thor: love and thunder – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios is selling the next thunderous series installment

Thor Love and Thunder poster from Marvel Studios
Thor Love and Thunder poster from Marvel Studios

After making a big splash with the funny, creative and off-kilter Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this week’s Thor: Love and Thunder.

Chris Hemsworth once again stars as Thor, the God of Thunder. After losing his hammer Mjolnir in the last film and going through lots of trials fighting Thanos in the Infinity War/Endgame duology, Thor is wandering around with the Guardians of the Galaxy before being summoned back to New Asgard, now established on Earth. The realm is being targeted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who is seeking revenge on all deities for the loss of his family. To stop him he’s aided by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and, to his surprise, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who now wields Mjolnir under the guise of The Mighty Thor.

So there’s a lot going on there, not least of which is the return of Portman to the franchise after taking the third movie (and most of the team movies and crossovers) off for various reasons. And of course this comes out as the sixth film in “Phase Four” of the MCU, though the fact there have also been a half-dozen Disney+ series means this phase is rather over-stuffed, especially since there are several more movies and series planned.

But before all that happens, let’s take a look at how Marvel and Disney have presented this one to the public.

announcement and casting

Marvel Studios’ presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 acted as the first big publicity pop for the movie. While Waititi had been announced as the returning director a week or so prior – news that came at the same time his work on Akira for Warner Bros. was said to be paused – it was at SDCC that Marvel revealed the title as well as that Portman would not only be returning but taking up Mjolnir in the story. Thompson hinted and the Kevin Fiege confirmed that Valkyrie would indeed be portrayed as LGBTQ in the film, satisfying speculation begun when Ragnorak came out.

Waititi commented on how things were progressing with pre-production and what kinds of stories he had in mind while promoting JoJo Rabbit in late 2019. That included adding to speculation the story could include the arc from the comics that had Jane Foster dealing with breast cancer, something Portman also weighed in on. Just how flexible the story was and how the final version may or may not pull points from the source material was emphasized by Waititi in a valiant attempt to manage fan expectations.

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the writer/director of Someone Great, was brought on to help with the script in February of 2020. Several months later in November there were reports that Chris Pratt had signed on to appear in the film.

Some new details about the movie were dropped by Waititi and Ruffalo in April when they offered Covid-19 shut-ins streaming commentary of Ragnarok. A few months later Portman commented on the workout routine she was getting ready for, her anticipation at working with Waititi and living in Australia during production. Thompson made similar comments when she appeared on “Kimmel” in January 2021 while Dennings spoke about preparing for the shoot while promoting her appearance on “WandaVision.”

Bale’s casting was revealed during Disney’s December 2020 investors presentation. Crowe then broke the secret of his casting as Zeus in April 2021.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

Hemsworth shared a muscular pic in early June to mark the end of primary filming.

Gillan spoke briefly about the movie during the Gunpowder Milkshake publicity cycle. An interview with Waititi had him promising an absolutely insane story that audiences wouldn’t believe, continuing to speak about the movie during other stops.

Later in 2021 Thompson kept teasing the movie during her press appearances for Passing.

Giacchino was brought on to provide the movie’s score.

the marketing campaign

As more time passed there was more anxiety over when exactly the first trailer and other marketing materials would finally appear.

Those anxieties were quenched in mid-April with the release of the first trailer and poster. In fact, Marvel Studios seemed to snap back a bit at that hand-wringing, writing simply “Here it is” when the trailer was shared on Twitter and elsewhere.

That teaser starts off with shots of Thor in younger years – and sporting a very Kirby-esque costume as a teenager – running through the forest before showing he’s focused on peace at the moment as we hear about how his days as a super hero are over. After some scenes with the Guardians and shots of Valkyrie in New Asgard, it ends with a reconstructed Mjölnir flying into the hand of a now costumed Jane Foster.

The trailer also generated tons of backlash directed at Disney, largely because of one shot that was pulled directly from a comics panel while the studio has a track record of not paying comics artists or writers whose work is adapted for film or series. This seemed particularly egregious, with the panel in question essentially serving as a storyboard for the film shot.

Despite that criticism, the trailer accumulated 209 million views in the first 24 hours after release.

Just before the teaser was released, Marvel Comics put out a video explaining the backstory of Jane Foster and her relationship with Thor leading up to her assuming the title.

Waitit was interviewed about the movie and focused on how he wasn’t going to bring Portman back into the fold and not give her something to do.

The full trailer then came out in late May, debuting during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. It opens with Korg narrating Thor’s story to a bunch of kids. But the story of Thor’s redemption hits a snag with Jane taking on the mantle, leading to an awkward reunion between the former flames. We then meet God Butcher, who will provide both heroes – all three, counting Valkyrie – with a bad guy to fight. The Guardians make a brief appearance before a scene with Zeus offers Jane and Valkyrie a moment of bonding.

Both Thors are featured on the poster released at that time with Valkyrie, God Butcher and Korg assembled around them as New Asgard provides the backdrop.

TV spots began running in early June in advance of tickets going on sale showing more of the story along with the humor and the group of heroes Thor assembles. The cast introduces some of what the audience can expect in a video announcing tickets are available now.

Character posters released at this time included one for Dude Thor and the goats that are seen in the trailers and which seem to be a major focus of everything because…they’re goats.

Those were followed by exhibitor-exclusive posters for RealD 3D (showing the company’s logo tattooed on Dude Thor’s muscled arm), Dolby Cinemas (showing the rest of the heroes springing into action while Dude Thor meditates in the center), ScreenXUSA (showing the heroes in a very neon lighting situation) and IMAX (showing the characters in kind of a dime store novel arrangement).

An extended spot showed a bit of new footage framed mostly around an inspirational speech Thor is giving to the citizens of New Asgard.

A Variety cover story on Portman had her talking about the process behind getting so physically bulked up for her role, the production challenges of making her appear a foot taller than she actually is and overall what it was like coming back to the series.

Thompson and Waititi both made late night talk show appearances to promote the film and, in the case of the latter, promise that yes, you get to see a *lot* of Hemsworth.

An interview with Hemsworth included him appearing to be open to returning to the role in future films.

Another extended spot focuses less on the threat the heroes face and more on the team Thor has assembled to take it on.

The cast and crew, as well as others from the MCU orbit, turned out for the red carpet premiere of the movie a couple weeks ago. While there they all commented on what audiences could expect while throwing quite a bit of praise at Waititi for his creative, loose energy on set.

Right after that Portman appeared on “Kimmel” to talk more about returning to the character of Jane Foster as well as debuting a new clip from the film.

A featurette delves into the history of Thor in the cinematic realm, going all the way back to Hemsworth being cast in the first film and tracking through the various sequels, Avengers movies and more.

Waititi and Hemsworth were on hand at the movie’s Australian premiere. Around that same time a profile of the director covered how he became connected with Thor in the first place, how he’s tried to bring his own sensibilities to the films and what other projects he’s currently involved in.

As release approached there were more and more TV commercials like this that covered various angles on the story, from the humor to the action and more. A longer commercial emphasized how this is the culmination of Thor’s journey to date.

More of the cast appeared on “Kimmel” to engage in various hijinks and promote the movie.

The creativity of Waititi was covered in another featurette that had the cast once more lavishing him with praise for the energy and style he brings to the production. The cast then shows up in a video where they uncover some of the toys and figures that are on store shelves now.

AMC Theaters had exclusive videos with the cast. Dolby shared an exclusive featurette with Waititi talking about the technical aspects of production.

Marvel brought some of the costumes from the movie to a display at Essence Fest in New Orleans at the beginning of July.

A joint interview with Thompson and Waititi had the two talking about Valkyrie’s journey in the two movies she’s been in and whether the character finds love in this new one.

One more premiere event happened in London just days before release.

overall

The narrative of the box office recovery should continue given the movie is projected to enjoy an opening weekend of around $150 million.

That speaks to the effectiveness of the campaign recapped above as well as to the continued desire among the audience for more sequels, franchises and so on.

But the most interesting part of the marketing push here is the focus, especially in the last few weeks, on making sure to show Waititi as much love as possible. Featurettes, commercials, feature profiles and more all have people talking about how amazing he is to work with and so on.

With all that in mind, the audience is being promised a funny, adventure-filled time at the theater, with the main message being that this is a continuation of the style found in Thor: Ragnarok, but with the addition of Portman returning to actually be part of the story this time.

Natalie Portman Disney GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh…and a couple of huge goats. Can’t forget about them.

lightyear – marketing recap

You…are…a…prequel? Sequel? Something different?

Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar
Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar

DisneyPixar get extraordinarily meta with this week’s new film Lightyear, coming exclusively to theaters. The movie stars Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, who…well, this is where it gets a little tricky.

This Buzz is the real life astronaut who inspired the action figure audiences first met in 195’s Toy Story. The story takes place about 10 years before the events of that film and follows Buzz as he and other astronauts seek to escape the alien planet they’ve been marooned on and find their way back to Earth. That crew includes Uzo Aduba as Alisha Hawthorne and later, after a bit of wibbly-wobbly space-time craziness, Keke Palmer as Alisha’s grandaughter Izzy. Taika Waititi voices Mo Morrison and Dale Soules voices Darby Steel, both fellow recruits working with Buzz. James Brolin voices the real Emperor Zurg.

Put another way, this is the live action movie released within the Toy Story universe that told Buzz’s story, a movie that then was turned into a line of toys etc.

The movie is directed by Angus MacLure, who cowrote the script with Jason Headley. With all that established, let’s take a look at how the campaign was run.

announcements and casting

The movie was one of several announced by Disney during its December 2020 investors presentation, but had been in the works for a few years already after MacLure expressed interest in telling a more definitive story of Buzz’s origins than had been shared in a 2000 direct-to-video movie.

That announcement included news of Evans being cast as the voice of Buzz. Waititi joined a year later, with Brolin, Efren Ramirez and Isiah Whitlock Jr. reported to also be cast in early 2022.

the marketing campaign phase one: to infinity…

Things started off in October, 2021, with the release of a teaser poster that doesn’t show much beyond the familiar space suit of the titular astronaut.

The first teaser trailer (14m YouTube views) was also released at that time. It doesn’t explain a whole lot but does tease a great deal, showing Lightyear taking off on a mission, flying his ship through various locations and ultimately seeing what would become his well-known suit at the very end.

It wasn’t until February that the full trailer (18.8m YouTube views) came out. This one explains how Buzz is taking off on a mission after he and others have spent a long time marooned on a distant planet. From there on we see the kinds of dangers he’ll encounter as he comes across an army of killer robots and other threats, all while accompanied by Socks, his robotic cat companion.

Another poster came out at the same time, this one showing Buzz striding purposefully across a tarmac where we see all manner of ships parked, presumably ready for action.

In March the movie came to the center of a controversy that was rocking Disney at the time, namely the issue of LGBTQ+ representation and related matters. As Pixar employees were planning a walkout over the company’s failure to denounce (and even support) Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, the studio took a small step in the right direction by restoring a same-sex kiss between Hawthorne and her partner that had previously been cut.

The movie was among those touted by Disney during their CinemaCon presentation in April of this year, with attendees getting a look at 30 minutes of footage that included the queer sub-plot that had caused so much controversy.

Another trailer (17.1m YouTube views) came out around that same time. It starts with Buzz testing a rocket launch after he and his team have been marooned on a planet for a year. But when he returns after what feels like a short flight he finds he’s been gone for 62 years. New threats have emerged on the planet and it’s up to him to lead an inexperienced team to defeat the bad guys and finally make it back to Earth.

The poster this time around has Buzz staring out into space.

Disney released a video right after that of Evans, Palmer and Waititi reacting to the trailer.

At the beginning of May a “special look” came out that seemed like another trailer but at the very least added some more context to the story that had been shared to date.

Another new poster added Zurg and some of those helping Buzz, including Sox, to the mix, the base the heroes operate from shown in the foreground. That same team is shown on a second one-sheet from mid-May, this time running into action.

Blue Apron introduced movie-themed meal kits at this point to attract parents of kids who may be interested in the film and want to have a meal inspired by it.

the marketing campaign phase two: go sox

TV spots began running in early June with commercials that focused on the heroic space adventures, the fuzzy cuteness of Sox and more.

Of course the first clip from the film was one showing Buzz unboxing Sox for the first time. Another, this one exclusively given to Fandango, has Buzz and his ad hoc team being briefed on their mission.

All this (and more) was part of a shift in focus by the campaign away from the core story and onto the characters, especially Sox. That was seen in some of the clips and other assets that made sure audiences knew that not only was Sox unbelievably adorable but that there was a diverse and interesting team supporting the title character on his adventures.

The main three stars then were featured unboxing some of the toys people can buy.

While the movie was being released theatrically, Disney+ got a documentary on the history of the character and how he was developed for the first Toy Story movies. There was also a featurette with MacLure, Evans and others talking about the origins of the story, including looks at the voice recording and introductions to the rest of Buzz’s team.

An exclusive poster from RealD 3D shows Buzz taking on Zurg.

Evans appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the film and what it was like to add his own take to a well-known character, something he also spoke about a few days earlier at the movie’s premiere. He also weighed in on the same-sex kiss conversation while attending the Annecy Film Festival where the premiere was happening.

The next featurette shows the cast praising Evans’ performance as Buzz, something that was well-timed since this was about when various parties started calling out Disney for not casting Tim Allen in the film, the presumption being that his more conservative politics were no longer welcome at Woke Disney. Another offers a better introduction to the supporting characters by the actors who voice them.

overall

There are two stories being sold here:

First is the story of the movie itself, which given no other information is communicated to the audience as the story of the real Buzz Lightyear and how he gained a reputation as a legendary Space Ranger beloved by the masses.

Second is the backstory/context that’s been explained by MacLure and others to make sure nerds understand where this story fits in with the adventures of Toy Buzz after Andy unwraps him as a birthday present.

That second one isn’t found in the campaign proper but has been covered extensively in various interviews with the director and others, but it seems to be completely unnecessary to understand and enjoy the film itself, so only go as deep into those waters as you feel comfortable.

What’s on display here is good enough and will likely be more attractive to those with young kids who are looking for something to do with those kids now that summer vacation is fully underway. The mixed reviews that have given the movie an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes probably won’t dissuade them, especially if they themselves have fond memories of seeing Toy Story in theaters, contributing to what’s expected to be an opening weekend box-office take of $100 million, give or take.

free guy – marketing recap

how Fox Disney has sold an action-comedy about life inside a video game

Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer star in this week’s Free Guy, directed by Shawn Levy. Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (non-playable character, i.e. background cannon fodder) in an open-world video game created by Antwan (Taika Waititi). When two of Antwan’s developers insert new code into the game, Guy becomes self-aware, realizing he lives in a video game. Millie (Comer), one of those developers, uses her avatar to explore the game and help Guy save the game before Antwan, who doesn’t care for the updates or the attention Guy’s self-directed actions has attracted.

The movie, which has a solid 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was one of the last developed by 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by Disney a couple years ago. It finally hits theaters this week after a number of delays and a marketing campaign that has acknowledged those delays with winking humor.

announcement and casting

The movie had been in various stages of development at Fox for a few years, with Levy and Reynolds signing on in 2018/19, finally moving things forward. Comer joined in 2019, leading to production getting fully underway.

comic-con and the first marketing attempts

As the movie had its official coming out with a well-received panel at New York Comic-Con in October, Fox released a “Meet the Cast” video that had everyone talking about how excited they were to work with the others. It included Reynolds and Waititi claiming they have never worked together before, while Comer and Keery try to correct the record, a nice bit of fun that’s in line with the public personas of both actors.

Unfinished footage from the film was also shown off to NYCC attendees, while a sizzle reel of the panel and press activities from the convention was released shortly after it ended.

Guy takes on a traditional super hero pose on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), standing with his shirt opened to show what’s underneath, which in this case is just another shirt and tie. It’s meant to communicate his ordinary nature, that he’s not a hero and doesn’t have hidden abilities and thanks to Reynolds’ expression that comes off as genuine.

Reynolds and others traveled to Brazil in December to appear at CCXP, where they showed off the trailer and other footage while working to get the audience there excited for the film.

December 2019’s first trailer (14.4m views on YouTube) starts off very dramatically, identifying the film as coming from the same studio that brought audiences Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King (twice) before showing someone skydiving into an epic action sequence. It’s then that we meet Guy, a normal guy who takes all the violence and chaos around him in stride until he starts wondering if there’s more to life than constantly being held up at the bank where he works and being shot at all the time. Putting on a pair of glasses shows him the reality of the world around him and leads him to the realization he’s in a video game, but has the freedom to be the hero his world needs.

There’s more going on the second poster, released in December, as we see Guy strolling blindly down a city street that’s filled with the chaos of bombs being dropped, cars exploding and more. It conveys nicely the idea that he’s a character incapable of recognizing, much less impacting the events happening around him.

Another entry in the self-deprecating part of the campaign came in January with a video of Reynolds and Comer talking about the craft of acting, with Reynolds increasingly frustrated by how Comer is consistently referred to in the context of the awards she’s won.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

delays, delays and more delays

Originally scheduled for summer of 2020, it was among the titles Disney delayed in a big announcement last April as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere was becoming clear.

When that announcement was made, Reynolds and others took it upon themselves to release an unfinished, watermarked clip of Guy in his apartment watching the news, all of which is horrible. The clip was meant to be both relatable given reality at the moment and to just keep the movie in everyone’s mind and includes the new date followed by a 🤞, which is a nice touch.

While there was a Total Film feature story on the film that included comments from Levy, Comer and Reynolds and a steady stream of new photos and other minor updates, things were quiet until October of last year.

That’s when the second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out, teased ahead of time in a video with the cast covering their bases by throwing out a number of potential release dates. It differs from the first trailer in a couple areas. First, it frames Guy’s epiphany that he and everyone he knows is living in a video game as a result of his crush on Milly. Second, it shows the chaos a free-range Guy has within the game and how it affects the real world, especially on the company that makes the game.

That second trailer gained more headlines for racking up over 55 million views in the first 24 hours following its release.

Another poster, this one showing Guy standing on a rooftop above the chaos of the city, came out at the same time.

At that point Disney was aiming for a mid-December release date, hopeful the pandemic would be receding into the background by then. The studio’s optimism was short-lived, though, and in November the movie was taken off the 2020 release calendar, with no new date announced until a month later.

ok for real this time

Fast forward to March 2021, when another video came out with Reynolds announcing a new (and eventually final) release date, though still in a way that played into the ridiculousness that had come before.

In May Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run.

There’s a bit more of the non-video game world that is impacting Guy’s existence in the next trailer (4.8m views on YouTube, released in early June. Other than that it hits many of the same beats as previous spots.

The whole cast shows up in a very typical action ensemble design on the poster released at that time. Differentiating it from something like an MCU entry is the upbeat and naive look on Guy’s face as he stands over everyone in the hero spot.

An interview with Comer in June had her talking about entering the world of action movies, working with Reynolds and more.

Lil Rey Howery, who plays Guy’s best friend in the game world, appeared at Essence Fest to promote the movie.

News came in late June that the movie would screen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.

In mid-July Reynolds released a video that has Deadpool and Korg from the MCU reacting to the latest trailer. The mashup makes sense given Disney and Fox are now a single entity and that the movie stars both Reynolds and Waititi, who plays Korg.

Traditional 30-second spots began airing in mid-July that recapped the story and its visuals. Longer commercials obviously had more room to breathe but stuck to the same basic message.

Later spots expanded on what had come before while also pulling primarily from footage the audience has already seen. Of note, it was being positioned as the movie event of the summer, which may be a bit hyperbolic but what else are you going to do…

The first clip shows Guy and Millie pulling off a big fight in a nightclub. That clip really shows off the interplay between the two leads as well as the basic level of humor audiences can expect. Another has Guy being confronted by the police for breaking many of the game’s rules.

All the main characters got posters of their own (by marketing agency BLT Communications).

Guy and Millie have a meet cute over a Mariah Carey song in another clip. How important that song is to the movie and its story (it’s featured in nearly all the trailers and TV spots) was shared by Reynolds in an interview at the movie’s premiere.

Just how much Waititi riffed while on set was covered in a short featurette that had Levy, Comer and others praising his performance.

the comer and reynolds show

While it had been part of the campaign since the very beginning, the last few weeks featured a focus on Comer and Reynolds’ chemistry with a series of videos that had them playing off each other, often at Reynolds’ expense.

First, the two appeared in a promo video debating whether or not this qualified as a “date movie” especially in light of the social distancing of the last year and a half.

They then squared off in a test of their Canadian knowledge, the joke being that Comer is British.

These were fun largely because this is Reynolds’ brand in particular. For the last several years he’s consistently broken the fourth wall in his movie campaigns, so this makes a lot of sense and delivers what audiences have come to expect when he has a new movie coming out.

Individual videos had Comer and then Reynolds introducing their respective characters and having some fun with international translations of the movie’s title.

wrapping up the campaign

In early August Reynolds shared a video that had him showing off the massively bulked up physique he achieved in just a week, one that means he can no longer fit into the Deadpool suit but which allows him to appear as Dude in the movie.

A TV spot released just after that video came out showed off Dude and how he’s used by the game’s designers to try and reign in Guy.

Dolby and IMAX posters offered slightly different takes on what had come before, but they both still communicate how Guy is the lone calm in the center of endless chaos.

The movie’s premiere was held in Los Angeles last week, with Reynolds, Comer, Levy and others in attendance. At that premiere the cast and crew spoke about the unique approach they took to construct the world of the movie and more.

Comer made an appearance at the London premiere event as well.

Levy was the subject of a much-shared profile that dove into how he’s one of the most successful and hard-working comedy directors in Hollywood but has at the same time flown largely under the radar in terms of outsized press and attention. Many of the cast and crew praise Levy and his work ethic in that piece.

Overall

There have been so many campaigns over the last few months that have tried to be the end-all-be-all in jumpstarting theatrical moviegoing. Some have been more effective than others depending on where in the latest sub-cycle of the Covid-19 pandemic we are and what the audience’s appetite for breaking out of their new view-from-home norm might be.

The Free Guy campaign doesn’t make that kind of statement as explicit as the push for, say F9, but it’s still there lurking beneath the surface.

What may set this apart from what’s come before is that most of those earlier releases have been either thrillers or franchise action films while this one is clearly a comedy. That’s a different kind of communicable experience than just watching super heroes beat up bad guys or cars be pulled around by giant magnets. The campaign has played into that with its frequent tweaking of Reynolds’ and the focus on Waititi’s improv antics.

While the $15-18 million that’s predicted for the film’s opening weekend box-office may not be all that impressive compared to some other recent movies, it may actually represent a much more accurate look at how people are feeling about theaters since this one isn’t available for streaming simultaneously.

JoJo Rabbit – Marketing Recap

Director Taika Waititi returns with a satire set in the past that’s still very much about the present.

jojo rabbit poster 2Waititi takes a break from interstellar super hero adventures to bring audiences another biting comedy. JoJo Rabbit is set in World War II Germany, home of young JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). JoJo is a member of the Hitler Youth, but his heart isn’t really in it and his sensitive nature leads to him being picked on by the other boys.

To compensate for that, JoJo creates an imaginary friend, one that gives him advice and helps him deal with all the emotions he’s feeling. It just so happens that imaginary friend is a version of Hitler himself (Waititi). Things get even more complicated for him when he discovers his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

Fox Searchlight has given the movie, which is admittedly unconventional in its story and subject matter, one of the more memorable and entertaining campaigns of the year, one that’s true to Waititi’s brand. The movie is only opening in select theaters this week.

The Posters

jojo rabbit posterThe movie’s irreverent attitude is on display on the first poster, released in late July. The title is presented in big letters within a massive hand making what could be bunny ears, a peace sign, or both. The impressive cast list’s names are dropped in the blank space outside of that hand.

In August the second poster came out. This one arranges photos of the primary characters around JoJo, Hitler in the background giving the young boy rabbit ears to convey some sense of humor and have some fun with the title.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer (2.3 million views on YouTube) was released in late July, at the same time it was announced the movie would screen at Toronto. It doesn’t offer many hints to the story, but does include plenty of scenes showing Waititi’s absurdist take on World War II Germany. At the very end we see the director himself as Hitler trying to raise the spirits of young JoJo, who’s being picked on by his classmates.

September brought the second trailer (10.8 million views on YouTube), released just as the film was enjoying its festival screenings. It’s wonderfully delightful in how it shows JoJo to be a product of his time, albeit an apparently reluctant one. He’s shown as being conflicted about his involvement in various Hitler Youth activities, even as he has his imaginary friend there helping him along. When he discovers his mother has been hiding Elsa in the attic of their house things get even more complicated as he has a face to put to all the propaganda, one that doesn’t seem threatening or dangerous.

There are two moments worth calling out in particular:

First, Elsa repudiation of JoJo – “You’re not a Nazi, JoJo. You’re a 10 year old kid who likes dressing up in a uniform and wants to be part of a club.” – seems like a direct comment on the kind of militia cosplayers frequently seen in today’s world on the outskirts of social protests and other events. These men aren’t actually part of the military but enjoy putting on similar uniforms and sporting similar weaponry, finding common cause in intimidating the women and people of color they feel threatened by.

Two, Hitler’s backwards leg kick as he walks away from JoJo toward the end of the trailer would appear to be Waititi providing a subtle physical reference to a previous comedic incarnation of the dictator. Namely, it’s very similar to how Charlie Chaplin kicks the globe around the room during a key sequence of The Great Dictator. The movement is so clear and similar it can’t help but be inspired by The Little Tramp.

Online and Social

In addition to the trailers and other marketing assets, the official website from Fox Searchlight has a “Message from Taika” where he shares what his goals in making this movie at this time are and why he chose to undertake this kind of project. It’s a wonderful message that speaks clearly to the idea of children being raised to hate and what the effects of that kind of indoctrination are.

Advertising and Publicity

It was announced in late July that the movie would premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, a major platform for the film and one where Waititi was given the Roger Ebert Directing Award. It was also slated to open Fantastic Fest in September and for the London Film Festival as well as the Hamptons Film Festival.

Waititi and Searchlight revived a decade old meme – one that predates the days when social media platforms lets users add GIFs as a shorthand for their feelings – with the release of a reaction video using footage from the film Downfall with new, inaccurate subtitles. In this case, Hitler is shown in his bunker reacting poorly as his generals and others informed him about the movie and Waititi’s involvement. It’s brilliant.

Reactions that came out of the Toronto screening were mostly positive, though a bit mixed as people grappled with how exactly the movie handles its Nazi material. It did win the Audience Award at the festival, though.

It was then scheduled to be the opening night feature at Film Fest 919 in October.

A sweet moment between JoJo and his mother was shown in the first clip released at the beginning of October. The next clip has Rosie confronting a Nazi officer (played by Sam Rockwell) about the mistreatment JoJo has received. One more shows JoJo and Imaginary Hitler having a pleasant and inspiring conversation.

Online ads used a mix of straightforward key art and over-the-top “chumbox” ads that took the provocative nature of the movie’s story and amped it up even further as a way to defuse controversy by poking fun at itself. Preroll video ads were placed on YouTube and other social networks that used cut down versions of the trailer.

Media and Press

As production got underway, Waititi talked about how it was going to piss off a lot of Nazis (always a good thing) and shared a first look at himself in Hitler garb to get people talking. The movie was also part of the CineEurope presentation from the studio. Waititi talked more about his unusual role during a masterclass he held during the Toronto Film Festival and then offered a brief update while promoting the “What We Do In the Shadows” TV show earlier this year.

An interview with Waititi included his comments on the movie’s story and tone.

Reports came to light in early August that Disney executives were becoming increasingly concerned about the movie, specifically that a satirical film about Hitler as a young boy’s imaginary friend was too controversial for the studio’s fans. That seems to assume that group is a single entity with a sole opinion based on movies like Cinderella and Toy Story, not to mention The Avengers and Star Wars. It’s also telling that a movie whose target is Hitler has people within the studio nervous.

During Venice there was another interview with Waititi where he explained how and why he tried to tell a story set in Nazi Germany with a comedic tone and how he approached playing a “benign” Hitler that existed in the mind of a 10 year old boy. He hit similar points when he was interviewed during the Toronto Film Festival.

jojo rabbit pic

A massive profile of Johansson included mention of the many high-profile films she has in the works and on the release schedule, but it was her comments about Woody Allen that generated the most headlines.

An interview with producer Chelsea Winstanley allowed her to talk about the role of comedy in analyzing social issues and what kinds of movies she has coming in the near future. Similar ground was covered in a joint interview with Waititi and much of the cast while Johansson spoke about how she approached her role here. Her emphasis on motherhood was reiterated by the director, who said he made the movie in part as a tribute to single moms.

Overall

If you want a single element that sums up the tone of the campaign it has to be the resurrection of the Downfall meme. One of the odd things about that meme, which was popular online in the days before Twitter in particular offered native GIF support, was always based on the shared assumption that it was kind of alright to use something explicitly Nazi-related to share some other message. We were finding humor by coopting Nazi imagery, removing some of the power that imagery has.

That’s more or less what Waititi is doing here. He’s using a very specific era – one that was filled with hate and violence – to send a message that hatred and violence are weak and powerless in the face of love and compassion. Using satire to do so only makes that message all the more cutting and compelling.

Waititi has made nothing but wholly original films. Even Thor: Ragnarok is on that list, with a tone and style that was drastically different from other super hero spectacles. They’ve all been about outsiders who are desperate to be understood, and this movie is no different, it’s just using slightly more controversial subject matter for fodder, but that makes the message all the more powerful.

Picking Up the Spare

There were lots of interviews with Waititi that touched on themes he expressed at the premiere, including how comedy can be used as a means fighting hate and how we should be past having to point out that Nazis are bad.

Waititi appeared on “Kimmel” and “The Daily Show” while Johansson stopped by “The Tonight Show.”

More clips as well as a making of featurettte have been released since the movie hit theaters, along with another video that focused on the ensemble cast assembled. Waititi reflected on applying his unique perspective to the subject matter in a featurette released in early November.

The movie’s production team talked about getting the look of the era right as well as how it would have appeared to a young boy. McKenzie also finally got a profile of her own.

An important point from this interview with Waititi, that he’s not in the business of conveying historical facts but getting to the truth of a moment.

There as a profile in November of Davis, the boy who plays JoJo, that included his thoughts on what message the movie is trying to send.

“You’re Not a Nazi, JoJo.”

If there’s a movie made especially for our times – at least based on the marketing so far – it appears to be Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit.

The line that jumps out at me most is the one used in the title of this post. It’s spoken by Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the Jewish girl being hidden by JoJo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). She’s confronting JoJo, who is shown as being somewhat conflicted about the Nazi-centric upbringing he’s receiving.

That one line speaks more to the state of society we find ourselves in at the end of the 21st century’s second decade than any feature-length examination of how we found ourselves at war in Afghanistan for 18 years, recountings of the 2008 financial crisis or any other film that seeks to capture a moment in time. It’s a reminder that satire and humor is frequently more timely and capable of commentary than drama.

Hate crimes are on the rise and have been for a few years, driven at least in part by the polarizing and divisive political rhetoric coming from some parties. Political protests are often attended by private citizens in full militia garb and armed with military-grade assault rifles.

The latter in particular seem to be exactly the sort of folk being addressed here. The kind that have found some sense of community in dressing as if they are themselves in the military and have some duty instead of being sad little men who lack any sense of order or purpose in life.

Those are the dangerous ones, the ones who would have been part of the same organizations JoJo joins in the movie had they been born in a different place and time. They enjoy the fear they inspire, they get a rush from intimidating others. It’s how they feel important.

When Waititi calls his movie an “anti-hate satire,” this seems to be what he’s targeting, at least in part. These people are driven by hatred and want to be part of something, so they’ll be part of something dedicated to hate.

Other films have done a good job of analyzing where we’ve been, but while satire might be what closes on Saturday night, it’s also one of the only genres capable of examining the immediate cultural moment in a clear and merciless way. It doesn’t allow for sentimentalizing, it doesn’t offer succor to potential targets, it doesn’t abide by the no-slaughter rule.

A report last month mentioned Disney, which now owns JoJo Rabbit producing studio Fox Searchlight, is a bit nervous about the movie. It’s unclear why that might be besides “alienating” fans of the Disney brand. But the only people (other than those who don’t understand what satire is) who should feel uncomfortable or alienated by this kind of takedown of hate are those who hate.

If that one single line is any indication, that group in particular will have a lot of opportunities to feel uncomfortable.

Thor: Ragnarok – Marketing Recap

2011’s Thor was fun. Less an origin story than a “how he fulfilled his destiny” story, the mix of comic book content and Shakespearean gravitas was pretty enjoyable.

Thor: The Dark World was drastically less fun in 2013, removing the cocky self-confidence that was essential to the character in favor or endless brooding over an incomprehensible story.

And now we have Thor: Ragnarok, the third solo outing for the God of Thunder in addition to his two team appearances in the Avengers films. This time around Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is confronting nothing less than Ragnarok, the death of the gods, at the end of Hela (Cate Blanchett). Finding himself out of commission and largely powerless on a mysterious alien world overseen by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).

While fighting for his survival he encounters his old friend Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Together they need to not only get themselves off the planet they’re trapped on but also back to where they can take the fight to Hela and stop her plans. This time around director Taika Waititi is pulling the strings, so let’s see what happens when you let a slightly mad New Zealander control of a superhero film.

The Posters

The first poster is a colorful effort that shows a short-cropped Thor with helmet in hand as he stands in the middle of an arena of onlookers. The swirling debris and bright light at the top are meant to show this is taking place somewhere other than Earth, which is important. A slightly animated motion version of that poster was released later on.

A whole series of character posters put each member of the ensemble on their own, set against a bright and colorful background that’s coming at them like a wave. Everyone from Thor to Odin to Grandmaster to Valkyrie to Hela get their own posters, selling this as a real team movie.

A more comic-book like artistic style was applied to the poster created specifically to promote IMAX screenings. All the characters are here in various action poses, but it’s all run through what appears to be a “comic” effects setting in Photoshop as I’m skeptical this is actual artwork. Another IMAX poster is more traditional, arranging photos of all the major cast around the one-sheet in order of importance. The bright, colorful visuals are all in the background while the major element is the call to action to “Experience it in IMAX.” One more poster singles out the title character, who has lightning shooting from his eyes just like in a scene from the trailer. This one was created specifically for those buying tickets through Fandango.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts off with a “you’re wondering how I got myself in this situation moment” shot of Thor in chains, followed by a quick shot of Hela smashing Thor’s hammer in her hands. That shows the power he’s facing off against and the stakes of the story. She has plans to destroy Asgard and as a result Thor is catapulted through space to a strange alien planet where he’s collected by Valkyrie, who’s working for the Grandmaster. Thor is forced into an arena where he has to fight an opponent that turns out to be the Hulk, who’s decked out in full gladiatorial gear. That leads to the lightest moment of the trailer, where Thor gets all excited that it’s a “friend from work” (a line that was later revealed to be a contribution from a Make-A-Wish recipient on set that day) but it’s clear he’s not going to get off easy.

This is pretty great. It shows the broad strokes of the story, from Thor’s confrontation with Hela to her plans for Ragnarok to the scenes on the alien planet we meet Goldblum’s Grandmaster. As many people pointed out, the shots of Grandmaster and his court contain some of the most blatant Jack Kirby-inspired imagery ever put on film. And that last gag is just great, showing off some of the humor everyone’s been waiting for since it was announced Waititi was going to be in the director’s chair. There’s a great touch to the whole thing, though, that marks it as being more in line with the first Thor movie than the second one.

The second trailer, which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, doubles down on the idea that this is a buddy comedy featuring Thor and The Hulk. It seems like half the footage in the trailer involves Thor talking to or interacting with either Hulk or Banner. Most of that is to explain they need to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death that is threatening to unleash Ragnorak. So they assemble a team that includes Loki and Valkyrie to take the fight to her. There’s lots of gunplay, sword slinging and more as they seek to save the universe.

It’s fun and funny and got everyone excited, which is exactly what it needed to do. There’s more story shown here, which is nice, but it’s Waititi’s comedic touch that’s really on display. It’s almost as if they’re working extra-hard to move the franchise in a direction 180 degrees the somber, dark dark tone of The Dark World.

Online and Social

It’s not totally surprising that the movie’s official website is somewhat lackluster. Big franchise films like this don’t need to put much effort in on this front. The colorful key art featuring the array of characters graces the front page, which notably includes links to the social profiles for Marvel Studios and not this movie specifically. Despite that, there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that have been in use since the first film was released.

The actual site content menu has prompts to get you to “Watch Trailer,” check out a “Photo Gallery” of stills, read a brief “Synopsis” and find out more information on the movie’s promotional “Partners.” That’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot, titled “Contender,” aired during the first NFL broadcast of the season. Most of the footage here has already been seen. New, though, is Thor making the pitch to join his team to Valkyrie. When she asks if the team has a name he stammers a bit before saying it’s “The Revengers,” a name Banner doesn’t seem to be totally on board with. So it’s making it clear to the football audience that not only is there a massive Thor/Hulk battle and lots of spaceships and other action but also some offbeat humor.

Further commercials like this one continued using the humor that’s so prevalent in the rest of the campaign, particularly the competition between Hulk and Thor. Some also included Doctor Strange to make it clear the story still connected to the rest of the MCU. Eventually spots like this one took a more traditionally-Marvel approach to sell the action.

The following efforts were undertaken by the movie’s handful of corporate promotional partners:

  • Red Robin offered a free movie ticket when you bought a limited edition movie-branded gift card.
  • Comicave produced high-end collectibles based on the movie and the look of the characters.
  • Synchrony Bank created a movie-themed landing page with “Thor-spiration” videos to help people “save like a hero” and more.
  • Screenvision Media, which made the movie part of its regular pre-show entertainment package.

Media and Publicity

There had obviously been lots of speculation and on-set reports about the movie leading up to this, but San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was the first big splash of official material. That included props on display that hinted at potential ties to the Planet Hulk storyline and was part of Marvel Studios’ Hall H presentation. Those activities also included a fun look at what the cast and characters have been up to in their time off. Marvel later released the short online and on the home video of Captain America: Civil War and it was as great as advertised.

Blanchett spoke briefly from time to time about the role she played as the movie’s villain. After lots of speculation and rumors, Marvel finally confirmed some key plot points, including that Thor would face off against Hulk off-world. Waititi later talked about what attracted him to the project, what he hoped to achieve, the process of working on the movie and more.

The first big official publicity push came with an EW cover story that featured comments from the cast, first-look photos and a glimpse at some of the news characters for the first time. It also notably showed off Thor’s new hairstyle, which got lots of people talking.

This movie was one of those that were highlighted to journalists who attended a behind-the-scenes look and tour at Marvel’s upcoming slate. While promoting other things, Goldblum also talked about his experience shooting Thor, particularly praising Waititi and his approach to getting the most and best out of his actors.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige talked about the movie regularly, including making sure fans knew this one was an essential part of the path toward the coming Infinity War.

There were a few stories about the movie in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview, including first-look stills, comments from Waititi about how he wanted to capture the vibe of old sci-fi movies he loved like Flash Gordon and more.

Just as they’d done with Doctor Strange, Marvel launched a STEM challenge encouraging young girls to create community-improvement projects and submit them, with the five best winning a trip out to the movie’s premiere.

The new characters this movie introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the focus of this story, which included comments by Thompson about how lazily female heroes are often written and what set this one apart.

Throughout the summer Waititi talked often about the movie and how he approached shooting such a massive story, including commenting on how his experience on Green Lantern years ago influenced him and how often he put on a motion-capture suit himself to fill in for someone who was unavailable at the moment.

This was just one of a few movies with Elba in a starring role, a trend that lead to him gracing the cover of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, with a story that had him talking about this and his other recent releases. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast appeared on various late night talk shows and other media to promote the movie and engage in host-driven antics. The star even talked about how he was kind of bored by the character before Waititi shook things up a bit. Ruffalo hinted in an interview that this could be the first chapter in a bigger Hulk story, though he’s also said Marvel has no current plans for more standalone Hulk movies.

Waititi’s unique personality was the focus of this New York Times profile, which positioned the director as someone who can’t believe his luck and being given so much latitude, including looks at his background, how he got the job and how he managed a casual and creative production.

In the final weeks of the campaign Thompson became more of a central figure as she revealed that, while it’s not directly addressed in the story, Valkyrie is indeed bi-sexual. More than that, the presentation of the character was identified as a great one for inclusion on a number of fronts. That increased spotlight included features like this that reviewed her career to date and talked about how she made the leap from smaller films to a big superhero franchise. There was also one more profile of Goldblum just because.

Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Goldblum and Thompson, as well as Waititi, all did the TV and other media rounds in the couple weeks leading up to release.

Overall

It’s hard to overstate just how fun this whole enterprise is. I really feel like Marvel Studios made the conscious decision to let Waititi have more say in the marketing of the movie than it usually hands over to directors, who are often simply workhorses in service of the corporate machine. Instead it let the filmmaker have a bit of fun with the shorts released before the marketing really ramped up and continue to be the public face of the campaign, bringing his fanbase along for the ride as he conveyed his unique sense of humor and assured them it would be intact here.

That bit of originality and levity was desperately needed for the character, who’s been on the cusp of being not just overly-brooding but also one used only to further the overarching story along. Both The Dark World and his role in Age of Ultron were subject to the needs of setting up what’s next, which did no one any favors. That rescue seems to have come in part by realizing Thor needs a supporting cast that operates on his level, something that was present in The Avengers films but lacking from his solo movies. The campaign has made sure everyone knows this is just as much of a team story.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Director Taika Waititi continues to be an absolute wonder with this introduction to the film that’s part of the push for its home video release.
It’s not *exactly* the version of the character played by Tessa Thompson in the movie, but the take on Valkyrie was popular enough that a new version of the Asgardian warrior who looks a lot like her film incarnation is joining a new “Exiles” series from Marvel.