HBO Max’s Gotham Show Needs to Avoid the SHIELD Potholes

Wait, is this one actually about Batman or nah?

When news broke last week that HBO Max would be producing a new series focused on the Gotham City Police Department and set in the same universe as Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman, it immediately set off a few skepticism triggers.

Most notably, it seemed very similar in concept to “Agents of SHIELD,” which debuted in 2013 and is in the midst of its final season. Like the proposed Gotham PD show, the pitch sets up a show that exists alongside the movie, exploring more of what life is like for the police officers and detectives who operate in the same city as a bat-themed vigilante. Similarly, “SHIELD” offered audiences the chance to follow along with the missions of the spy agency that occasionally assisted the super heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When “SHIELD” was being promoted and through its first couple seasons, the connective material between the series and the movies was plain to see. Not only did it feature the return of MCU’s favorite supporting character Phil Coulson but several stories followed plot elements initially set up on The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark WorldI and others. As the series went on, though, it seemed to take fewer cues from the MCU, in part because it seemed to get hard to plan a TV show around the big events depicted on the big screen. Some connections remained, but the final separation seems to have occurred when the show had to largely ignore the events of Avengers: Infinity War and the Thanos snap that wiped out half of life in the universe.

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“SHIELD,” as an ongoing TV series, was telling a serialized story. The problem emerged from the fact that the MCU films were *also* telling a serialized story. And it’s hard to keep two simultaneous ongoing narratives going when they are intended to be complementary. Just ask anyone in the comics industry, where creators have to make sure they’re not using a character in Book A that is in the middle of a totally different thing in Book B, or that crossovers feature accurate versions of the characters as they exist at the moment. They can feed into each other every now and again, but more often than not it can be jarring for the reader when the Iron Man who shows up in an Avengers book is drastically different than the one seen in his solo title because two different writers are telling two different stories.

It’s hard to imagine the Gotham PD show won’t run into the same problems. It may start out with the best of intentions and some solid plans to keep the story flowing in both directions, with the promise of appearances by Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon and the like, but it’s going to be hard to maintain. Actors will come and go, producers will realize that the story arc for a character doesn’t get her where she needs to be for the next film’s planned events. Or the monumental events of a movie will be nie impossible for the smaller scale show to accurately deal with.

Again, “SHIELD” provides an instructive lesson here. Almost as soon as the show left the gate, the very premise was blown up because of what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While it successfully kept going, that development cut out an important piece of the series’ foundation, and a lot of time was spent explaining those ripple effects and establishing a new footing for the characters.

There’s a lot of great potential in a Gotham PD show. That was clear in “Gotham,” which started off a bit unsure of itself but found its groove when the creators leaned into the insanity of the rogue’s gallery of villains populating the city. They told some big stories very well, but they also didn’t have the burden of trying to tie into anything else. Heck they didn’t even have to worry about Batman himself, who didn’t appear until the last moments of the show. A more straightforward police procedural could be just as interesting, but like “SHIELD” it will have to come up with one reason after another why the police are dealing with the problems they have and aren’t calling in the help of their local vigilante.

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In a best case scenario, the show becomes a hit on its own and a powerful part of the brand identity and marketing machine of the films. Consider me interested enough to see how this turns out

War For The Planet of the Apes – Marketing Recap

The conflict that’s been building over the course of two previous movies comes to a head in this week’s War For The Planet Of The Apes. Up to now the story has followed the rise of the apes thanks to a virus that made them more intelligent but which killed vast swaths of the human population. Humans have fought for their survival before but now the final battle for possession of the planet is coming.

Caesar (motion-captured by Andy Serkis) is still leading the ape population, wanting peace with the human survivors but also ready for the war many, both ape and human, seem to want. The humans for their part have rallied an army around the charismatic Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a ruthless leader who will accept nothing less than the complete elimination of the apes. Will peace prevail or will it all end in bloodshed? That’s the core question that drives the story.

The Posters

The first poster shows just how far the series and its characters have come over the years. It shows Caesar, a deadly serious expression on his face and a rifle slung across his back, riding a horse through the snow. “WAR” is the only copy on the one-sheet outside of the release date.

A second poster shows Caesar staring at the camera in a pose we know from a recent trailer is him riding horseback. Just behind him, looking out over his shoulder, is the young girl we saw in that trailer. The copy tells us this is “For freedom. For family. For the planet.” which tells us exactly what the stakes are in this final chapter of the trilogy. Another just shows Nova, the girl, in a colorful field, an ape’s hand putting a small flower in her hair. That’s designed to show that humans and apes can live together, a contrast to the attitude shown through much of the rest of the campaign.

The next poster is solely about the conflict between the two armies. We see the backs of the heads of the human soldiers, many of whom are touting their ape killing attitude or experience on the helmets that are visible here, a few ape collaborators mixed in as well. The ape army is approaching them on foot and climbing over the ramparts, a few emissaries out in front to, it’s assumed, try to broker peace.

A final poster used the same image of Caesar on horseback from the first “WAR” poster, but adds Nova peeking out from in back of him. The copy on this one makes it clear the story is wrapping up in dramatic fashion by prompting the audience to “Witness the end.”

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with two apes riding along the beach, a human girl on one of their backs. Caesar narrates that he didn’t want, nor did he start, the war with the humans. Various scenes of fighting are followed by a shot of The Colonel overusing his troops and it’s clear he’s the primary adversary for the apes in this story. The two armies go up against each other in a number of ways as he takes over the narration, intoning that if the humans don’t win this fight, it will be a planet of apes.

Not bad. The stakes of the story are laid out pretty clearly here, primarily the conflict between the apes and the last of humanity, now heavily militarized. There’s surely lots more story in the movie itself but this gets the general premise – that it’s time for the final showdown – pretty clear.

A second trailer starts with new footage but narration from the first movies to show how far things have come. Caesar confronts a group of captured soldier before we see some of the other gorillas and then the human army that’s going to make one last attack to save their world. It’s clear a confrontation for survival is in the offing and the action ramps up from there that has both broad and personal stakes.

The final trailer starts with apes breaking into a human home, guns drawn. They take a child they find there, more out of mercy than to take a hostage. We quickly see that the conflict between men and apes is reaching its conclusion, with collaborators and sympathizers for the enemy on both sides. Apes don’t want to fight but the men do and won’t stop until everyone else is dead.

While there are some elements of a philosophical story here about the right and wrong use of violence it’s very clearly being sold as a straightforward action movie in this trailer. It’s all about the explosions and the gunplay and the big, macho speeches being given.

One more trailer acts as a “Previously on…” recap of the previous two movies and the events that have lead to all-out war.

Online and Social

The official website gets the standard Fox template, with a banner at the top that uses a cropped version of the key art of Caesar and Nova. There are prompts just below that banner to watch the trailer, connect with the movie on Facebook or Twitter and to get tickets.

Scroll down and you’re greeted with “Videos” which is where you can watch all the trailers, some featurettes and other clips. The “About” section has a synopsis that sets up the mounting conflict and lists the cast and primary crew.

The “Featured Content” section has a few interesting links. First, there’s a prompt to buy tickets to a special triple feature select theaters hosted this past Wednesday that included all three of the current Apes movies. Next is a link to buy the new Funko POP! figures based on characters from this movie. Finally, there’s a link to the Planet of the Apes hub that will tell you everything you need to know about the franchise, be it on film, in comics or elsewhere.

There are a half-dozen stills in the “Gallery” you can download. “Partners” lists the few companies that have signed on as promotional partners.

The site finishes up with a call to action to sign up for email updates about Fox movies and a gallery of embedded updates from the movie’s social media accounts, including Instagram.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this took on the same tone as the final trailer, with a little bit of hot take-esque philosophy and ethics wrapped up in an action movie that pits apes against humans. More commercials would follow that took varying approaches, selling it as a very small-scale story of compassion or a very large-scale story of all-out warfare.

Promotional partner companies for the movie included:

  • The Jane Goodall Institute, with which Fox partnered to help in that organization’s chimpanzee rescue and refuge programs. A TV spot accompanied that effort.
  • Chase Pay, which offered a buy-one-get-one deal when you purchased tickets through Atom Tickets, the service that encourages group movie outings.
  • T-Mobile, which also worked with Atom Tickets to give its customers $4 tickets for opening weekend.
  • Red Robin, which offered a free movie ticket when you purchased a $25 movie-branded gift card.
  • FYE, though details aren’t readily available. Presumably, the retailer had movie merchandise it was promoting.

Online ads, as well as outdoor billboards and other signage, used the key art of Caesar’s face in close-up while social advertising helped promote the trailers as they were released.

Media and Publicity

One of the first bits of publicity came when the studio launched a contest to give a lucky winner a walk-on role, with the caveat being that they would become an ape and therefore not have their face seen on-screen. Quite a while later the first story details came out at the same time the studio announced the movie would have a significant presence at the upcoming New York Comic-Con, with a “digital billboard” appearing just before that to set the stage for further announcements. That presence also included a panel where the cast and crew talked about the movie, what they have in mind for the future and more.

Further stills and other information trickled out over time, including the fact that the young girl seen in the trailer shares a name with a character from the classic series. Later on, Reeves would talk about what films and styles he was trying to ape (sorry) to create the look, feel and tone of this entry.

As with many recent major releases from this and other studios, Fox announced a virtual reality experience tied to the movie.

Once more Serkis’ motion-capture work for Caesar spurred conversation about what exactly constitutes an awards-worthy performance, and rightfully so. That feature also talked about his career as a whole and the work he does for the motion-capture field as a whole, which is substantive.

Members of the cast also made the talk show rounds in the weeks leading up to release. Harrelson did his share of that, though too often the conversation wound up being less about this movie than his role in the upcoming Han Solo movie that’s had some notable upset recently.

Overall

The primary message of the campaign here is that all-out war has finally come to the conflict between man and ape. The disease has taken its toll, the vaccine has made apes incredibly intelligent and the two alpha races are going to play one final game for control of the world. That’s hammered home time and again in the trailers and TV spots as well as through much of the poster component.

There’s also a strong element of compassion, though. Much of that revolves around the girl Nova and the way she’s found and eventually protected by some of the apes. While it’s a small part of the campaign it seems like the kind of thing that could play an outsized role in the movie itself.

Mostly, though, Fox wants audiences to turn out to see the final chapter, and that’s very much how it’s being sold. It all ends here, we’re told in various ways and in various components of the campaign, so if you’ve enjoyed the lead up to this you won’t want to miss the conclusion. Let’s see if that’s enough to catapult it over Spider-Man: Homecoming’s second week.