In the new movie The Hitman’s Bodyguard Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a high-end bodyguard who’s available for hire by well-off clients seeking protection. One day he’s contracted Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a notorious assassin who’s scheduled to testify against one of his former bosses.
That should be a simple enough assignment but for one thing: Bryce and Kincaid have history that’s included the latter trying to kill the former on multiple occasions. Still, Bryce has a job to do and so the two have to not only get along but work together as the forces of those Kincaid is meant to testify against try to kill both of them.
The first poster tells us exactly what we can expect from the tone of the movie. The image of Reynolds carrying Jackson, as well as the color palate of the image, the style used for the title treatment and cast name as well as the copy on the left are all pulled directly from the poster for the 1992 Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston vehicle The Bodyguard. That’s pretty funny and a nice little wink, even if it does come a bit too close to selling this movie as a parody instead of its own thing.
Two character posters followed, one showing The Hitman (Jackson) and one showing The Bodyguard (Reynolds) in a monochromatic design, each with guns drawn and each featuring the “Get triggered” copy that seems a tad insensitive. Those two were brought together into what seems to be a theatrical poster.
Another series of posters took a more old-school approach, with visual styles that harkened back to the era of movies like The French Connection and others. One is a black-and-white image of the two leads, both with guns drawn, seemingly entering a scene, a target taking aim at the pair. Another has the two of them taking aim themselves at something off-screen. A third is similar but has them standing more still in the frame and asks “Who’s protecting who?”
The first trailer, a red-band version, starts off by introducing us to Reynolds’ high-end bodyguard. He’s been hired to protect a hitman (Jackson) but things get violent quickly. Much of the action, of which there is plenty, is presented while Reynolds vents to a newspaper kiosk salesman about what a bad time he’s having on this particular assignment. It’s full of foul-language and ridiculous action.
The trailer is so unconcerned with selling the story it’s crazy. Instead it’s just about seeing the MFs that are dropped by Jackson and the sly subversion of action movie tropes like jumping into the garbage bin from a rooftop. Like the poster the studio is having fun with the title association, playing Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” over much of the footage.
An all-ages, non-restricted trailer was released about a month later that hits many of the same beats, just with half the running time and no curse words. This one’s more about selling the outrageous situations the unlikely pair find themselves in and the strange bond that forms between them.
The official trailer opens with Bryce taking one of his other clients out of a potentially dangerous situation. We see that a dictator is on trial and that his friends are trying to kill a key witness in those proceedings. So Bryce is assigned to protect Kincaid, but we see they have a history that’s not super-pleasant. Still, it’s his job and so despite his reticence he does what he needs to do to keep his charge from being blown up or otherwise killed.
It’s a much better trailer in that it actually lays out the story, not just relying on the charm and chemistry of Reynolds and Jackson. That comedy may still be the biggest selling point, but at least this one explains why they’re stuck with each other and why Reynolds’ character isn’t thrilled with the assignment, something that was lacking from the teaser.
Another short trailer came out that wasn’t new in most regards, just serving to reinforce the interplay between the two leads. One more trailer, just as lighthearted and focused on curse words and over-the-top as the others, was created to mark Romance Awareness Month.
Online and Social
The theatrical key art is displayed on the landing page of the movie’s official website as the content of the site loads. After that you can choose between sides, one for Bryce, one for Kincaid. Doing so just takes you to a short video clip featuring that character that you’re encouraged to share on social networks. There’s a prompt to “Get Tickets” in the upper right and links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the lower right.
There’s also a quiz you’re encouraged to take to see if you have what it takes to join AAA Executive Protection Agency, the group Bryce apparently belongs to. And if you click the icon in the center of the top of the page you get a gallery of GIFs and images that have copy and a silly little animated character, apparently an effort to keep things light.
Moving on to the site’s actual content, the first option in the drop-down menu at the top of the page is “About,” which is where you’ll find a pretty good synopsis of the shenanigans the two characters get into. After that is “Videos” which houses the trailers, a featurette and a clip of the two meeting for the first time under new circumstances. The “Gallery” has a handful of stills and “Posters” has all the one-sheets.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one started running a few weeks out from release that gave the barest outline of the story in favor of lots of action and a continued emphasis on the bickering relationship between the two violent professionals.
Online and outdoor ads used the various key art and social ads used the trailers as they were released.
Media and Publicity
The two leads were interviewed together, continuing the emphasis the campaign has placed on the dynamic between Jackson and Reynolds. In that interview they talked about bonding during filming, how they got involved in the project and lots more.
Other solo interviews had the pair, as well as costar Salma Hayek, talking about the story and all the usual anecdotes about filming and how much fun it was to be involved in something so silly. They also did the talk show rounds on TV to engage in hijinks with late night hosts and talk about the film.
As should be overwhelmingly evident from what I’ve laid out above, the main appeal the studio is conveying is the charm of and chemistry between the two leads. That’s why the story is often either missing or pushed way into the background of the trailers and other marketing elements in favor of Reynolds and Jackson getting on each other’s nerves, quipping and otherwise making it clear they’re not getting along as characters but certainly having a great time as actors.
The question then becomes whether that’s enough. The movie certainly looks like fun. Everything about it is the kind of big, silly action comedy that used to be pervasive in the late 80s and early 90s, but it’s unclear if that formula holds the same appeal these days. This looks more and more like a movie that will have an amusing campaign that leans on the likability of the two leads but which fades into obscurity quickly. A year from now someone will post on Twitter saying “Remember when a movie called The Hitman’s Bodyguard actually happened?”j