the suicide squad – marketing recap

Sequel? Reboot? Both?

“OK, let’s try this again.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in the leadup to Warner Bros.’ release of The Suicide Squad, coming to theaters and HBO Max this week.

Like 2016’s Suicide Squad, this movie is about a group of super-villains who have been captured by the government and coerced by security operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into taking on dangerous missions in exchange for reductions to their sentences. This time that mission involves hunting down The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has unleashed a giant alien starfish named Starro who can control people’s minds.

In addition to Davis, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn – widely seen as the best part of the first film – as does Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. They’re joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport (taking the place of Will Smith’s Deadshot), John Cena as Peacemaker and a handful of others as the Squad is greatly expanded this time around.

Technically a sequel in that it continues the story from that first movie and features some of the same characters, WB seems eager to take the few things people liked about the first entry and eject the rest, hoping to put the poor commercial and critical reception it received five years ago in the rearview mirror.

This despite how, in the wake of Zack Snyder being given the opportunity to revisit his abandoned Justice League project for HBO Max, some fans have taken it upon themselves to call for director David Ayer to be given the same opportunity with Suicide Squad. In this case it wasn’t Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film but a trailer editing firm that took control of the final cut.

from rumor to reality

In late 2018 a possible sequel was still just that: possible. It was one of a handful of rumored projects that would bring Robbie back as Harley, some of which have fallen by the wayside with the exception of last year’s Birds of Prey.

Plans firmed up in early 2019 when WB confirmed earlier reports it had hired director James Gunn, who had recently been fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 gig by Marvel Studios following a controversy drummed up by right-wing trolls, though he’d eventually get that job back. In fact one of Gunn’s first interviews after WB’s announcement, part of the promotional cycle for Brightburn, had him commenting on how working on TSS helped him deal with the disappointment he felt over the whole Marvel incident.

After plenty of speculation, rumors and reports about what characters would appear, Gunn finally unveiled the official cast list in September, 2019. A few months later in December Gunn along with Braga sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising they would love the film being made.

Well before the rest of the campaign launched, Gunn celebrated his birthday by sharing the movie’s title treatment in August, 2020. Members of the cast also sent him a birthday message.

dc fandome fun and more

At that time the director along with members of the cast were revealed as part of the talent lineup for DC’s “Fandome” virtual event. A “remix” of a Zoom panel with Gunn and the movie’s cast continued to set the stage for Fandome.

Two videos came out during Fandome. The first was a behind-the-scenes sneak peak that has Gunn and the cast talking about how funny, action-packed and overall unbelievable the movie was going to be. The second was a “Roll Call” of just some of the characters included in the film and the actors playing them.

Gunn showed off not one but two versions of some promotional artwork during the Fandome period.

The first official poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) also came out during the event. Not only does it show off how many characters are part of the story but the way it has each one’s name obscuring part of their face is a nice artistic touch that speaks to the different tone and feel of the movie compared to the first one. Each one of those characters was also broken off into its own poster.

In advance of Fandome a new Suicide Squad video game was teased by Rocksteady Games. While it’s not directly tied to the movie, the trailer released during the event for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League shows the game pulls a lot of visual and character inspiration from the films.

Courtney spoke briefly about the film while promoting other projects.

Empire ran a cover story on the film back in October of last year. That included comments from Gunn about how he had broad latitude to kill whatever characters the story necessitated.

More promotions for the movie were run during 2020’s CCXP, the second year in a row for the movie at that event.

hbo max and Peacemaker spinoff

With a successful Fandome event having revived some of the positive buzz for the Suicide Squad brand and anticipation running high, WB in September 2020 announced a spinoff series focused on Peacemaker, the character played by Cena, for HBO Max.

Then the big news came. Namely, that this movie like the rest of WB’s 2021 release slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, an adjustment made to not only boost the fledgling streaming service but also accommodate what at the time were still a lot of unknowns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gunn was among the high-profile directors who weren’t thrilled with that decision, stating his opinion in a few interviews. Since then, though, he’s remained mum on the subject.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.

Cena showed off his Peacemaker costume when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in February and then did likewise on “The Late Show” in early April. A short while later Kinnaman appeared on the same show to talk about the film and more.

the marketing begins…and King Shark is a shark…

In advance of the first trailer in March two posters came out. The first (by marketing agency Concept Arts) has a retro feel, showing the main characters looking like cereal box action figures on a poster that has artificial creases in it from where the downtown grindhouse theater folded it for storage.

The second features the same characters and a similar design but without the retro conceit. This time it’s all slick and modern but still fun and outrageous, the leads framed by a giant star in the background.

The first trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) is awesome. It shows the basic story but is primarily focused on setting a much different tone for this movie compared to the first one. Among the better moments shown here are:

  • Harley completely undoing the team’s efforts to rescue her
  • King Shark eating a guy head-first
  • Harley saying “If you cough without covering your mouth, you die.”
  • A beach full of dicks
  • Starro, ladies and gentlemen

It’s insane and looks like a lot of fun. And it led to a revival of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, which the trailer’s sound designer commented on.

More character posters (by Concept Arts) were released at the end of March, showing some sort of object or symbol exploding behind that character. It’s a continuation of a visual theme established in the trailer with a shot of Harley tearing through a hallway firefight as colorful animated flowers burst from the background. By taking this approach it also continues establishing a much different visual identity for the movie from the “Hot Topic on ecstasy” tone of the first movie. These were also used in house ads appearing in DC books in the months leading up to release.

The first TV spot came out a bit after the trailer’s release, offering a cutdown version of that longer video that still had plenty of action and humor.

A green-band version that added a few more scenes and moments but otherwise hit most of the same beats came out a short while later.

In an interview with Total Film, Gunn talked more about how he wound up signing on to the movie and the amount of creative freedom – specifically to kill whichever characters he needed to to tell his story – the studio gave him. Robbie was also interviewed about the evolution of Harley Quinn in the film.

“Suicide Squad: Get Joker!”, a new three-issue mini-series from Brian Azzerello and Alex Maleev, was announced by DC in April and scheduled for release just days ahead of the movie hitting theaters and screens. There was also a King Shark one-shot with a preview of the Azzerello/Maleev series planned for Free Comic Book Day, which this year is happening the week after the movie’s release. DC also announced in May that many of its biggest titles would feature movie-inspired covers in August.

An interview with Kinnaman in June had him praising the film, saying it was “insane” and a lot of fun.

Also in June it was announced the movie would screen in August at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The team runs through a deluge of both rain and tiny mind-controlling Starro spores on the next poster, released toward the end of June.

The second trailer (11.4m views on YouTube) also came out at that time, featuring similar levels of insanity and chaos as the first one.

Peacemaker clears up some confusion about what exactly “Project Starfish ” is and Polka Dot Man becomes a super hero in an extended TV spot from the end of June.

featurettes, more tv spots and plenty of goofy press

Fandango MovieClips got an exclusive featurette in July that had the cast talking about the unique vision Gunn brought to the project, filming the elaborate – and often practical – stunts and more.

A wide-ranging interview with Gunn had him reliving the moment he came onto the project following being fired by Marvel Studios, the attitude he tried to bring to the movie and more.

There were also a number of additional profiles and interviews with Robbie

Positive initial reactions followed a screening for press in July. That screening included a Q&A with Gunn and others where they talked more about the ridiculousness of Starro as a villain and other topics.

IMAX had an exclusive featurette, released in early July, that had Gunn and the cast talking about how the scale of the movie had to be seen on the big screen to be fully believed and enjoyed.

Another longer one goes behind the scenes, introducing some of the characters, including a few that hadn’t previously been given much of a role in the campaign.

Smashbox, one of the only promotional partners apparent, introduced a line of movie-inspired makeup products.

In what’s probably the best of the posters, the team is seen walking across a landscape which, upon further inspection, is actually Amanda Waller’s face.

WB celebrated Shark Week with a King Shark-centric spot that has Waller explaining a bit more about who he is and the rest of the team reminding him that eating people is only alright if they’re not his friends.

Red, the camera-production company, released a featurette with Gunn explaining how valuable those cameras were to making the movie he envisioned.

Gunn, Robbie and Cena – the latter once again in full costume – appeared on “Kimmel” in late July. Around that same time Courtney was interviewed about the movie, calling out the emotional heart that lies within the story.

The team is once again charging at the camera on the IMAX-exclusive poster.

That was later complemented by a TV spot hyping IMAX as the biggest and best way to see all the action.

AMC Theaters announced in July that those attending opening night screenings would receive an exclusive comic book.

Around this time outdoor and online ads using elements of the key art, especially from the second main poster.

the suicide squad online ad

grandson & Jessie Reyez released a video for “Rain,” a new song from the movie’s soundtrack, at the end of July. That video features appearances from some of the cast, their characters enjoying a night out before military bursts in and takes them away.

The cast, including Stallone, Melchior and others, continued doing various press appearances either in-person or virtually to hype of the film.

The Detachable Kid’s powers are featured in a clip that shows even Harley can’t believe what’s happening.

Just how low-rent the team is seen to be is communicated on another poster showing them arriving at the scene in an ancient broken down bus.

Bloodsport was added as a playable character in Fortnight.

One more bit of promotional art was released showing the team lying on the ground in the middle of a giant starfish drawing. The idea here – reinforced by the “Don’t get too attached” copy at the top – is to spur questions about which of the team is dead and who’s just sleeping.

Cena, Gunn and others appeared on a movie-themed episode of “Wipeout” earlier this month.

David Dastmalchian was interviewed about playing an insane, random character like Polka Dot Man.

Gunn and the cast, along with plenty of others, all showed up at the U.S. premiere of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this week. There they talked about how Gunn brought his unique level of insanity to the script

At earlier premieres and publicity tour stops, various incarnations of Starro – either as art installation or giant inflatable starfish – were used to create a unique visual spectacle.

In another substantial interview, Gunn touched on a number of topics related to the movie including why it was so much fun to write for Robbie’s Harley Quinn, what DC plans might be in his future, the “Peacemaker” HBO Max series and lots more. In another interview he shared how insistent he was on an R rating for the movie and what other conditions he had when signing on and how he wound up casting fellow director Taika Waititi in a small role.

The stars participated in an exclusive video interview for Regal Cinemas

conclusion, or “it’s king shark’s world, we just live in it

First, let’s address the Ayer in the room.

As mentioned above, ever since The Snyder Cut of Justice League became a thing a similar subgroup of fans has been demanding David Ayer be allowed to release his cut of Suicide Squad. The cast was even compelled to comment on the possibility of it happening at the premiere earlier this week.

To his credit, Ayer himself has been relatively mum, only recently releasing a statement that yes, an edit of the movie exists that’s vastly different than the theatrical version. But he also doesn’t seem bitter about it, essentially chalking it up as one more difficulty in his life he’s overcome and a story he isn’t eager to share since it would betray confidences and sour relationships. He ultimately clearly and publicly supports the new movie and Gunn’s vision for the characters.

That’s awfully big and mature of Ayer since the dominant theme of the marketing for The Suicide Squad has been “this one is different.” Brighter colors, less of a cubic zirconia vibe to the visuals and more of an emphasis on the humor inherent in the concept, especially given there’s a massive walking and talking shark involved.

King Shark Hand GIF by The Suicide Squad - Find & Share on GIPHY

The projected $30-40m opening weekend needs to be viewed on a sliding, pandemic-adjusted scale as it’s not indicative of either how well the marketing seems to have been received by the general public or the positive buzz and early reviews that have earned it a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is nearly four times higher than that of the first movie). By focusing on Gunn’s involvement, a clear difference has been drawn by Warner Bros. that could make this movie a hit both on streaming and in theaters.

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?

It’s Time For Movie Marketing To Zoom Zoom Zoom

Studios and others seize an opportunity to be part of the new work environment.

Everyone who can is working from home right now because they want to be part of the “flatten the curve” solution to the Covid-19 pandemic. At least those who are empathetic and cognizant of the role we all play in contributing to a functioning and healthy society are.

Few companies are benefiting more from that than video conferencing software Zoom, which has become a favorite among companies, schools and others. The company has seen user acquisition in 2020 already outpace all of 2019, despite the fact that Zoom has frequently – and recently – come under fire for being a privacy nightmare, sending user information to Facebook and others as well as being easily hacked.

Despite that, people have glommed onto it, likely because someone started using it and it just kind of caught on and in defiance of other less creepy options available. One of the first tips to be shared by this new wave of users was that profile backgrounds could be changed, leading to people replacing their unkempt bedrooms with the hallway from The Shining or something else fun.

Studios noticed all of that. Even with no releases hitting theaters anytime soon, there’s still advertising and marketing to be done. And so they’ve embraced Zoom.

Both Universal and Paramount have sought to capture some of this market, releasing Zoom-appropriate backgrounds to promote, respectively, Trolls: World Tour and Top Gun: Maverick.

DC Comics also got in on the fun, but as I pointed out on Twitter, the lack of Zoom background featuring Professor Zoom is a tragic and unforgivable oversight.

There are likely others as well.

Why This? Why Now?

As I stated already, this is an attempt to capture a unique moment in society and quite simply be where people are.

By offering these backgrounds, studios get what is essentially a peer recommendation between individuals. When Carl puts the Maverick background behind him, everyone who’s on the call with Carl takes it as him endorsing the film in some manner. It’s the equivalent of him (or anyone else) putting a movie-branded protective case on their phone or wearing a hat with the logo. So they are generating word of mouth.

It’s also, quite honestly, one of the few options available. People aren’t leaving the house as much as they used to so out-of-home advertising would be kind of a bust. And the entire online ad industry is in disarray as many companies pull back their budgets with tough financial times ahead or seek to place the ads they *are* running on “safe” material. The latter is such an issue media companies are asking advertisers to understand Covid-19 news stories aren’t going to damage their brand.

So it’s a great combination of buzzy and cheap with the potential to stick around for a while.

It’s good to see studios adapting to developments so quickly, but disappointing it’s for something with so many issues. Whatever the case, they’re doing what they can to seize the moment and insert themselves into the general conversation.

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The key art from the theatrical poster is used on the splash page of the movie’s official website, which otherwise features mostly just the standard marketing content.

Media and Press

While there had been plenty of chatter from Robbie in particular ahead of this, the first major beat for the movie came when the cast of characters was revealed. That news was largely well-received, particularly in that it included Montoya, an openly-gay character. It was followed a bit later by the news Black Mask would be the villain of the story.

Winstead spoke about the training she was about to undergo to get in shape for the role shortly after news of her casting was announced, which landed as she was promoting All About Nina last year. A bit later Robbie revealed the movie’s full title, which was quite cumbersome but also pretty great, on Instagram. While promoting Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie spoke to how that title was meant to lighten up what otherwise might be more serious material.

Screenwriter Christina Hodson offered occasional updates as she was being interviewed while Bumblebee was in theaters.

Late January saw Robbie release first looks of Harley’s new look for the movie both as a photo and a video.

During the promotion for a new Netflix show, Winstead offered more thoughts on the tone of the film and its story. A profile of Robbie had her saying this movie’s version of Harley Quinn would be a bit toned down, with the male gaze removed from the director’s chair.

Her approach to playing Huntress and more was covered by Winstead while she was promoting Gemini Man.

In December Yan commented on the unexpected array of films she pulled inspiration from for this movie.

During the press cycle for Bombshell, Robbie was also interviewed about how she fell in love with the role of Harley Quinn while shooting the first Suicide Squad and how she wanted this movie to show a different side of the character.

That topic was central to a Variety cover story featuring the actor where she spoke about how she wanted Harley to evolve from that movie, especially with the addition of an all-female crew around her. She also spoke in her role as a producer on the film and how she teamed up with Yan and more.

An interview with Yan and Hodson had them talking about how they wanted to subvert many of the usual comic book tropes and take advantage of having a group of all-female anti-hero protagonists, all of whom had issues and messier personalities than might be commonly found in such movies. Yan also discussed how she got involved in the project to begin with and how she turned to director Patty Jenkins for advice on how to steer such a massive ship.

At the #Harleywood premiere late last month, the stars talked about how excited they were for people to see the movie, why the over-the-top violence was appropriate for the story and how the two main bad guys probably have some romantic feelings for each other. Recording artist Saweetioe was there too and talked about getting involved in the movie’s soundtrack.

The cast, often as a group, appeared on shows like “Good Morning America,” “The View” and others in the days before the movie hit theaters. McGregor also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night.” Robbie also stopped by “The Tonight Show,” as did Winstead.

They also were featured on a Glamour cover story, while Smollett-Bell was interviewed on her own about what it was like to bring Black Canary to the big screen. Other interviews included Yah, Hodson and the cast talking about Harley’s journey and how they wanted to make the character work on her own. Winstead commented on the fun of having a mostly-female cast and crew as well and more.

Players of Fortnight could unlock an exclusive Harley Quinn skin.

More details on the new Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic from Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti here.

The movie’s costume designer was interviewed on pulling from various sources of inspiration from cartoons to movies in creating Harley’s costumes. How the story depicts violence against women and what the bad guy’s motivations are were part of this discussion with the cast.

What future there might be for a Harley/Poison Ivy partnership movie – one of the projects in development at one point – was speculated on by Yan. Winstead also commented on how she never questioned the idea that a comic action movie would have wide audience appeal.

Overall

Picking Up The Spare

Hodson spoke about the movie in general but that viral moment featuring a hair tie in a new interview.

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti talk about their new “Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey” comic.

The curating of the movie’s soundtrack to match the movie’s theme of women seizing their moment is covered here.

AMC shared an exclusive conversation with some of the stars while IMAX had Yan encouraging audiences to check the movie out on the big big screen.

How that advance screening for DC Universe members went down was shared by DC.

Another interview with Yan had her commenting on how she wanted to make Harley more authentic and not as male-gaze-driven. She also went in-depth on a key action sequence from the film.

What training she did for the role of Cass Cain was the subject of an interview with Basco.

A new video promo for the movie’s star-studded soundtrack was released.

Shazam – Marketing Recap

My full recap of the marketing for Shazam! Is up at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual trailers, synopsis and more the movie’s official website prominently features a “Shop” link at the top opening a section where you can buy apparel, action figures and more. There are also links to the official Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

There was all sorts of coverage before the movie ever went into production, mostly from Johnson as he tried to seemingly force it into existence by sheer force of will. Oddly, it was in this pre-production phase that reports circulated a Black Adam solo movie was being greenlit.

Just before San Diego Comic-Con 2017, DC’s Geoff Johns announced Johnson would not be appearing here but was still attached to a solo Black Adam story, explained here, that was yet to be officially announced. Several months later Levi was announced as the titular hero, at least in his adult form.

For the second year in a row a major story hit in advance of Comic-Con. In early July of last year a first-look at Levi in costume as the hero was released along with comments from director David Sandberg about how that costume was designed and more. A second photo came out shortly thereafter. EW also put Levi, in costume, on the cover of its special Comic-Con issue, which included the first photo of a young Billy Batson and comments from the producer on the hero’s potential crossovers with other characters.

In early December Johns was interviewed about both the movie and the Shazam comic series that launched at that time, as well as his general love of the character and how he’s excited to see it back in the spotlight. Around the same time Levi, while promoting another project, also spoke about the tone of the film as well as his work to bulk up for the role and offered his thoughts on a Shazam/Black Adam fight. Another interview with him allowed the actor to talk about his long love of comics.

A big interview with Levi and other members of the cast talked about their experiences bringing the hero to life and making the story so much fun. Sandberg also spoke about the process that went into Levi’s casting while the actor told some funny stories when he appeared on “The Late Show.”

IMAX released one more promotional video with Levi and Angel encouraging people to see it in that format.

Overall

shazam gifPicking Up the Spare

The hero is getting his own DLC for the LEGO DC Super-Villains game.

Levi continued to be interviewed about taking on a super hero role and more.

Aquaman – Marketing Recap

Recapping Warner Bros.’ marketing campaign for AQUAMAN.

aquaman poster 11Let’s state facts at the outset: This week’s release of Aquaman is merely a holding action by DC/Warner Bros. to distract fans from continuing to demand they make public The Snyder Cut of last year’s Justice League.

OK, not really. But it is hitting theaters in the hope that audiences and critics find it more palatable than that muddled mess of a movie, adhering closer to the quality of Wonder Woman. Once more Jason Momoa takes on the role of Aquaman/Arthur Curry, the son of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman).

Raised on land, Arthur teams up with Mera (Amber Heard) to unlock the secrets of the long-vanished kingdom and stop the threat posed by his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson). That also means Arthur is asked to embrace his destiny as the rightful ruler as well as a hero of the seas.

The Posters

aquaman posterThe first poster, released just before San Diego Comic-Con 2018, shows Aquaman perched on an underwater reef looking serious and determined as sharks, whales and various other creatures swim behind him. The copypoint “Home is calling” at the top provides some clues as to the story and what the hero will be searching for in the movie. Author Chuck Wendig didn’t care for that tagline, though, and offered some suggestions of his own.

It’s notable how bright and colorful the poster is, a stark contrast from the one-sheets for Justice League and some of the other DCEU movies. Warner Bros. clearly wants to create a distinct visual identity for the movie that’s not as dark and grim as some of the previous films have been.

That same colorful approach was taken on the promotional poster handed out at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, which shows Aquaman out in front of all the other characters, Orn and Black Manta looming over everyone in the back of the group.

“A tide is coming” we’re told on the next bit of promotional art, which shows a gloved hand being raised out of the water while clutching a trident.

Each character got their own turn in the spotlight courtesy of a series of posters in early November that featured their name and a good look at their costumes. Two more were released shortly thereafter, one with both Aquaman and Mera and the other with just Aquaman where he strikes a pose similar to that seen at the end of the Comic-Con trailer from a few months prior.

There were two IMAX posters created, one showing Aquaman posing with trident in hand as sea creatures swim around him and one simply showing his hand grasping his trident. Both sell audiences on the promise of seeing even more of the picture by seeing it in that format.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which debuted at Comic-Con earlier this year, starts out with a simple explanation as to Aquaman’s origins as the son of both the land and sea. There’s a scene of him as a kid being teased about how he’s talking to the fish before we get to modern day. Mera shows up and explains he has to return to Atlantis to stop his brother from launching a war against the surface world, something he’s reluctant to do. Things get increasingly dramatic from there until we’re shown a massive underwater battle involving war sharks and other creatures.

Momoa really seems to be enjoying the space he’s finally given to expand on the character significantly and it’s great to see Heard’s Mera has what seems to be a significant role in the story. There’s not much about Black Manta, though. Generally this is showing off a fun, action-packed movie that stands in stark contrast to some previous DC releases.

An extended first look video was released around the time of New York Comic Con in October that offers a much fuller picture of the movie and its story. Arthur and Mera are on a quest to find the secrets of Atlantis (which helps establish that this takes place before Justice League) while Orm has been maintaining control of the city, planning to wage war against the surface world. The centerpiece of the video is a rooftop chase sequence involving Black Manta, though the real treat for comics fans is seeing the movie borrows elements from new of Geoff Johns’ comics story arcs. Also serving as a highlight is Aquaman standing at the end of the video in his classic orange and green costume, established by Johns as being the outfit of a king.

The final trailer from just before Thanksgiving focuses on Arthur’s history and how he’s been preparing for his role as king and hero his whole life, but now he needs to find the ancient trident of his ancestors in order to truly claim the throne.

A week later a “fan reaction” video was released that showed how people online were responding to the trailer.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is primarily concerned with getting you to buy advance tickets, at least on the splash page.

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the “Videos” section has a collection of the trailers, featurettes and other promotional spots that have been released over the last few months. After that is the “About” section with a quick recap of the story followed by posters and more in the “Gallery.”

Commerce is the focus of the next few sections, beginning with the “Shop” where you can by action figures, apparel and more. “Partners” has links to the companies who have signed on to help cross-promote the movie.

Finally, aside from the links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles, there’s a side-scrolling game allowing you to play as Aquaman and navigate the dangers of the deep sea.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

As part of the movie’s presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, DC Collectibles announced and revealed a whole series of statues of the title character, Mera and Black Manta. DC also helped out by putting movie-themed variant covers on a big Aquaman/Justice League crossover story that hit shelves beginning in late October.

TV spots began running in mid-October with a commercial that poked a little fun at the title character while also setting him up as the fish-man who would be king. Mera’s efforts to recruit Arthur – and his reluctance to embrace his destiny – were conveyed in a spot from early November.

Outdoor ads featured Aquaman rising out of the sea in some manner or another.

aquaman billboard

When tickets went on sale Fandango offered those people making purchases through its service five free digital Aquaman comics, including a mix of classic and newer issues to introduce new fans to the character’s history. The site later reported that first day ticket sales outpaced those of both Venom and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, both of which went on to box-office success.

Amazon gave Prime members the chance to buy tickets to screenings at select theaters almost a week prior to release, the better to seed word of mouth for the official release date. The number of theaters participating was expanded shortly thereafter to meet resulting demand. Those screenings ultimately netted about $3 million.

Over the weekend following Thanksgiving Warner Bros. took over The Grove in Los Angeles with an immersive experience recreating the grandeur of Atlantis. Fans visiting the activation could not only interact with a waterfall effect that revealed scenes from the movie and have their picture taken for sharing on social media.

Momoa appeared in a promotional video for the movie-themed DLC for the LEGO DC Super-Villains game coming out around the same time as the film. A bit later Wan offered a behind-the-scenes interview that ended with promotions for Sideshow Collectibles figures based on the look of the movie and characters.

DC Universe, the OTT service devoted exclusively to DC properties and characters, offered a sweepstakes giving the winner a replica of Aquaman’s trident from the movie signed by the cast. Warner Bros. also put costumes from the movie on display on its Hollywood studio tour.

Promotional partners included:

  • Various locations of Atlantis hotels and resorts
  • Carhartt, which slapped the Aquaman symbol and name on a cold weather hat meant for those working or playing outdoors
  • Cold Stone Creamery, which created a movie-branded blue velvet sundae served in a cup sporting the movie’s key art
  • Padi, which made Aquaman part of a recent contest giving the winner a movie-branded PS4 console and pointing out how much divers are like a real life Aquaman.
  • Pinkberry, which created its own themed frozen concoction that accompanied a sweepstakes giving people the chance to win a hometown screening of the movie.
  • Oceana, which used the movie to encourage people to join its fight to clean up and protect the oceans, an effort that included a PSA featuring Patrick Wilson.
  • Visa Signature, which ran a sweepstakes tied to the movie.
  • Roblox, which offered a handful of prizes that could be won by completing games created by the company. That effort was promoted with a video featuring both Momoa and Heard.

About a week prior to release, WaterTower Records dropped “Ocean to Ocean,” a new song from Pitbull and Rhea that, to the dismay of God and everyone, is essentially a nightclub cover of Toto’s “Africa.”

Media and Publicity

While everyone was talking about Aquaman in the wake of his cameo in Batman v Superman, director Wan kept things going with comments about how he wanted to bring a fun tone to the character and movie. He also talked about how he was taking the character very seriously and not leaning into the jokes about him.

Not only was Aquaman a big part of the Justice League footage that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con in 2016 but director James Wan had a chance to talk about how he was going to bring his own unique touch of horror to the story in the hero’s solo movie. Always, because the press is insatiable, Momoa would talk about the movie while he was meant to be promoting other projects. Even Kidman was asked occasionally about her decision to join the movie, which she summed up by basically saying the director is also Australian so why not?

A small feature on Momoa called out his role as Aquaman as being part of the actor’s big breakout push. The character was a big part of WB’s 2017 Comic-Con news not only for his role in Justice League but also because the crowd in Hall H got a first look at footage from Aquaman’s solo outing. Wan later talked about the troubles he was having with the whole “most of this happens in or around water” thing, which presented quite the technical challenge.

Just as the publicity for Justice League was winding down the first official still for this movie was released, partly to capitalize on how Aquaman was frequently identified as one of the best parts of the team story. Shortly after that Wan dispelled some of the rumors that had been circulating online regarding the number of villains the movie would have, though there was some hedging in there a bit.

He eventually revealed the trailer would finally debut at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, a full year after the first footage was shown. As part of what seemed to be a substantial presence at the show for the movie, Funko revealed a convention-exclusive POP! figure of the director. It was also one of the WB movies whose title and key art were featured on the swag bags given out to attendees.

The next we heard about the movie was again Wan putting some speculation to rest, this time insisting the lack of a trailer in mid-March wasn’t because of problems with the movie, just his own perfectionism at play as he didn’t want anything less than stellar being released. Wan di, though, bring a bit of footage to WB’s CinemaCon presentation to show it off to exhibitors and press. A trailer was reportedly shown at CineEurope.

Before that trailer was officially released the movie’s producers and writers were interviewed to assure the public that the movie was still coming out and that it would be a big, fun spectacle of a story, not dour and depressing like some of the other DCEU films. That was part of a cover package on the film that included first looks at Black Manta, Orm, Queen Atlanna and more. Notably included in that package was an interview with producer Toby Emmerich about the tone and style of this movie and how it reflected a shift in the DCEU. Heard was also interviewed about how she wanted to make her character more than one-dimensional.

EW offered the first look at Fisherman King in advance of SDCC 2018 as well as a giant sea monster from the movie and an interview with Momoa about how his job was just to make sure the character came off as cool. Momoa kept talking elsewhere about what he wanted to do with the character now that he finally had his own movie to really explore things.

A couple different interviews with Wan allowed him to talk about the various challenges and opportunities involved in making the film what it was like trying to work within the DCEU. He also clarified there would not be appearances by other members of the Justice League.

A big press event allowed Wan to further explain what had influenced him, what kind of tone he was hoping to strike with the movie and more.

A featurette released in mid-November had Wan talking about how the focus remains on the characters despite the big set pieces and action, with the cast also sharing how they fell in love with the story. It also showed just how big some of that action will be, selling audiences on the scale as well as the look and feel of the film.

Heard finally got a chance at the mic with an interview detailing how she was skeptical about how she was approached for the role. In a shot across the bow of another release, it was later revealed Julie Andrews had a voice role in this movie, a role the movie’s writers discussed more later.

A conversation with Heard and Momoa discussing the difficulties their costumes presented.

Momoa was named one of the recent hosts of “Saturday Night Live” on an episode to coincide with the release of the movie. A few weeks before that in early December the actor made a surprise appearance in New York City, first wielding a trident in Times Square and then showing up to the delight of an early screening audience. Additional appearances by the whole cast at early screenings were captured in a promotional video showing how hyped those fans were.

Wilson was interviewed on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and his physical preparation for such an action-intensive role. A bit after that Momoa appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and show off his trident-throwing skills, with Heard making an appearance shortly after that to talk about Momoa’s on-set antics.

THR profiled Heard on a variety of subjects, including her role in the movie. She also appeared on “Good Morning America.” Around the same time two profiles of Kidman were run in The Los Angeles Times, one showcasing the multiple films she’s been in this year and one including Wan among the directors who have worked with her on those films touting her abilities.

In the last few days before release Wan was interviewed a number of times about how he wanted to do something new and different with the super hero genre and how he should bare the brunt of criticism if it doesn’t work for people. The whole cast spoke about the movie at its premiere while another profile of Wilson allowed him to share his experiences during filming and more.

Overall

Warner Bros. has focused its marketing of the movie on this year’s major comics conventions, seemingly aware that by effectively reaching that crowd of hardcore fans it can potentially avoid the kind of poor word of mouth that has plagued other DC-based movies, particularly last year’s misfire.

Not only have those conventions been the venue where major trailers were released but the campaign as whole has embraced and tried to showcase the character’s backstory and history. Hardcore fans should be pleased to see those elements on display while their use in the trailers and other elements provides an on-ramp for those only casually familiar with Aquaman, or who know him only as a pop culture punchline.

The studio also seems to understand that Momoa’s larger-than-life personality is a strong selling point and so, with him in the lead role, it seized the opportunity to put him front and center, leading traditional haka dances and generally selling the movie by sheer force of will.

Picking Up the Spare

Dafoe finally got in the publicity game with an appearance on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the ridiculousness of the filming process.

Wan talked more about not feeling beholden to dropping hints about other DC movies or referencing what came before but just making his own story. And Wilson shares more about his workout routine for movie.

More details on the Roblox cross-promotion here.

Celebrate the Minifig’s 40th Anniversary With These LEGO Movie Posters

Given how pervasive LEGO construction sets based on movies have become, it might be hard to believe the first ones appeared less than 20 years, one of the tie-ins promoting Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Over the subsequent two decades there have been plenty of other partnerships for franchises including Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic World and more.

Since 2012 The LEGO Group has kicked up their film marketing activities significantly, producing officially-sanctioned posters for a handful of movies – usually the same ones they’ve created toy sets for – that have gotten lots of attention and helped both sides of the partnership.

In general, these alternate versions are recreations of a movie’s theatrical or teaser poster, taking the same layout and arrangement and simply replacing the human actors with minifigs and the ships or buildings with their LEGO equivalents. The results are often charming and playful where the originals may seem more serious and dour.

In the six-plus years LEGO has been producing these posters it’s focused primarily on a handful of key franchises with broad audience awareness and passionate fanbases that are likely to be interested in these kinds of variants, sometimes available exclusively as promotional swag at San Diego Comic-Con or other events.

To celebrate last week’s 40th anniversary of the LEGO minifig, let’s look at the times when minifig versions of movie characters have graced posters for some of Hollywood’s highest-profile releases.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beginning with 2012’s The Avengers, LEGO has produced poster variants for many Marvel Studios releases. Those include Iron Man 3, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther and Ant-Man.

Star Wars

force awakens lego posterNo movie series is perhaps more closely associated with LEGO than Star Wars. It was, as mentioned above, the first licensed franchise the company got involved with and kicked off a 20 year relationship.

It wasn’t until 2015, though, that LEGO Group started producing themed posters for the franchise. That started with bricked versions of the one-sheets for the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Specifically, the theatrical posters for the Prequels were recreated while it was the Special Edition versions of the OT movies that were updated. Of course that was all part of the build up for The Force Awakens, which got its own LEGO poster later in the year.

Since then each new Star Wars movie has received LEGO promotional posters. That includes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – for which there both theatrical and character posters – and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

DC Comics

Putting aside the fact that much of the marketing for 2014’s The LEGO Movie and 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie was focused around selling LEGO-ized versions of the Dark Knight, the toy company has provided support for the more…serious…cinematic takes on DC’s stable of heroes.

There were LEGO versions of the character posters for 2015’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out as well as for 2017’s Justice League and that same year’s Wonder Woman.

batman v superman lego

Apple even got in on the fun, putting out LEGO recreations of the posters for the first four Batman movies – the ones released between 1989 and 1997 – to help promote the home video debut of The LEGO Batman Movie.

LEGO’s promotional activities for these and other movies doesn’t end at the occasional poster, of course. This year saw a life-size LEGO recreation of the Millennium Falcon cockpit from Solo at San Diego Comic-Con. The annual convention also frequently features full-size sculptures of heroes and villains from that year’s big super hero movie, including Thanos, Wonder Woman, Captain America and others. SDCC attendees can also usually buy exclusive movie-tie in sets at the company’s booth.

There was also an official LEGO version of the Solo trailer released earlier this year as part of the hype cycle for that movie and a minifig recreation of the first promotional photo for Rogue One. On social media LEGO also has some fun with its preferred franchise partners, sharing a GIF from Spider-Man: Homecoming, reacting to the trailer for the new Fantastic Beasts movie and more.

So here’s to 40 years of the ubiquitous minifig. You’ve been stepped on in the middle of the night by many a barefooted parent, but you’ve also provided some fun movie marketing moments.

Marvel Sells Characters, DC Sells Heroes

A new study, reported by Adweek, breaks down a key difference in the movies being released based on Marvel Comics characters and those from DC: Audiences immediately, when the trailers are released, connect with Marvel characters on an emotional level they just don’t with DC characters. Here’s the key graf:

ZappiStore says the data shows the DC trailers received a positive response from their special effects and explosive action, rather than from their characters. However, fans show a strong affinity toward Marvel’s superheroes and react positively toward its trailers’ humor, driving the higher levels of emotional engagement with its trailers.

What’s interesting about the results of the study is that this sounds so familiar. If you’re at all aware of the history of Marvel Comics, you’ll know that Stan Lee (and plenty of others, including Jack Kirby) set out to create characters that were very different than the heroes published by DC Comics at the time. Those heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Shazam, Hawkman and others – were seen as being too godlike to be relatable. They were a kind of new Roman Pantheon, great and powerful beings who could do anything, without the kinds of real-world issues and personalities people could easily relate to.

Continue reading “Marvel Sells Characters, DC Sells Heroes”

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.