constantine rises again

What the hell(blazer)?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise last week when Warner Bros. announced it was producing a sequel to 2005’s Constantine, including the fact Keanu Reeves was returning to the title role and that director Francis Lawrence – who in the intervening years has directed or is planning to direct four of the five movies in the Hunger Games series – was also coming back.

The reasons the news came as such a shock were many and varied, including in no specific order:

  • While it was a decent success at the box-office, I didn’t think the 2005 original was particularly beloved. Surely there are some that have remained or become fans of the movie, but reaction to the original wasn’t all-that positive. A lot of folks criticized it at the time because they didn’t think the character on screen bore much aside from the name in common with the one found in the comics published by DC/Vertigo.
  • A lot of that came down to the fact that being from working class Liverpool is kind of key to who Constantine is and how he acts, with Reeves not conveying any of that.
  • There’s also the fact the movie version relies a lot more on gadgets and weapons and a lot less on sleight of hand and con artistry, which again is a big part of who the character is.
  • On the other hand, the character of John Constantine has been played by Matt Ryan since 2014, first in his own show (unceremoniously canceled by NBC during its first season) and then as a recurring/regular character on “Legends of Tomorrow” after an appearance on “Arrow.”
  • Ryan’s take on Constantine has been so popular he’s also voiced the character in a series of animated features and shorts.

Tv Show Constantine GIF by Warner Archive - Find & Share on GIPHY

I should state here that in the wake of the news I made the decision to rewatch Constantine, likely for the first time in at least 10 years. While it’s an entertaining enough Keanue Reeves supernatural thriller, the criticisms about this take on the character are absolutely well-founded. At one point Lucifer warns John about not pulling another con on him, but the line is completely unfounded as Constantine hasn’t conned anyone in the film. He *has*, though, blown up a bunch of demons with a massive grenade launcher thing.

Ryan’s take on the character, though, is much more like the original Hellblazer, and it’s a shame that 1) That series isn’t on HBO Max or Netflix, and 2) That he’s not being given a chance to keep going as Constantine as he’s clearly been having a blast for the last eight years.

[Full disclosure: I was heavily involved with promoting the TV series during its run as I was still working with DC Entertainment at the time.]

On top of all that, WB announcing a new movie based on a DC property comes at a time when the studio is…let’s just say it’s in flux, particularly when it comes to its stable of comics characters.

  • It just canceled the Batgirl film that was nearly complete and has shuffled the release dates for movies like Black Adam and others because it reportedly doesn’t have the available cash to support more than a couple major releases a year.
  • Last month Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said he was hoping to “reset” DC projects and find someone who can oversee the whole stable of characters and properties. But that search has been difficult as no one seems to be jumping at the chance to be blamed for the next disappointment after finding they don’t have as much control as they thought.
    • I only say that because it’s happened at least three times in the last 10 years, each time ending by the executive being forced out, quitting because the studio said he couldn’t make his five hour dystopian team movie or being made to feel extremely unwelcome when the movies he *did* develop are canned.

Whoever is eventually selected will now find themselves with a Constantine film in the works they had no hand in greenlighting and may not feel particularly excited about. And they’ll be reminded that no, it’s not part of the Justice League universe. Or maybe it is but not in an official way. Or it’s not, but some of the same characters are referenced. Or the movie is but the TV show reboot that was licensed to another company isn’t.

This new movie could be much better than the first and much more faithful to the source material, just as the live action series and some of the animated follow-ups were and have been. But the fact that it’s even happening is a big surprise, all the more so for the uncertain moment it was announced in.

the matrix resurrections – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold an unexpected sequel

The Matrix Resurrections movie poster
The Matrix Resurrections movie poster

1999’s The Matrix was, of course, a massive success and a groundbreaking shift in the idea of what science fiction on film could look like and, even more importantly, *be* like. After two subsequent sequels (which are better than conventional wisdom in the early 00s held them to be) the series seemed to be done, with The Wachowski Sisters moving on to other projects.

Now it’s back with The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski directs, with Keanu Reeves returning as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss back as Trinity.

The story picks up 20 years after The Matrix Revolutions, with Neo living in what seems to be the real world under the name Thomas Anderson, working a job and occasionally seeing things he thinks are odd or unusual. He also meets Tiffany, the “real world” version of Trinity, someone he can’t help but think he has some kind of connection to. Eventually Thomas meets a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who gives him a red pill that once more opens his mind to the reality that is a new, more aggressive Matrix, with Neo and Trinity again going to war against the machines.

Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Jada Pinkett Smith and others also star as those either fighting against or with the pair.

announcement and casting

The announcement of the fourth movie in August, 2019 came after a year or so of conversation about what plans Warner Bros. might have for the property. Speculation had included prequels or sequels that would go beyond the story of Neo, Trinity and the others and often didn’t include the involvement of the original creators. So when WB let it drop that most, if not all, the excitement was palpable.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak, with the release date pushed from its original March, 2020 to April of 2021. It was later moved back to December, 2021.

In mid-2020 Ross and others were interviewed about their reactions to the project happening, what they were most looking forward to about the film and more. Harris and Reeves both commented on the story over the course of the year, as did Moss and others.

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.

Abdul-Mateen II talked about joining the franchise and what it was like to film the movie in an interview that covered a number of projects the actor is involved in.

down the rabbit hole: the marketing campaign begins

This past August marked the first steps toward a formal marketing campaign when Warner Bros. brought footage from the film to exhibitors and other attendees of CinemaCon.

That really kicked off in early September when a video teasing the arrival of the first trailer was released. Also in that video was the https://www.whatisthematrix.com URL where visitors could get a brief look at the first footage from the new film, with different experiences for those selecting red or blue pills.

When the first trailer (41m YouTube views) finally did come out it hinted at a very different continuation of the series than people might have imagined. Neo – now living in The Matrix under the name Thomas and with no memory of what’s come before – is having dreams of things he knows couldn’t have happened but is otherwise living his life. Even meeting Trinity, also suffering amnesia, doesn’t trigger anything in his mind. Things start to change when he goes off his meds (which just happen to be blue pills) and is then offered a red pill by Morpheus. So Neo has to go through the process of discovery all over again, followed by lots of visually impressive fights and other challenges he and the others have to navigate and overcome.

Later that month it was announced the movie’s premiere would take place in San Francisco.

A featurette released in early October had this movie’s cast and crew reminiscing about the first movie in particular and its legacy on their lives specifically and the overall culture more generally.

The first poster came out in late October and, like the teaser videos and other images released earlier, it focuses exclusively on the red and blue pills sitting side by side, waiting for someone to choose one or the other. Intriguingly the copy at the top reads “Now, based on real events.”

In an interview later that month Abdul-Mateen II confirmed he was playing Morpheus, albeit a different version of the character than what we’ve seen before.

United Masters launched a contest where songwriters could submit their original compositions for the chance to win $15,000 and a chance to have that song featured in the movie’s promotional and marketing campaign.

The five primary characters are arranged on the theatrical poster, released in mid-November. Neo and Trinity are dressed in familiar outfits while the other characters each get something that fits with the story as well as their role and personality, all in front of the green code that symbolizes the Matrix.

Some of the biggest moments from the trailer and more are pulled into the first of several TV spots that kicked off that part of the campaign.

Warner Bros. partnered with Niftys.com to create 100,000 NFTs inspired by the movie people could buy with the option later to keep the NFTs as they are or choose to have them transformed, with more such opportunities coming later as well.

Each of the main characters got their own poster as part of a series of one sheets that came out in late November.

One of many profiles of Reeves focused on his zen, chill approach to the acting gig he’s been in for decades as well as this movie in particular.

IMAX announced that, for the first time ever, the original film would be screened in the large format for two nights in early December, part of a move to not only bring audiences back to theaters but also of course set the stage and build anticipation for this new installment.

Short videos continued to come out regularly offering recut versions of what we’d already seen along with tantalizing glimpses of new footage that usually generated more questions than were answered.

A few new photos and comments from Henwick, Wachowski and others were included in an EW cover story focusing on the reunion of Moss and Reeves and how they quickly fell back into the easy connection and chemistry they’d developed over the filming of the first three movies.

your mind makes it real: the marketing campaign continues

Moving into December there was another interview with/profile of Abdul-Mateen II where he talked about putting his own spin on the character of Morpheus.

The “glitch in The Matrix” concept introduced in the first movie is used in an extended TV spot as a way to highlight how things have changed but are still familiar over the years.

The American Red Cross ran a sweepstakes offering the chance to win a private hometown screening of the movie to those who came in to donate blood in advance of the holiday season.

“I remember this,” Neo says in the opening moments of the second trailer (12.8m YouTube views). From there we see what’s new through the lens of what’s come before, whether it’s Neo and Trinity’s relationship, a new look for the Smith agents that safeguard the Matrix or anything else. But we’re also told “Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is,” a line reminiscent of Luke Skywalker intoning “This is not going to go the way you think” in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The IMAX exclusive poster puts Neo and Trinity at the center of The Matrix. There was also an IMAX-specific TV spot that shows Neo reluctant to get back into the fight.

A MovieClips featurette focused on the relationship between Neo and Trinity and how those characters are informed by the chemistry between the actors playing them

Abdul-Mateen II talked more about becoming Morpheus and working on the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

The first official clip debuted during the “Game Awards” earlier this month. It shows Anderson being led by Bugs through a series of portals until they finally arrive at Morpheus. In a sly twist, and a hint of the movie’s overall tone, he seeks to reassure Anderson by including scenes of his previous life, saying that nostalgia can be soothing and comforting.

That show was also where Unreal Engine debuted a demo of the company’s 3D technology set in the world of the movie and featuring many of its characters, including an introduction by Reeves.

Reeves talked about the movie and more on “The Late Show” as did Groff in his appearance a few days later. Priyanka Chopra Jonas showed up on “Late Night” to talk about keeping the story’s secrets. Harris then appeared on “Kimmel.”

Another featurette was about the place the original movie now holds in our culture and how this installment builds on what’s come before. The action and stuntwork was covered in another featurette.

Nvidia ran a promotional campaign where it had creators design movie-inspired custom PC mods, which fans could win by entering a sweepstakes by Retweeting one of the posts.

Users of Snapchat and other apps could add themselves to the Matrix via an AR app. A movie-inspired effect was also added to Instagram and Facebook that could be used during video calls.

The United Masters contest mentioned above paid off recently with a new spot that featured “Back To Life” by Quantrelle.

The green carpet premiere was held earlier this week in San Francisco, just making it in under the wire given a number of other premieres and events have been canceled because of the current Covid-19 case surge in the U.S. At the premiere Wachowski talked about making the movie without her sister while the rest of the cast was just amazed the movie was made at all.

The Matrix Resurrections online ad

Another clip was released via IGN, this one showing the moment leading up to the scene in the earlier clip as Thomas is confronted for the first time by Bugs, agreeing to go with her to learn the truth of what’s seemed so unusual about his life.

Moss was interviewed again about how this movie is part of and was influenced by what had come before in her career and what’s come after her first outing as Trinity. She and Reeves then spoke more about the strength of their on-screen relationship and how that informs the story this time around.

overall

The initial reactions that came out after the premiere were mostly positive, calling out the “metatextual” nature of the story and how strong the stars are in returning to their roles. The full reviews published since then have been a bit more mixed, focusing on action sequences and other components that don’t quite live up to the promise of what was featured in the first movie and the two earlier sequels.

But the campaign itself has been *very* strong, mostly because it leans early and often on the personalities of Reeves and Moss. They may not be Bogart and Bacall, but it’s clear they have a deep friendship that helps them play off each other professionally and were both committed to only returning to this franchise if it rang true with what had come before.

It also benefits from more than a little self-awareness, with characters commenting on how expectations may be upended and things may turn out differently than anticipated. That’s a good way to set the stage for a sequel that seems to have a clear message, even if it’s not the message people might assume based on the earlier films.

Bill & Ted Face the Music – Marketing Recap

How Orion is selling the return of history’s most excellent duo.

There are only a handful of examples of truly iconic pop culture duos. On that list has to be Theodore “Ted” Logan and William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq., better known as Bill (Alex Winter and Ted (Keanu Reeves).

Nearly 30 years after their last adventure, the pair – collectively known as the Wyld Stallions – are back in Bill & Ted Face the Music. Now middle-aged, the two find themselves still not having fulfilled their destiny, writing a song that would unite the world and usher in a utopian era of everyone being excellent to each other. When they’re contacted by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the granddaughter of Rufus (the late George Carlin), and told the future is in jeopardy, they hop back in the time-traveling phone booth and try to set things back on track.

When problems develop with their own quest, help arrives in the form of Ted’s daughter Wilhelmina (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill’s daughter Theodora (Samara Weaving), who have their own destiny to fulfill. Along the way there’s the return of Death (William Sadler), who has a grudge against the families.

Generally positive reviews have given the movie an 82 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s been sold as a rocking good time for audiences who want some pure escapism without the burden of a massive Marvel-esque mythology and franchise history.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency Art Machine) came out this past February and really tells the audience – at least those who are familiar with such things – all they need to know by showing the time machine phone booth lit up as if it’s just landed. It’s simple but effective, using a key bit of iconography from the first movies to promise more is coming in a new installment.

A similar picture of the phone booth is used on the second poster, released in June. This time, though, Bill and Ted are shown from behind walking toward it.

Finally, the theatrical poster from July has the two, along with their daughters, facing the camera. Behind them the supporting characters are packed into the phone booth, promising audiences that a lot of others will be along for the ride.

The Trailers

The first trailer (16 million views on YouTube)came out in early June, introducing us to the fact that Bill and Ted are still rocking after all these years, though their popularity and influence aren’t what they once were. That means they’re failing in their goal to unite the world through music. To fix this, they decide to travel to the future and steal the song they *will* write, encountering various problems – including Death himself – along the way.

A second trailer(26.7 million views on YouTube) came out in late July that offered a much more complete look at the story, including how and why Bill and Ted are recruited to play their one song that will save the world, the problems they get into along the way and how their daughters are absolutely following in their footsteps. There are some great moments here that show the spirit of the originals is still intact, even if the title characters are a bit older, and that there’s a lot of comedy still to be had with them.

Online and Social

The takeover of the official website’s landing page shows a grid filled with options for VOD viewing along with a link to buy tickets to the movie’s limited theatrical bookings.

Close that and you have a fun site, with an interactive pay phone that lets you dial a couple numbers to hear a brief audio clip from either Bill and Ted or Death himself. Also on the page are links to find out more about the movie’s sponsored Snapchat filter, listen to the soundtrack, get a downloadable background and lots more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

After a long period of rumor and speculation, Reeves and Winter (kind of in character) announced the movie was officially happening in March of last year.

It may not have been part of the formal marketing campaign, but Bill – two versions, actually: one young and one old – appeared in a Walmart commercial that was part of a campaign from the retailer featuring vehicles and characters from many classic and recent sci-fi films.

A site was launched in April that encouraged fans to upload videos of themselves playing or air-playing along with select tracks, with the promise that some of them would wind up in the movie in some fashion.

Winter and Reeves made a video appearance in the graduation video for San Dimas High School.

A virtual panel for Comic-Con@Home, moderated by Kevin Smith and featuring Reeves, Winter and others, was announced in June. That panel wound up including Winter, Reeves and others from the cast and crew, all of whom shared a few details about the film and talked about how much they enjoyed returning to or entering the world of these characters.

The release date was pushed by two weeks so Paramount could avoid going head-to-head with Tenet, which Warner Bros. shifted the release date of in late June. A month later Orion announced the film would be released via premium VOD along with whatever theaters happen to be available instead of sticking to a traditional theatrical release pattern. The final release date came earlier in August.

A short featurette released at the beginning of August had the cast and crew talking about the chemistry between the leads. Another focused on the cast and how much fun they had on set.

Weezer released a video for “Beginning of The End,” that featured footage from the film and more.

TV advertising kicked off with spots that condensed the story down to its core attributes, showing people that Bill and Ted still have some adventure left in them. Those spots debuted at about the same time tickets went on sale, with bonus content available to those who pre-ordered the movie.

There was also a sponsored Snapchat lens.

The only promotional partner that was evident was Bazooka Bubble Gum, which offered a movie shirt and some gum as the prize for a sweepstakes.

Lionsgate put out a call in mid-August for people to join together to set a Guinness World Record for the most people air guitaring simultaneously. A compilation of some of the submissions received was put out earlier this week.

A 360-degree VR experience was released in late August that took people inside Bill and Ted’s world, from their garage rehearsal space to a trip through time in the phone booth.

The first clip came out around that same time showing Bill and Ted once more encountering Death, who is obsessed with simple games.

Reeves and Winter put out a “Thank You” video aimed at the fans who have spent decades longing for more time-traveling adventures.

Media and Publicity

The first still was released in December of last year showing adult Bill and Ted reuniting with an old friend, namely Death himself. A month or so later another photo, this time showing the leads with their daughters, came out.

Winter and Reeves were interviewed here about returning to these characters and their own friendship. That was just one of a series of articles and interviews with the two along with other stories that covered how the project finally turned from a dream into reality.

A series of technical-centric interviews came out in the last couple weeks that covered how the production design team worked to create the film’s look and feel, how the costume designers outfitted all the characters, how Steven Soderbergh played an integral role in making the sequel happen and how creator Ed Solomon approached getting back into the groove with these characters.

There were also additional interviews with Reeves and Winter about their return after so many years, including how music played a key role in creating a vibe on set, the process of getting the project approved and how the filmmakers assembled a band that would be suitably iconic.

That point was also touched on when the pair appeared on “The Late Show” to thank the fans for continuing to plead for a new installment.

Overall

This is just a fun campaign, one that seems like a much-needed antidote to the relatively dark times we seem to be living through at the moment. There are dozens of essays that could be written about the “Be excellent to each other” ethos espoused by the title characters, but it’s a message that comes through loud and clear in this campaign, which shows that two best friends supporting each other through thick and thin and following their passions can truly change the world.

Just a big, fun effort that works far more than it falters, especially in the moments where it lets the younger generation share equal screen time with the older one. Everything fans have loved about Bill & Ted for over 30 years is, based on this campaign, still there, and it’s nice that so much time has been devoted to acknowledging their commitment to making the film happen.

Picking Up The Spare

A couple of additional commercials came out playing up the return of the characters and their adventures. There was also a fun little video fo Death giving people a “Cribs” type look at his humble abode. 

MGM released a new short featurette on Reeves and Winter coming back to these roles after 30 years. 

New profiles appeared of musician Dave Grohl and how he wound up with a cameo in the film as well as of music supervisor Jonathan Leahy and actor Anthony Carrigan

The first few minutes of the movie were released online to help people get excited and decide to see it.

John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for John Wick 3: Parabellum at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website features more information than can be found even on the sites of movies with dozens of characters and mythology-steeped histories.

When you open the hamburger menu in the upper left the main page shows navigation to the standard content like “Story,” “Trailers,” “Posters” and a photo “Gallery,” all of which present exactly what you’d expect.

Media and Publicity

The first official still from the movie was released in EW’s 2019 preview issue. A bit later on Stahleski was interviewed about how Berry lobbied for a role in the movie even before a script was finished.

Reeves was the subject of an extensive profile in GQ that covered not only this movie but his whole career and other topics, allowing him to talk about any number of things and providing pop culture site writers lots of items to pick apart for dozens of individual stories. Dillon was interviewed about working with Reeves and becoming part of the John Wick universe.

Reeves did the media rounds talking about the movie, including what it was like to film an action sequence on a horse. Berry also talked more about her prep for the movie and the fun she had. Jason Mantzoukas showed up on TV as well.

Stahleski made it clear in an interview that this may not be the end for Wick as there’s still lots more he wants to do and potential for the character.

Overall

john wick 3 gif

Picking Up the Spare

David Griner at Adweek interviewed the artist who designed one of the movie’s better posters. 

One more featurette continued emphasizing how hard the cast trained for the physical demands of the movie. IMAX also released a Q&A with Stahelski and then a featurette with Reeves. 

Reeves and the rest of the cast offered their comments on the franchise and its unexpected success at the movie’s premiere. The star also explained exactly what the subtitle of the movie meant. 

That promotional deal with Fortnite, rumored about before, is finally official. 

How Berry worked to get to know the dogs she shared scenes with was covered in this interview. The actress also made headlines by going out of her way to engage with black journalists on the movie’s red carpet. 

The future of the character and franchise is covered and hinted at again by Stahelski. 

Lionsgate released footage from “The Continental Experience” setup in New York City. 

A key fight sequence that’s been mentioned as a highlight of the film got some press attention, as did the bit part played by Jason Mantzoukas, who was absent from the marketing save for a single character poster. 

Destination Wedding – Marketing Recap

Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves exhibit effortless charm in the marketing campaign for the romantic comedy Destination Wedding.

destination wedding posterUsually two people meeting on their way to a mutual event is a great setup for an unexpected romance. If that’s the case with Destination Wedding, the marketing is doing a great job of keeping the happy ending under wraps.

The movie stars Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves as Lindsay and Frank, respectively. Both are heading out on the same flight to a destination wedding for a mutual acquaintance, who also happens to be her ex. From the moment they meet in the airport and through the multi-day event, the two misanthropes get on each other’s nerves, bond over their shared dislike of staged formality and more.

The Posters

Reeves and Ryder are smiling on the first poster, something they don’t do a whole lot of in the trailer. Behind them is the lush vineyard they’re visiting for the wedding. The “Check your baggage” copy placed between them *might* have a double meaning here.

The Trailers

Frank and Lindsay have a little meet-cute moment at the airport as the trailer opens, but that’s ruined when their misanthropic tendencies come out and things get awkward. The faint hope that they will no longer have to see each other is quashed when they find themselves on the same flight to the same destination wedding for some mutual friends. Once there, though, they bond over their shared dislike of…well…everything as they endure all the activities and events leading up to the ceremony.

You can see how, assuming this follows the usual patterns, the story plays out but that doesn’t matter because it’s clear the journey with these two will be the biggest draw, not the originality of the story.

Online and Social

Not much on the bare-bones official website, just the trailer, a synopsis and plenty of opportunities to buy tickets. The upper right corner has links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen or been made aware of.

Media and Publicity

Reeves spoke occasionally about this movie while on the publicity circuit for other projects, talking about how much fun he and Ryder had reconnecting and working together again.

Of course the conversation wasn’t always just about this movie, as everyone picked up Ryder’s joke about how she and Reeves might have accidentally gotten married on the set of Dracula like it was a real news beat. That was part of a charming press tour where the two displayed their obvious affection for each other, something that’s apparently only deepened on professional and personal levels over the years.

Overall

Can Reeves and Ryder be in all the movies together? Because come on, they have a chemistry that elevates the material well above where it otherwise would be. That’s not surprising given this is their fourth on-screen collaboration and know how to work together to elevate what might otherwise be standard, uninspiring material.

How good the trailer in particular looks (the rest of the campaign is ho-hum) it’s also a testament to how funny these two are. Reeves isn’t – at least not lately – seen as a comedic actor but some of his line readings and movements in the trailer make it clear he has decent chops. Ryder has always been funny and continues to be, so that’s expected. Basically the sales pitch for the movie is to come see these two old friends and professional actors play off one another to the audience’s enjoyment.

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