more adams, more perez

Two comics creators offer more of what super hero movies need

It’s been a rough few weeks for comic book lovers with the passing first of Neal Adams and then, just this past weekend, of George Perez. Both were artists whose work for both DC and Marvel Comics ranks among the best the comics industry has offered in the last 50 years and came to define how those characters were seen by the public.

Which makes it surprising that those interpretations have been so lacking in the shows, series and films featuring those characters.

Consider these covers below, some of the most iconic from the two artists.

Warner Bros. keeps thinking Batman needs to be darker and darker, more traumatized and more isolated from the world at large. But the Batman story told by Adams (and of course writer Dennis O’Neill) in many of their comics weren’t grim and bereft of hope or connection. They were big, bold super hero stories that had the Caped Crusader going up against a gleefully pranksterish Joker, getting into sword fights with R’as al Ghul and so on. Batman operated in public and was a hero.

Similar problems plague other heroes, notably Superman and Wonder Woman. On film recently both characters have become known more for wringing their hands over the moral implications of using their powers than actually using their powers. Filmmakers keep wanting to “reinvent” them for modern audiences, which means loading them down with all kinds of constraints, making them feel bad every time they do anything and spending more time debating among themselves than being heroic.

Contrast that with the kinds of stories Adams, Perez and their contemporaries were telling, stories that had them punching aliens threatening the Earth, fighting against mech-suited human villains and more, all while fully embracing their powers. These were bright, colorful comics featuring some of the greatest art in the industry’s history.

But on screen, we keep getting desaturated colors, blotchy digital lighting and 20 minute interludes featuring messianic symbolism.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The push to make Batman increasingly damaged and serious is an extension of DC’s attempt to reclaim the character from the camp portrayal seen in the “Batman” TV series of the 1960s. That makes some sense, but the over-correction since The Dark Knight Returns now makes Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman seem bright and optimistic compared to Zack Snyder’s Batman, who was ready to unquestioningly destroy Superman because of the potential threat he posed. And someone seems to have decided that making Superman and Wonder Woman – a nearly all-powerful alien and Amazon demigod, respectively – more human was the key to making them popular with modern audiences.

Interestingly, while WB’s heroes continue to largely operate in the shadows and fall victim to all-too-human conditions, Marvel’s big screen heroes are more of the big, public pantheon of god-like beings DC’s comic characters have historically been presented as on the page.

Part of this may be a desire to set the DC films apart from Marvel’s stylistically. But it’s gone too far, and the celebrations of the work for Adams and Perez should be a call to WB to go in a new direction.

Make a super hero movie where the characters are proud of their powers and use them to help the less fortunate.

Have Batman fight a Joker who’s not a deranged incel terrorist but one who unleashes a bunch of mutated fish on Gotham City because he’s an insane clown.

Have Wonder Woman fight Giganta as she rampages through the city, inspiring little girls and using a consistent and non-confusing set of powers.

Have Superman go into space to fight a mech-suited Lex Luthor in Mongul’s battle arena, breaking kryptonite chains and embracing his assumed role as humanity’s protector.

In short: Make movies like the comics everyone remembers as among the best ever produced.

the batman – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Bat-tastic caper.

The Batman movie poster
The Batman movie poster

After all the sturm und drang over the last few years over the Snyder-verse and how the various DC Comics-based movies are or aren’t connected, this week brings the kind of film we haven’t seen in about a decade: A solo adventure for Batman.

The Batman, the title of which represents the latest example of a trend where reboots, reimaginings and retakes simply at “The” before the name of the character or team to set it apart from a previous movie without it, stars Robert Pattinson in his debut as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the story is, surprisingly, not an origin of The Dark Knight but instead picks up when the vigilante is a couple years into his career as a crime-fighter. As such, he’s already developed a working relationship with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), one he will need as he investigates a crime wave perpetrated by someone referring to himself as The Riddler (Paul Dano).

Over the course of events, Batman will also come into contact with Gotham City crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Falcone’s lieutenant Oswald “Penguin” Cobblebott (Colin Farrell). He’ll also be helped – and occasionally hindered – by Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman.

Pattinson is the third actor to play Batman in a live-action film in the last 15 years, not counting various animated incarnations, and as such represents DC Films’ recent “whatever” approach to connected universes that allows multiple versions of a character across media without being beholden to the same sort of restrictions found in the MCU and other franchises.

Arriving in theaters this weekend, let’s take a look at how this version of the 80+ year old character has been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While it had been rumored for a while, Affleck was officially confirmed as the movie’s director at San Diego Comic-Con 2016.A tweet a few months later from Affleck showing what was reported to be test footage of the villain eventually lead to confirmation that Deathstroke was the bad guy Batman would be facing off against in the movie. Affleck later confirmed the movie’s title and talked briefly about why Deathstroke was chosen as the villain.

After months of rumors and reports, it was eventually officially announced that Affleck would *not* direct the movie but would continue on as producer and star.

Matt Reeves, who was later announced as the director, was asked repeatedly about this movie while he was promoting War For The Planet Of The Apes, remarking how he was trying to bring a noir-like feel to Batman. He talked more about it, hitting similar topics, while promoting “The Passage.”

In early 2019 WB finally gave the movie a release date while at the same time it was confirmed Affleck was not going to be the one playing the title character as it was reported the story would focus on a younger version of Bruce Wayne. Affleck commented on stepping down from the role while promoting Triple Frontier in early 2019.

A couple months later, in mid-May, reports circulated that Pattinson was the top contender for the role, news that sparked either joy or outrage among fans online depending on their overall perception of the actor. The process of casting Pattinson was unusually smooth and brought about because Reeves’ story was set early in Batman’s career, requiring a younger actor.

While the movie wasn’t part of WB/DC’s 2019 San Diego Comic-Con promotional push – the studio largely sat out the convention – a panel generally related to music in super hero films included fan exhortations directed at Reeves about not screwing up the project and character. It was somewhat surprising WB/DC didn’t make an exception to their SDCC absence given the event hosted multiple celebrations of the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in comics, celebrations that included costumes from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a screening of Tim Burton’s 1989 film and Batman’s induction into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame.

Pattinson spoke briefly about the movie while he was making the festival rounds in 2019, with former Batman Christian Bale offering some costuming advice based on his own experiences.

the marketing begins

The first official promotional activity for the film came in December 2019 when Reeves sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising he and the cast would be there in person in 2020 to show off footage and talk more about the movie they were making.

In January of 2020 Reeves announced the beginning of production while WB revealed the full cast list.

A short while later in February Reeves offered fans their first real look at Pattinson in costume, releasing a “camera test” showing Batman slowing approaching the camera and coming more into focus the closer he gets. Then in early March he shared a first official look at the new, more conventional Batmobile.

Later on, Pattinson promised to bring his same eccentric style to this role that he’s brought to others, revealing later he received the official word of his casting just as he was starting work on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Serkis was also interviewed during the movie’s production shutdown about how he was approaching the role of Alfred, as was Wright about playing Gordon.

While she was promoting her new Hulu show in early 2020 Kravitz dropped some hints as to what people could expect from her take on Catwoman. She kept talking about it throughout that publicity cycle.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Later on WB rescheduled its release from May to October as a result. Production restarted in August of 2020, but with the change that most of the shooting would happen on a closed set instead of outdoors. That new phase didn’t last long, as only a short while later Pattinson himself was reported to have been diagnosed with Covid-19, putting a halt on any aspect of production including him.

In July 2020, Reeves announced a spinoff series for HBO Max set in the same world as the movie but focusing on the Gotham PD, with Warner Bros. promising the show would expand on the stories and ideas established in the film.

dc fandome 2020 – the marketing begins

Both Reeves and Pattinson were listed among the talent making a virtual appearance at DC’s “Fandome” event in August, 2020, fueling speculation a more substantial first look might be revealed to those following along from home. Just before that, Reeves shared a look at the movie’s title treatment. During Fandome, the director praised his cast while also revealing that the corrupt nature of Gotham City would be explored in the HBO Max series, which he clarified is set in “year one” of Batman’s career while the movie takes place in “year two.” That event is also where the first teaser trailer debuted.

In August 2020, just days before the DC Fandome virtual event, Reeves shared a Fandome-specific teaser poster designed by DC publisher Jim Lee.

The first teaser (36.9m YouTube views) trailer debuted during DC Fandome in August of last year and, considering the reports that the film was only ~25 percent complete, is surprisingly robust. It shows that things are getting very dark in Gotham, with a string of murders accompanied by riddles intended for The Batman, who is already an accepted partner of the GCPD and Commissioner Gordon. There are also looks at Catwoman, an unexplained Joker gang and lots more.

Fans online quickly worked out the answer to one of the riddles presented in the trailer, finding that the answer to “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” is “He lies still.”

That trailer’s use of “Something In The Way” by Nirvana helped that nearly-30 year old song jump back to the top of the charts on both iTunes and YouTube.

In September 2020 an exclusive bit of artwork was released to celebrate that year’s Batman Day.

spinoffs and other interim publicity

“Batman: Caped Crusader”, an animated series produced by Reeves along with Bruce Timm (of “Batman: The Animated Series” fame) and J.J. Abrams was announced in May 2021, but despite Reeves’ involvement it didn’t appear the series is tied to the movie in any way.

Those and other pandemic-related production delays were cited as the reasons behind a later delay to March, 2022.

There were a few shots from the movie, along with comments from Kravitz and Reeves, in a Catwoman documentary Warner Bros. shared on YouTube in May 2021.

Farrell talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” in July of last year.

A profile of Affleck included his comments on how the advice of a friend helped convince him to drop out of this project.

the marketing returns: dc fandome 2021 and more

In August 2021 this was among the movies WB showed off to exhibitors and others attending CinemaCon. A new trailer was promised for that year’s installment of DC Fandome, followed by the announcement another HBO Max series, this one focused on The Penguin, was in early development.

Kravitz was interviewed about how she approached her audition with Reeves and how it ultimately led to her getting the role of Catwoman.

Ahead of Fandome 2021 Reeves shared a photo of Batman looking out over Gotham and another of Kravitz as Catwoman. Two posters – one featuring Batman and one with Riddler – also came out just before Fandome.

As the trailer (42.6m YouTube views) released during Fandome opens, the Gotham PD is storming a diner to arrest Riddler. From there we see Batman as he goes about trying to track down the villain and figure out his plans, a process that involves lots of punching of henchmen and other violence. There’s quite a bit of screentime devoted to Catwoman along with introductory shots of Alfred, Comm. Gordon and Penguin, the latter of whom is, at the end of the trailer, surprised at the resilience of the very muscle-car looking Batmobile.

A cutdown version of that trailer was released right after the virtual event as the first TV spot in the campaign.

News came in December that Farrell was slated to continue playing Penguin in an HBO Max spinoff series focusing on his character’s rise to power before the events of the movie.

Rumors circulated for a while that Warner Bros. was testing two different versions of the movie, one with an ending that includes Joker and which would setup a sequel.

Another interview with Kravitz had her talking more about the training she engaged in to play Catwoman. At the same time, Pattinson talked about how he had an idea of where Bruce/Batman would go over two additional movies and that he’s open to making it a trilogy. Reeves also made it clear this movie was not set in the loosely-defined DC Extended Universe but was a standalone story not connected to the Multiverse being established in other projects. All those were part of an Empire Magazine cover story devoted to the film.

A new trailer came out at the end of December. Titled “The Bat and The Cat”,(26.2m YouTube views) it opens by juxtaposing Bruce Wayne being chastised for not continuing his family’s philanthropy with shots of him as Batman chasing villains through the city. From there it focuses on how Catwoman and Batman have to navigate their…complicated…dynamic to team up and try and save Gotham from the scourge of The Riddler and other threats.

the marketing forever: into 2022

Twitter Movies debuted two exclusive posters in mid-January. One shows an extreme closeup of Batman’s face with the words “Unmask the truth” at the top while the other has Batman and Catwoman standing on top of a building looking out over Gotham City.

Another poster came out a couple weeks later that sports the same tagline but features most of the main characters, both good and bad guys.

In an interview with Reeves, the director talked about the stories – both Batman and otherwise – that inspired the story and the visuals of the movie, while members of the cast praised Reeves’ exacting nature and his approach to filming. Another profile of Reeves had him offering all kinds of details about the production, including Pattinson’s makeup, the original script from Affleck and lots more.

Little Caesars Pizza teased their tie-in food offering, the Batman Calzony, at the end of January.

TV spots picked up around that time, including this commercial that distills the recent trailer down to its core elements, showing the conflict between Bruce Wayne and Batman along with hinting at some of the other elements of the story.

After a scene from the movie leaked online Reeves released it himself, followed shortly by WB. It shows Bruce arriving at a funeral and alternatively being berated for his lack of public philanthropy, eavesdropping on a police conversation before Riddler interrupts the service with a message to the Batman.

Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman are all featured on a series of character posters released at the beginning of February.

Batman-branded Oreos packaging, unveiled at that time, contained cookies that were stamped with the hero’s image. That packaging also featured a QR code that, when scanned, entered someone for a chance to win a trip to London for an immersive Batman experience.

DC announced all of the Batman titles released in March would sport movie-inspired variant covers.

Tickets for early IMAX screenings of the movie, scheduled for March 1st, went on sale around the same time.

Pattinson got the feature profile treatment, with the story focusing on how his career has evolved over the years to the point where he’s taking on more complex roles as he tries to shed the emo-heartthrob image he was pegged with for a while. Kravitz got a similar profile that also touched on how she fits into the legacy of the other actors who have portrayed Catwoman on screen.

IMAX and Dolby-exclusive posters used profiles of Batman as their central feature, varying in how close the camera is to the figure.

Both Pattinson and Kravitz were featured on the cover of EW in a package that had them talking about working with each other, becoming part of the Batman history and more. There were also interviews with Dano about creating a truly creepy version of Riddler and more.

An exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette was released by Little Caesars that had Pattinson and others talking about the story as well as the scope of the story.

Reeves joined Kravitz and Pattinson in Paris for a promotional stop over there. More of the cast joined them for a special screening in London a bit later.

Wright promoted the movie when he appeared on “GMA,” having previously stopped by “The Late Show.” Serkis also talked about becoming Alfred on “GMA” while Pattinson shared the tips he’d gotten from other super hero actors on “Kimmel.” Dano later talked about the movie on “The Tonight Show.”

Google introduced a special feature where people searching for “bruce wayne” were delivered results for “batman” and shown an animated Batsignal highlighting those results.

There’s been a plethora of coverage of the various branded consumer products that have been released recently to tie in with the movie, but this is really only a slight uptick when put in the context of the usual massive amounts of Batman merchandise that’s readily available.

Another profile of Reeves focused on how the director worked to find a personal and emotional connection to the character before agreeing to take on the project. Meanwhile an interview with Kravitz had her saying she approached the character as bisexual, something that may or may not be explicity in the movie but which definitely got people’s attention. A THR cover story of Dano had him talking more about joining the super hero world and how that does or doesn’t fit in with his career to date.

Most of the cast and crew came out for the red carpet world premiere in New York City earlier this week. Unfortunately Reeves had to sit the event out due to being diagnosed with Covid-19.

AMC Theaters offered an exclusive interview with Reeves. That came days after AMC revealed this movie would be subject to “variable pricing” wherein tickets to this film will be priced higher than those for other movies showing at the same time. This is a major departure for U.S. theaters and it remains to be seen how audiences will react to those tickets being $1.50 more expensive than they’re used to.

overall

It needs to be pointed out that nowhere in the marketing is the movie’s nearly 3-hour runtime explicitly mentioned, despite this being important information for the audience to have.

One has to wonder whether the reality of that will have any impact on the $100 million opening weekend that’s projected for the movie.

The 86% Fresh rating The Batman has on Rotten Tomatoes, though, indicates mostly positive reception for the film so far, and it may be that audiences are willing to hold it for three hours in order to get back to the theater again and reinforce the narrative that only super hero and other franchises can actually survive at the box office.

Aside from that…this certainly looks like a Batman movie. It hits slightly different beats than have been seen in the campaigns for the other Batman movies that have come out but also seems utterly familiar, which is the whole point of IP franchises like this. There’s some good stuff in here, especially when the focus is on Kravitz and Pattinson, but mostly it comes down to whether you enjoy the character or not.

At least, according to Reeves, the movie does *not* feature those damn pearls falling. That’s a win and might be the strongest point of differentiation between this and previous incarnations.

life lessons from: the batman movies

Always pack your Bat Shark Repellant

With The Batman – directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman – coming out this week, it’s as good a time as any to consider how much great advice for living a great life can be found in the various other big-screen Batman adventures.

Justice League Batman GIF by DC Comics - Find & Share on GIPHY

“Never rub another man’s rhubarb.”

For when you remind everyone in the office that your lunch has your name on it so they need to stop taking it.

Dc Comics What GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

“I’m not wearing hockey pads.”

For when you show up to help a friend move and everyone starts giving you a hard time because they don’t think you have the right equipment and aren’t dressed properly.

“I’m not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.”

For when you need a new, more engaging LinkedIn bio.

Tim Burton Film GIF by hoppip - Find & Share on GIPHY

“Now you wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts.”

For when you’re meeting your partner’s parents for the first time and there’s even the slightest lull in the conversation.

“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”

For when…well…you’ll know when.

Michelle Pfeiffer Kiss GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

“Still… could be worse. My nose could be gushing blood.”

For when you walk out of a pitch meeting that you just know in your gut did not go well.

Tim Burton The Penguin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

“It’s vichyssoise. It’s *supposed* to be cold.”

For when you’re explaining the simplest of ideas to someone who clearly isn’t getting it.

Bruce Wayne Batman GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

“What is the point of all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?”

For when you’ve been waiting for a return phone call for like two weeks and they finally get back to you.

Work Out Fitness GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

“I only work in black…and sometimes very very dark gray.”

For when anyone questions why you wear the same basic outfit each day.

Will Arnett Animation GIF by The LEGO Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

“Tell me. Do you bleed?”

For when you start a new job and are being introduced to your coworkers for the first time.

Henry Cavill Superman GIF by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Find & Share on GIPHY

quick takes on: the first snake eyes trailer

Move with the wind…

After a handful of first look stills came out late last week the first trailer for Snake Eyes debuted during the recent MTV Movie & TV Awards and I have some thoughts.

the only origin story we really need

OK, so it’s an origin story, but not only did we get an abbreviated version of that origin in the earlier G.I. Joe movies but Larry Hama wrote what every Gen X comic book reader knows is the *definitive* version in issues #26 and #27 of the Marvel Comics series in 1984.

Along those same lines, why does everything have to be an origin story? Even if Paramount wasn’t on board for a full-on adaptation of “Silent Interlude” it would have been cool to see a movie where Snake Eyes is already at the height of his skills. Give me a movie where Snake is dropped behind enemy lines and has to ninja his way to completing the mission without support.

It’s a relatively short trailer so I’ll forgive that we only get a brief glimpse of Samara Weaving as Scarlett, but let’s not repeat this blatant oversight and give people what they want next time.

Incredulous Killer Queen GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

If I’m reading between the lines correctly this movie *is* connected to the previous G.I. Joe movies, acting as a prequel to them, but does it need to be? Are those so beloved that this couldn’t have served as a chance to restart things along different lines?

Ray Park *was* great as Snake Eyes in those movies, though, and if he doesn’t at least get a background cameo in this one I will be calling my congressman.

My presumption is, though this is an origin story, Henry Golding was not cast in the title role only for him to have his face burnt away. So Snake’s wearing of a balaclava will likely once more be explained as a choice instead of a necessity.

You can’t ignore the fact that Paramount and Hasbro timed the release of the trailer to coincide with Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #3, which features Snake Eyes, hitting comic shop shelves this week. Snake has been in Fortnite for a few months now, so this is a nice extension on a number of fronts.

Any additional thoughts?

Two and Out: When Directors Abandon Trilogies Before They’re Over

These franchises and series have launched with big name directors who decided two movies was enough for them.

Over the last 20 years Hollywood has realigned itself around franchises that come with built in audience awareness of the intellectual property the movies are based on. Super heroes have lead this movement but also included are science-fiction and action series, many of which are reboots, remakes or reimaginings of older IP, trying to freshen up stale material for new audiences and wring maximum value from series that may have gone dormant decades ago and need a shot in the arm.

Often the pitch to the audience is that the studio has signed a well-known, “visionary” director to helm what otherwise might appear to be a soulless cash grab devoid of artistic merit. The idea is to attach some credibility to the endeavor, earning some cache among cinephiles who might dismiss or ignore it.

Because these are almost always designed to be series and not just one-off films, directors are often asked – or contractually obligated – to return for the sequel. There are quite a few instances, though, where after two installments a big-name director who attached the reputation they’d earned up to that point walks away for one reason or another, turning the reigns of the franchise over to someone else to close out or continue.

I’ll admit that these are, by and large, exceptions that prove the rule. There are countless instances where a single director has overseen every chapter in a trilogy. But almost all of those examples are stories the director had at least a significant hand in developing, usually about something personal or otherwise important or relevant to them. Only Alan Parker was going to tell The Barrytown Trilogy. Only Richard LInklater was going to make the Before Trilogy or Francis Ford Coppola the Godfather Trilogy.

Instead, the below examples represent cases where a well-known filmmaking talent has been brought in to provide a creative spark to help revitalize or launch a franchise, only to find they were indeed a director-for-hire all along, disposable because their name isn’t as important as the brands’ once things are back on track.

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams was brought on by Paramount to revitalize a Star Trek franchise that, despite a few TV shows here and there, had lain fallow on the big screen since 2002’s Nemesis, marking the last outing of “The Next Generation” characters. Abrams embraced the opportunity to bring his “Mystery Box” approach to the series, offering an interesting twist in the 2009 relaunch and a far less interesting one in 2013’s Into Darkness. His involvement in a third film was cut off when he was offered the chance to relaunch another franchise, Star Wars.

X-Men

2000’s original X-Men kicked off a new wave of super hero movies, saving the genre from the regrettable camp the Batman series had fallen into and offering a more mainstream approach than that taken in the Blade movies. As good as that first one was, 2002’s X-Men United was even better, offering more nuanced takes on the characters and setting up a third movie that promised some form of “Dark Phoenix” adaptation. Sadly that promise went unfulfilled when Singer was lured the chance to make Superman Returns, allowing Brett Ratner to nearly dismantle the franchise with a terrible third installment.

Iron Man

Among the reasons the first Iron Man movie was not universally expected to be a success (don’t let anyone who didn’t follow the press narrative of that time tell you different) was that Jon Favreau was not exactly a mortal lock as a director. He had a couple decent outings under his belt, but nothing on this scale. His light tough and ability to simply control and aim the explosion that is Robert Downey Jr. made it work enough that he returned to helm the sequel. When it came time for the third movie, though, he was too involved in other projects and so turned duties over to Shane Black, who essentially made a Shane Black movie featuring Iron Man, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Avengers

Many of us totally got why Joss Whedon was a good pick for the first team up of the Avengers. While some dismissed him as “the guy from ‘Buffy’,” those of us who had watched both “Firefly” and Serenity and who read his “Astonishing X-Men” run knew how well he could balance characters and create believable team dynamics. According to Whedon his experience on 2015’s Age of Ultron kind of broke him, though, and so he stepped aside and allowed the Russo Brothers, who had just directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier to much acclaim, to take the reigns.

Jurassic Park

It seems director Steven Spielberg just kind of exhausted his interest in directing stories of dinosaurs running amok after the first two Jurassic Park movies, diverting his attention instead to original projects. While he remained on as a producer, he turned directorial responsibilities over to Joe Johnston, a protege from the days of Indiana Jones. He turned in a third movie that has some silly moments (the talking velociraptor) but also features the same pop and sizzle he’d brought previously to The Rocketeer and would again display in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The Terminator

James Cameron couldn’t make another Terminator movie, at first because he was too invested in developing 1997’s Titanic and then 2008’s Avatar. Since then he’s been very busy not making further Avatar sequels while also finding time to criticize other people’s movies while a string of other directors tried to tackle this material. Cameron is returning to the series with a reboot/sequel now in production, but only as a producer.

Batman

It’s hard to describe just how much Warner Bros. openly and actively turned against director Tim Burton when Batman Returns didn’t turn out to be just as massive a hit as 1989’s first Batman movie. Returns looks and feels more like a Tim Burton movie, dealing with many of the same themes as his other films, but that didn’t translate into a plethora of cross-promotional and merchandising opportunities. While he reportedly was developing a third installment he was removed from the project in favor of Joel Schumacher, who took the series in a direction with more potential for colorful toy lines.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Justice League – Marketing Recap

justice league poster sdccJustice League hits theaters this weekend, the seeming crowning moment of the DC Cinematic Universe, or whatever we’re calling it. It comes four years after Man of Steel launched the new continuity, though that debut wasn’t without its critics. Shockingly, it was a full three years before the story continued in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which made it clear that someone didn’t know what to do with Superman on his own and needed to get Batman into the story as soon as possible. The mediocre reception continued in Suicide Squad but then things turned around when Wonder Woman finally got a solo film, showing offering audiences a bright attitude and an alternative to the brooding male stereotype could turn things around on a number of fronts.

Now there’s a whole team of heroes that have been assembled by Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) to fight a growing menace to our planet. With Superman (Henry Cavill) out of the picture (sure), they recruit the Atlantean Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the speedster The Flash (Ezra Miller) and the high school student/machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher). These cast of disparate characters will need to learn to work together if they’re going to stop the forces of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from laying waste to the earth.

The Posters

The first teaser tells us to “Unite” as it shows the logo with a bright beam of light bursting out of the middle of it. There’s not much that’s being conveyed here, it’s just about building or reinforcing awareness.

After that there was a series of character posters that featured each of the five heroes standing on a rocky outcropping and posing for the camera. The same JL logo appears in the background of each and it all culminated in a single poster that brought all five of them together and includes the “Unite” call to action as well. Still missing is Superman, which is notable.

All five of the heroes came together on a poster that shows them all in profile, facing some unseen, off-camera threat. “Unite the league” is the copy that’s laid over the image in big, bold type.

A poster was given away to attendees at San Diego Comic-Con and released online that assembled the team (still sans Superman) around the copy “You can’t save the world alone.” That copy featured the icons and symbols of each character, including Superman. It’s lit and arranged to give the impression, at least among comics fans, that it’s the artwork of Alex Ross with his hyper-realistic style. Upon closer impression, though, it seems just to be photographs of the cast. Either way, it’s a striking image.

Another series of character posters put each hero in profile against a solid background, their unique symbol interlaced with the team logo at the bottom.

More featured the character in action. All the symbols for each hero appeared in a row at the top, with the relevant one highlighted. Notably, Superman’s symbol *is* shown here but he didn’t get a poster of his own. Some of these better than others and a couple are just ridiculous. Each featured the copy “All in,” presumably conveying their commitment to the team and its cause.

Another series had each character’s face half-covered by the mask they wear.

I’m not sure what the art department was thinking with the next poster, which brings all five heroes together in action poses centered around the title treatment. The photos used show no sense of motion or energy. This looks more like the kind of awkward imagery that would be used for licensed product signage than a one-sheet for a tentpole release from a major studio.

A couple posters were created specifically to be given away to customers buying tickets through Fandango, select IMAX screenings and so on.

The Trailers

The first look at the movie came at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, when WB released a pseudo-trailer that centered around Bruce Wayne’s quest to assemble a team to fight the coming evil. The biggest part of that is recruiting Arthur Curry/Aquaman, for which purpose he travels to a small fishing village where he frequently pops up. Curry’s not hugely on board, but the same can’t be said for Barry Allen, who accepts Wayne’s invitation almost before he actually makes it. Wayne is working with Diana to build the team and we see some of the interplay between the two of them. Also coming along is Vic Stone, who we see both before and after his transformation into Cyborg.

It’s actually a pretty great trailer and seems to address one of the big complaints about Batman v Superman, which is that it was so super-serious. This one, in contrast, is full of humor and little jokes and funny moments. It doesn’t seem WB and Snyder are going full-on Joss Whedon’s Avengers here but it does play much more light-hearted than what has come before, showing the team dynamic may be a little more spirited than in BvS.

The first “official” trailer starts off with Wayne wandering through the frozen tundra on his trip to recruit Aquaman. After that we meet Cyborg and Flash as they’re pulled into the team alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Aside from the team building shots, there are quite a few scenes of them fighting parademons in various ways, either hand-to-hand or, if you’re Batman, in the Batmobile or other machines. Along the way we get glimpses at Barry Allen’s imprisoned father, Mera swimming through the sea and, at the end, Commissioner Gordon giving Batman some encouragement.

This one is alright but it looks sooooo dark. There’s no light in the trailer, either from an actual lighting or from a tonality point of view. Sure, there are a couple jokes or funny lines here and there but overall this looks just as humorless and slightly depressing as Batman v Superman, where the tone was one of the major points of pushback from critics and audiences alike. But when you have Zack Snyder at the helm, you’re going to get a Zack Snyder movie.

A year after the first footage WB once again released a new “sneak peek” trailer at Comic-Con that opens with a scene of Wonder Woman handling a terrorist incident easily. That’s not surprising given this is the first big asset following her solo movie’s massive success. Diana and Bruce discuss the need for heroes to rise once again before we see Steppenwolf arrive on Themysciria. He narrates that there are no protectors on Earth, specifically no Kryptonians and “No Lanterns,” a nice nod to the existence of that intergalactic police force. The heroes do join forces, though, to take on the bad guy and his army and we’re shown lots of cool shots of Cyborg taking over the Batmobile, Aquaman knocking a parademon out of the sky and lots of things exploding. It all ends with Alfred meeting someone he’d been told to expect while all we see is the red shoulder of the visitor, a heavy hint that it’s Superman finally showing up.

I like this trailer a lot as it shows more of the team dynamic than earlier spots have. It’s still all very attitude-heavy, with lots of glowering and brooding, but let’s also note that it’s Wonder Woman who’s providing a lot of the inspirational uplift for the other heroes. And, again, the Amazons get quite a bit of screen time to take advantage of their popularity with audiences. Basically, the character types each hero will play to are shown clearly here, as well as how they integrate together.

The final “Heroes” trailer lives up to its name by including a slowed down version of David Bowie’s song of the same name. It opens with a scene of Lois greeting Clark in the cornfield, but we see that’s likely just a dream. Superman is dead, we hear via a news broadcast, and the world is having problems. Bruce talks about the threats that are coming, which Diana identifies as an invasion. They enlist the help of the other heroes, with Bruce convincing them they’re stronger together. That all is followed by lots of fighting between the Justice League and parademons who are looking to unleash hell on Earth.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the final trailer and once that’s over or you close it you’re greeted with a version of the painting-like key art of the team. In the upper left are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. You can also see it’s “wrapped” in the branding and navigation of DC Comics, bestowing the traffic to the home of the IP and encouraging any casual visitors interested in the movie to check out more of the comics and characters offered. Along the bottom are prompts to get tickets or watch the recent red carpet premiere event.

Moving to the top of the page, the content menu there starts with “Video” which surprisingly just has the same trailer that opened the site. After that, “Unite the League” gives you a couple options to either create your own superhero symbol or create a 360-degree image that you could add your friends to. The results of the first option could be downloaded either as a JPG or an MP4 video but not as a GIF, which seems like an oversight.

“First Look” just has the team image that has been used sporadically throughout the campaign, including on licensed products, and which notably includes Superman among the heroes. That’s followed by a link to “Join the League” to access exclusive material and get early updates on new merchandise.

You can find out more about the “VR Game” that lets you play as Batman as he tests his own abilities as well as those of his new teammates but you’ll need the required equipment to play. After links to get tickets and find release dates, “Partners” finishes off the site with links to the companies helping to promote the film.

A virtual reality experience came in four flavors. The first, accessible via mobile devices, allowed just small snippets of gameplay for each of the main characters. An HTV Vive version at New York Comic-Con provided for enhanced gameplay. Next, a couple IMAX locations in the country had an exclusive version that let you test your superhero abilities and learn to use your powers. Finally, a fully-featured version was available for commercial VR platforms that took players inside the actual superhero experience.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials started running after the release of the final trailer, about a month prior to the movie hitting theaters. Most all took slightly different approaches to selling the same concept, which is that the team has to come together to be more than a team to defend the world. A better look at Mera was offered in another spot that was also used as a promoted post on Twitter.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • AT&T, which created a portal for all its Justice League-themed material, including character profiles featuring cast interviews and explanations of his or her powers and role on the team. Clips and excerpts from those videos were also used in paid ads on Twitter leading the audience back to that portal.
  • Mercedes, which launched a campaign involving TV, outdoor, online and print advertising to promote the movie as well as its new AMG Vision Gran Turismo, which is featured in the movie. The TV spots positioned the car as the perfect mode of transportation, even for heroes who can fly, run and more. There was also a co-branded digital comic that was created and promoted across social channels by the car company.
  • Hot Topic, which created a line of clothing and apparel based on the characters and heroes of the movie.
  • Google, which added “bots” based on the five heroes in the movie to Android Pay, allowing users to unlock and collect them.
  • Gillette, which sponsored the above-mentioned VR game and created movie-branded packaging (conspicuously omitting Wonder Woman) that was supported by a TV campaign. It also ran something called the “League of Influencers” involving social media celebrities, but there was no information that could be found about that campaign.
  • Dave & Buster’s, which offered a special Justice League Platter along with an exclusive Injustice arcade game, supporting those efforts with a TV advertising campaign and presumably in-store signage.
  • Kendrick Motorsports, which, in conjunction with Great Clips, had Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving movie-themed cars at the Texas Motor Speedway. This is just the latest partnership between WB/DC and Hendrick.
  • Orville Redenbacher’s, which offered a variety of actives and promotions, including an AR selfie tool and more.

Warner Bros. worked with IMAX on a virtual reality experience that would be available at theaters around the country. An augmented reality game was launched wherein Walmart shoppers could take pictures of themselves alongside characters from the movie when they found in-store displays and also play a game involving the Flying Fox, the team’s transport.

Both WB and DC ran social media ads on Twitter and Facebook that either included the trailers as they were released or encouraged people to visit the movie’s official website and “Join the League” for access to exclusive content and merchandise. Licensed product partner Mattel created a nifty version of the trailer involving stop-motion animation featuring action figures.

DC Comics took two additional moves to promote the movie, declaring November 18th to be “Justice League Day,” coordinating local events and giveaways and putting movie-themed variant covers on its November comics releases.

Media and Publicity

Outside of casting and other production news, the first big news cycle came as the result of a set visit by various members of the press. That brought lots of cast and crew interviews as well as details about who some actors were playing, who the villain of the story was going to be and the first official logo. It also brought with it plenty of confusion as there seemed to be conflicting stories as to whether there was going to be just one or, as originally announced, two Justice League movies.

Later on there was a new photo featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman released along with some brief comments from Miller who talked about Flash’s role in the group dynamic. Another new photo came in an interview with Snyder about the story and characters. A small feature on Momoa called out his role as Aquaman as being part of the actor’s big breakout push.

Unfortunately some bad news came up back in May, when Snyder announced he was stepping away from the movie due to a family tragedy a couple months prior. WB kept things on track for the release date, though, by bringing in Joss Whedon to handle the rest of the additional filming that was planned as well as post-production. Helping make that a seamless transition was the fact that, as the story reveals, Snyder had already reached out to Whedon to help write additional scenes deemed to be missing from the initial production, so he was already in the Justice League mindset. Eventually that situation led to this movie being the latest to have its reshoot budget and schedule picked apart by the press for signs of trouble and other issues, including how much time and money was being spent digitally removing Cavill’s facial hair. No, I’m not kidding.

Costume displays, as well as consumer products, were shown at the annual Licensing Expo show. Another new still, this one featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman, appeared in EW’s San Diego Comic-Con preview issue. Comic-Con also provided a venue for the studio to show off costumes from the movie as well as a full-size Batmobile.

The future of the movie was thrown into doubt with a story that appeared just the day before Warner Bros.’ big Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con. That story reported Affleck’s future as Batman was up in the air for various reasons relating to both the age of the actor, the physical demands of the role and more. It’s something Affleck had to spend no small amount of time rebutting, or at least addressing, saying he was happy to play Batman for as long as WB would let him.

In addition to their presence as part of Warner Bros. Hall H presentation, where the official trailer was shown, the cast showed up to sign autographs at the DC Comics booth on the show floor. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, as the movie’s big San Diego stage was preceded by a story that cast Affleck’s future as Batman in doubt for various reasons. It’s something he wound up addressing and which took up some of the space that would ideally have been used on more positive angles.

EW’s fall movie preview issue showed off the first look at Batman’s big team transport The Flying Fox, which was also the subject of a later LA Times feature. It also had Affleck talking about how the film reflected the work of both directors and that the movie would show DC’s universe was really hitting its stride and more, as well as promising a more traditionally heroic version of The Dark Knight, not the rage-fueled character of BvS.

Later on an Empire Magazine cover story contained more first looks and other stories. More new photos and comments from the actors like this one focusing on Momoa continued to trickle out. There was also the fact that the movie introduced so many characters the general audience may not be completely familiar with.

In the last week or so before release, Affleck made the media rounds to talk about what both Snyder and Whedon brought to the project, his early near-brush with the world of Batman and more. Gadot also did her share, though in light of the conversations currently dominating Hollywood many of those appearances turned to her thoughts on sexual harassment. The rest of the cast put in the miles and time as well.

The theme of sexism, in general, came back up in a big way when Melissa Silverstein, among others, noticed the drastic difference in the warrior garb donned by the Amazons in this movie compared to what they wore in Wonder Woman. The addition of more bare mid-riffs and other exposed skin was quickly called out as being indicative of how women view women and how men view women.

More late-breaking controversy when, despite the fact that reviews had been posted already, it was announced the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score would not be revealed until the day before it hit theaters. While that news was couched as being an incentive for people to tune into the first episode of the site’s new Facebook Live show, it raised the spectre of corporate control over information. That wasn’t a huge leap given how studios have stepped up their fight against Rotten Tomatoes, saying it’s poisoning fans against certain movies. Oh, and it’s owned by Warner Bros. So…yeah.

Overall

I’m hard-pressed to think of a campaign in recent memory that’s had so many unexpected twists and turns to it. To name a few:

  • Snyder’s replacement by Whedon for the final phases of production. While it’s understandable, it’s also very odd and unusual.
  • The continuing will he/won’t he conversations about Affleck’s future as Batman, a situation that’s changed with each new publicity cycle.
  • The impact Wonder Woman’s success had, which likely resulted in her becoming a much bigger part of a campaign that started well before that movie was released.

All that has made is kind of hard for the campaign, particularly the publicity element, to remain focused and on track. While Fisher, Miller and Momoa have kept up the theme of just having a good time and living the dream playing superheroes for a living, Affleck’s attempts at that same tone have come off as stilted and been undermined by the ever-changing narrative about his future. And let’s be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of Gadot here, which is surprising. So it’s been hard, at least from an outside observer’s point of view, for the publicity to get its footing for any length of time.

In the marketing components things have been a bit more consistent, but whether or not that’s a good thing is going to be in the eye of the beholder. All the trailers, while they sell different plot points, have been very similar in terms of tone and style, presenting a dark and violent action movie. Yes, there are certainly more laughs on display than in the marketing of BvS, but that’s not a high bar to clear. It seems as if no matter how much the studio may have wanted to change perceptions in the wake of Wonder Woman it was limited by the material available to work with.

In short it looks like another Zack Snyder movie, for good or ill. Lots of heavily-stylized characters and a story that’s only hinted at from time to time lest it take the focus off the special effects and action sequences.

It also can’t go without saying that the inconsistent approach to Superman’s presence in the story is somewhat laughable and almost amateurish. 95% of the official marketing materials keep him off-camera, but then he’s just standing there like it’s no big deal in the other 5%, as well as in all the imagery for the licensed products on store shelves. Adding to the disconnect is that the character’s absence is only mentioned once or twice in the campaign, so it’s not as if him being gone is clearly what’s motivated Batman and the others to rise up and join together. If you’re going to hide a character from the marketing, do so for a reason.

I can’t say I don’t like the campaign. I’m still a comics nerd, after all. But there are some real issues that weren’t addressed at all or, if they were, only made the message to the audience that much more muddled and somewhat confusing.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Henry Cavill says what everyone else was thinking last year, that it was a ridiculous conceit to hide Superman in the movie’s marketing since not only was he on the publicity tour but *of course* the character was going to come back. Plus, he was on like 22% of the marketing materials anyway, especially the cross-promotional stuff.

How He Got Those Scars: DC/WB Prep Joker Origin Film

A bit of news that came out of the blue yesterday: Warner Bros. and DC Comics are reportedly actively working on a solo Joker movie that would focus on his origin. The movie is said to be directed by Todd Phillips, he of The Hangover and Old School, and Martin Scorsese might be interested in producing. The story says it will be released under a new banner that seems to mark it as what amounts to Elseworlds to the main DC/WB Justice League universe, allowing for original stories that don’t need to tie into the main cinematic continuity.

OK…that’s a lot to digest. So let’s try to break it down into a few points that I can more specifically disagree with.

Scorsese?

This one just doesn’t track for me. The director has shown no indications or inclinations toward being interested in comic book properties before so producing on a movie that seems as inessential as this just makes almost no sense in my head. I don’t have a problem with this, it’s just the most incomprehensible of the many incomprehensible elements of this story.

Todd Phillips

I’ve liked some of the director’s movies, but he’s not exactly a great one at action sequences, something a Joker movie would almost certainly have plenty of. He has a long history with Warner Bros., which is likely why he got the call when this project came in, but he’s not my first choice.

The Elseworlds Banner

This makes the most sense to some extent, but it also bucks what DC/WB publicly tried to in the wake of Man of Steel, which is create a unified cinematic universe. While this strategy makes a lot of sense with comics, where creators can come in and tell one-off stories that don’t impact the core universe at all, the stakes for films are a bit higher. What happens if this movie is successful? Will there be a sequel? What about spin-offs? How far will things go before there are competing cinematic universes?

The Origins of The Joker

Here’s where I have some very real issues, where things move from “chin-scratching” to “oh heck no.”

I realize that The Joker’s origin has been told in various ways at various times and in various media. “Batman: Year One” included the early days of the low-level criminal that would go on to become Joker. 1989’s Batman gave him a name and showed how Batman himself was responsible for his creating his enemy. Other comics have at other times provided hints and clues as to his origin. But in the last 20 years at least the edict seems to be to keep the real story (if there is one) under wraps.

That’s most clearly shown in 2008’s The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger as Joker. On two separate occasions he tells the people he’s terrorizing what terrible events of his past lead to him breaking down and taking up a life of crime. But those two retellings are contradictory and it’s likely an aborted third attempt late in the movie would have contained a wholly different version. The very point, one of the key parts of the movie that made the character so dangerous and compelling, was that he was sowing confusion for its own sake. Did he even know the truth? Did it matter?

Inevitably a story that purports to give The Joker’s true origin story is going to do two things: 1) It’s going to be more dark than fun, focusing on the psychosis of the character, 2) It’s going to explain away or rationalize his violence and sociopathy. It’s that last point that I’m most concerned about. We don’t need an Explaining Hitler for The Joker. It’s OK for the bad guy to be the bad guy without casting him as a sympathetic, misunderstood character who’s just doing what *he* feels is right.

I’m sure whatever the final product here looks like it will be fine. This isn’t me flying into a nerd rage and announcing a boycott of the movie. I just think this is the least essential that could be told. It’s indicative, though, of how DC/WB defaults back to the Batman universe whenever possible, even after Wonder Woman was such a critical hit as well as box-office powerhouse.