the batman – marketing recap

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

The Batman movie poster
The Batman movie poster

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

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

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

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

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

announcement and casting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the marketing begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dc fandome 2020 – the marketing begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

spinoffs and other interim publicity

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

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

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

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

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

the marketing returns: dc fandome 2021 and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the marketing forever: into 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

overall

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Bomb Marvel GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

“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.

Season 5 Fox GIF by Gotham - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.