.
Hemsworth made a few appearances both on his own and with the rest of the primary cast both on late-night and early-morning talk shows to play up the importance of the story and express their feelings on the bravery of the individuals whose story they’re helping to tell. Bruckheimer also continued to be a press presence given his stature as a Hollywood heavyweight.
There were also a few interviews with co-star Rob Riggle, who is in a somewhat unique position: He was in Afghanistan during the events depicted in the film. In fact, he’s playing his own commanding officer in a rare dramatic turn for the actor.
The main problem I have with the campaign is that it hits more or less the same beats as every other “based on a true drama” movie that’s come out in the last five years. I’m sure if you put the trailer for 12 Strong alongside that of something like 2016’s Deepwater Horizon the same moments would be presented at the same time in each one. That, unfortunately, has the effect of making some stories seem more important than they really are, which diminishes the stature of others, making it all feel very generic. What we have here is some diminished stature.
While I get that Hemsworth is the lead and the bigger, more recognizable star, I’m also somewhat disappointed Riggle wasn’t put out in front more here. His real experience with the story and background in the military would have made him a great point person for the publicity campaign. As it is, this seems like a decent movie designed to remind the American public of how cathartic swift vengeance was going to seem, something that’s gotten lost in the ensuing quagmire.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.