Dark Phoenix – Marketing Recap

You can read the rest of my recap of the marketing for Dark Phoenix at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Minimal effort has been put into the movie’s official website, which just sports the standard marketing content and little else.

Media and Publicity

While there had been conversations about the movie for a while, ever scene production of Days of Future Past, the first actual publicity beat hit in December of last year in an Entertainment Weekly cover story that explained what the story would be, a bit about the source material and more. It included first look photos, concept art, comments from Lawrence about her role.

Chastain also spoke about her secret role in the movie and how she got involved, a process that included finding the script to include something other than the usual female characters and roles. Some of those involved in the movie also admitted to the shortcomings of X-Men: Apocalypse, which was not reviewed well, and how this movie is meant to celebrate the team’s female characters. It was also revealed in that story that Genosha, an island created by Magneto as a mutant-only nation, will appear.

Empire had another set of stills offering glimpses of more characters.

Immediately after the second trailer – which Chastain debuted when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” – was released in late February, Kinberg was interviewed about why a notable character’s death was shown – or at least hinted at – in the trailer, saying it was in part to show the audience the movie would feature significant stakes.

Shipp was interviewed about the movie, commenting on how it finally gives the female characters in the X franchise something interesting to do.

The end of “Game of Thrones” also provided a hook for interviews like this with Turner where she reflected on what’s next for her – including this movie – now that she’s free of the pressures of being on a show.

Kinberg also spoke one more time about being responsible for bringing the series to a close and how he managed not having all the cast locked in during pre-production. Another interview with the director talked about how he approached handling what he knew was going to be a finale for the series.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live” hosted a joint appearance by many of the cast’s biggest players, including Turner, Chastain, Fassbender, McAvoy and others.

Overall

The question has emerged whether it was Fox or Disney that has been responsible for the movie’s campaign, particularly in the months since that deal was finalized. Who crafted the direction of the marketing is unclear from the layman’s point of view, but it mostly smells like a Fox production, with the tone and focus similar to how previous entries in the X-Men franchise have been sold. It’s also unlikely that a Disney campaign would include so much emphasis on the history of these movies, particularly since the future of the characters is still being determined.

dark phoenix gif

Picking Up the Spare

Lots of details about production have emerged since the movie hit theaters, including reports the filmmakers initially planned two movies covering the whole story and how extensively poor test screenings contributed to reshoots and changes to some character’s fates. That included the studio and others involved seemingly having learned all the wrong lessons from the troubled production of Apocalypse as well as attempts to move the movie out of the way of Alita: Battle Angel and other releases. 

There’s also been lots of discussion about the character played by Chastain, one that was kept secret in the pre-release publicity for no real reason, it seems. 

Who’s Not at SDCC

Some Big Upcoming Movies Aren’t At San Diego Comic-Con This Year

Those attending San Diego Comic-Con this year will not lack for promotional and publicity stunts for some major movies hitting theaters in the near future. Bumblebee, Fantastic Beasts 2, Glass and plenty of others will have some combination of Hall H panels, events outside the convention center and other activities to try and make an impression on the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, all of whom try to cross the light rail tracks at the same time throughout the day.

While the lineup will still be substantial there are going to be some heavy-hitters notable for their absence. There’s always the possibility a studio or two will pull a surprise appearance out of their bag of tricks, but at this point a last-minute announcement might raise more questions than it answers. Here are some of the big-name franchises and movies that aren’t going to be braving what’s expected to be blazing hot temperatures in San Diego this year.

No More Mutants

Fox has a few promotions planned to promote the home video release of Deadpool 2, including a star-studded panel and later screening of the “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” that’s hitting DVD and Blu-ray in the near future.

deadpool 2 pic 2

Missing, though, are the next two movies in the studio’s X-Men franchise, New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The former was originally scheduled for release this past April before it was moved to February 2019 and then all the way to August of next year. That shift has reportedly been to allow for reshoots to play up the horror elements of the story, which is the tone struck in the first trailer released back in October 2017.

Dark Phoenix was also pushed back, though not as significantly, from November of this year to February of 2019 to accommodate reshoots. Still, the bump means the movie is seven months out from Comic-Con and not four, so a formal launch of the marketing might be a bit premature. There’s a slight chance director Simon Kinberg could show off a sizzle reel or something else, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mr. Marvel, I Don’t Feel So Well

Marvel Studios not having a big presence at SDCC is…well…big. They’ve used Comic-Con to create hype for almost all its previous movies at some level or another over the last 10+ years, including debuting the full cast of the first Avengers movie to the Hall H crowd in 2010 and more. There’s sure to be some representation – props and such – at the Marvel Comics booth on the show floor, but that will likely be it.

Infinity War Trailer 2 Header

That’s in large part because Marvel isn’t ready to unveil more details around what happens to the MCU post-Infinity War just yet. They’re sure to face a group of fans who want answers about what happens to their favorite characters after Thanos snapped his fingers and know how next year’s Captain Marvel will play into things. Plus, they haven’t announced the title for Avengers 4 yet, so they don’t really have all the much to show. This is a case where more damage can be done by someone’s offhand remark than by maintaining silence so better to skip the event completely.

It’s Not Wise to Upset A Wookie

Along those same lines – and also related to corporate owner Disney – the Star Wars franchise is largely taking a break from San Diego this year, at least in terms of promoting new material.

solo pic 6

Solo: A Star Wars Story sat out SDCC 2017 because the publicity and marketing cycle for that movie hadn’t started yet. Lucasfilm was still in the midst of promotion The Last Jedi, and the Solo campaign wouldn’t start until February of this year, just three months before it hit theaters so it wouldn’t interfere or overlap with that of TLJ.

This year the studio 1) Doesn’t want to hear it from disgruntled fans who were upset either by Solo or The Last Jedi and 2) Isn’t quite ready to start the promotions for Episode IX, which doesn’t come out until December 2019.

It’s not sitting out the convention completely, though. It’s bringing a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon cockpit from Solo to its booth on the show floor and hosting panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the TV series that quickly went on to become a fan-favorite.

Again, there are sure to be at least a few surprises that happen. That’s always the case with San Diego Comic-Con. But at the moment it looks like some of the entertainment world’s biggest names and franchises will be following along on Twitter just like the rest of us.

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

Two and Out: When Directors Abandon Trilogies Before They’re Over

These franchises and series have launched with big name directors who decided two movies was enough for them.

Over the last 20 years Hollywood has realigned itself around franchises that come with built in audience awareness of the intellectual property the movies are based on. Super heroes have lead this movement but also included are science-fiction and action series, many of which are reboots, remakes or reimaginings of older IP, trying to freshen up stale material for new audiences and wring maximum value from series that may have gone dormant decades ago and need a shot in the arm.

Often the pitch to the audience is that the studio has signed a well-known, “visionary” director to helm what otherwise might appear to be a soulless cash grab devoid of artistic merit. The idea is to attach some credibility to the endeavor, earning some cache among cinephiles who might dismiss or ignore it.

Because these are almost always designed to be series and not just one-off films, directors are often asked – or contractually obligated – to return for the sequel. There are quite a few instances, though, where after two installments a big-name director who attached the reputation they’d earned up to that point walks away for one reason or another, turning the reigns of the franchise over to someone else to close out or continue.

I’ll admit that these are, by and large, exceptions that prove the rule. There are countless instances where a single director has overseen every chapter in a trilogy. But almost all of those examples are stories the director had at least a significant hand in developing, usually about something personal or otherwise important or relevant to them. Only Alan Parker was going to tell The Barrytown Trilogy. Only Richard LInklater was going to make the Before Trilogy or Francis Ford Coppola the Godfather Trilogy.

Instead, the below examples represent cases where a well-known filmmaking talent has been brought in to provide a creative spark to help revitalize or launch a franchise, only to find they were indeed a director-for-hire all along, disposable because their name isn’t as important as the brands’ once things are back on track.

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams was brought on by Paramount to revitalize a Star Trek franchise that, despite a few TV shows here and there, had lain fallow on the big screen since 2002’s Nemesis, marking the last outing of “The Next Generation” characters. Abrams embraced the opportunity to bring his “Mystery Box” approach to the series, offering an interesting twist in the 2009 relaunch and a far less interesting one in 2013’s Into Darkness. His involvement in a third film was cut off when he was offered the chance to relaunch another franchise, Star Wars.

X-Men

2000’s original X-Men kicked off a new wave of super hero movies, saving the genre from the regrettable camp the Batman series had fallen into and offering a more mainstream approach than that taken in the Blade movies. As good as that first one was, 2002’s X-Men United was even better, offering more nuanced takes on the characters and setting up a third movie that promised some form of “Dark Phoenix” adaptation. Sadly that promise went unfulfilled when Singer was lured the chance to make Superman Returns, allowing Brett Ratner to nearly dismantle the franchise with a terrible third installment.

Iron Man

Among the reasons the first Iron Man movie was not universally expected to be a success (don’t let anyone who didn’t follow the press narrative of that time tell you different) was that Jon Favreau was not exactly a mortal lock as a director. He had a couple decent outings under his belt, but nothing on this scale. His light tough and ability to simply control and aim the explosion that is Robert Downey Jr. made it work enough that he returned to helm the sequel. When it came time for the third movie, though, he was too involved in other projects and so turned duties over to Shane Black, who essentially made a Shane Black movie featuring Iron Man, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Avengers

Many of us totally got why Joss Whedon was a good pick for the first team up of the Avengers. While some dismissed him as “the guy from ‘Buffy’,” those of us who had watched both “Firefly” and Serenity and who read his “Astonishing X-Men” run knew how well he could balance characters and create believable team dynamics. According to Whedon his experience on 2015’s Age of Ultron kind of broke him, though, and so he stepped aside and allowed the Russo Brothers, who had just directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier to much acclaim, to take the reigns.

Jurassic Park

It seems director Steven Spielberg just kind of exhausted his interest in directing stories of dinosaurs running amok after the first two Jurassic Park movies, diverting his attention instead to original projects. While he remained on as a producer, he turned directorial responsibilities over to Joe Johnston, a protege from the days of Indiana Jones. He turned in a third movie that has some silly moments (the talking velociraptor) but also features the same pop and sizzle he’d brought previously to The Rocketeer and would again display in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The Terminator

James Cameron couldn’t make another Terminator movie, at first because he was too invested in developing 1997’s Titanic and then 2008’s Avatar. Since then he’s been very busy not making further Avatar sequels while also finding time to criticize other people’s movies while a string of other directors tried to tackle this material. Cameron is returning to the series with a reboot/sequel now in production, but only as a producer.

Batman

It’s hard to describe just how much Warner Bros. openly and actively turned against director Tim Burton when Batman Returns didn’t turn out to be just as massive a hit as 1989’s first Batman movie. Returns looks and feels more like a Tim Burton movie, dealing with many of the same themes as his other films, but that didn’t translate into a plethora of cross-promotional and merchandising opportunities. While he reportedly was developing a third installment he was removed from the project in favor of Joel Schumacher, who took the series in a direction with more potential for colorful toy lines.

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

Title Branding in An Age of Franchises

In his new book The Big Picture, writer Ben Fritz chronicles how, over the last decade, Hollywood has become less a place of rampant creativity and more one concerned with intellectual property management. The rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the revitalization of Star Wars, the continued presence of the X-Men and more all serve as examples of studios embracing the franchise model, churning out new series installments in a way that will satisfy audiences both foreign and domestic.

While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, most studios have more or less consistently adopted a title format that reads Brand Name: Subtitle. That’s a substantial change from 20 or 30 years ago when most sequels just had a “2” or whatever number slapped on the end of the title to demarcate it as something new.

From an outside perspective it seems as if around 2010 studios realized the numbered installments were working against the goal of encouraging people to turn out, making it seem as if the movies were just another sequel they could skip with nothing identifiably unique about them. By switching to subtitles, the movies are more clearly laid out as something individual and different, like chapter titles that convey the theme of that section while still falling under the larger franchise umbrella.

Still, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Not only do the branding tactics sometimes vary from studio to studio but even within one studio’s release slate you can see different approaches being taken. Here are some key examples as to how this year’s biggest have – or haven’t adhered to that recent conventional wisdom.

Star Wars

star wars logoTo quickly recap, 1977’s Star Wars really was just “Star Wars” when it was originally released and continued to be thus for years. The release of The Empire Strikes Back really introduced the episode numbering to the series, though the three movies of the Original Trilogy were pretty much just known by their episode titles. Things got a bit muddled when the Prequel Trilogy came out and suddenly everything was “Star Wars: Episode # – Chapter Title.”

When Disney relaunched the series it opted to drop the “Episode #” from the title branding but retained the “Star Wars: Chapter Title” format specifically for movies that fit into the Sage, the core stories about the Skywalker family and their allies. Because the studio wanted to expand beyond that constraint it needed some way to differentiate between those movies and everything else that focused on new or ancillary characters. Thus the “Title: A Star Wars Story” branding was adopted that has been featured on 2016’s Rogue One and this summer’s Solo, both of which have more in common with the multimedia Expanded Universe than the central saga.

Marvel

marvel studios openingDisney/Marvel Studios have tried a little bit of everything with the titles for the 18 movies that have been released in the last 10 years. Let’s look at the studio has taken a number of different approaches to branding the cinematic outings of the heroes:

  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequels Just Numbered: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3
  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequels Just Subtitled: Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok
  • First Movie and Sequels Featuring Character Name and Subtitle: Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War
  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequel Adding Another Character: Ant-Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp
  • First Movie Named After Team, Sequels Just Subtitled: The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War

It’s chaos, but the differing approaches taken don’t seem to be impacting anything. At least they’re consistent within each series and it remains to be seen what system will be in place for sequels to Black Panther, Doctor Strange and other films.

Jurassic

jurassic park logoThere’s been some goofy branding going on with the Jurassic franchise, which this summer gets its fifth installment. The first sequel didn’t use Brand: Subtitle for the title but flipped it for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The third movie then dropped a subtitle altogether for the simply-named Jurassic Park 3.

When the series was restarted a few years ago it was given a new banner with Jurassic World, a brand name that’s now being continued with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Mission: Impossible

mission impossible logoParamount has branded the sequels to the 1996 original in a couple different ways that perhaps reflect how the approach to mindset around labeling has changed over the years.

The first two sequels were simply numbered as Mission: Impossible 2 and Mission: Impossible 3. Pretty clear-cut and understandable, telling the audience exactly what to expect, which is more adventures with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Since the fourth installment, though, the studio has put numbering aside and decided to go with a series of subtitles, first Ghost Protocol, then Rogue Nation and this summer’s Fallout.

X-Men

x-men logoFox’s mutant-centric series has taken a fast and loose approach to branding, just like Universal’s rampaging dinosaurs. X-Men was followed by X2: X-Men United, then X-Men: The Last Stand, which eschewed numbering completely but which, in 2006, was a bit early when it came to fully adopting the subtitle structure. Things got weird with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, meant to be the first in a series of stand-alone character-centric movies (not unlike the “A Star Wars Story” films) before settling down with X-Men: First Class, which rebooted the franchise.

Interestingly, Fox’s other X franchise – Deadpool – used a straight numbering for its sequel last month. That was somewhat disappointing since up until shortly before release it was still listed as “Untitled Deadpool Sequel” and it would have been great if that had been the actual title.

Bond

bondIt’s worth pointing out that the granddaddy of them all, the great ancestor of these franchises, is of course James Bond. That series is over 55 years old but has never utilized the character’s name in any of the titles to its 24 films. While the 25th has just been announced it’s likely this will follow suit.

There are a number of other franchise and series that have applied different tactics when it comes to sequels.

  • Matt Damon’s Bourne series inserted the name of the character into different declarations of intent until the most recent chapter, which just used the name alone.
  • The Rocky series used simple numbering until Sylvester Stallone revived it in 2006 with Rocky Balboa and then turned the focus elsewhere in 2015 with Creed.
  • The Fast and the Furious series has thrown all rules to the wind, using numbers, variations on the title of the original over the years. Of course Universal whiffed on an 83 mph fastball right at the belt by not titling the most recent installment F8 of the Furious.
  • After sticking with the Brand: Subtitle format for a decade, the Transformers series is throwing it to the side for this year’s Bumblebee, which surprisingly doesn’t have any Transformers branding in the title.

The funny thing is, this isn’t even necessary for any other reason than name recognition among the audience. Using the same name at the beginning of the title made a certain amount of sense when movies needed to be arranged on the shelves of Blockbuster Video for easy discovery by someone on a Thursday night. Batman Returns could be right there next to Batman.

Now, though, it’s part of the story of the movie as a whole.

As long as Hollywood sees value in studios being brand overseers as opposed to incubators for original stories it’s likely this kind of thing will continue. The tactics may change but the need for the movies released to bear familiar, easily marketable branding in some manner will certainly remain.

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

The Kitty Pryde Movie I Want to See

I’m way late to this, but news broke a while ago that Tim Miller and Brian Michael Bendis were teaming up for an unspecified X-Men movie project that many people assume will be a Kitty Pryde story of some sort.

I’ve never been super-familiar with Kitty as a character, something that resulted from my being more of an Avengers than an X-Men reader back in the day. I knew her backstory and that she’d gone through a handful of hero identities to that point but that was about it. Before picking up Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run, which was very Kitty-centric, there was only one book I’d read with any regularity that featured Ms. Pryde and it just so happens to be one that would make an outstanding movie.

Excalibur

Kitty was elsewhere when the main X-Men team and others were engaged in a massive fight against a villain known only as The Adversary, one they could only defeat by sacrificing themselves. While they’re quickly returned to life, it’s in secret so the world continues thinking them dead, one of the reasons the team relocates to Australia for a while. All of this happens in the “Fall of the Mutants” crossover event that spanned the X-books at the time.

Those events left Kitty feeling disconnected but still wanting to use her powers for good. So, along with Nightcrawler and the Rachel Summers version of Phoenix (as with most things involving that character…it’s complicated) she teams up with Captain Britain and his girlfriend Meggan.

excalibur 1The “Excalibur” series started with a one-shot special edition but then became a monthly series written by Chris Claremont at first and later Warren Ellis and others. The stories involved a lot of cross-dimensional travel and relied heavily on Captain Britain’s mythology, which made sense given that the team operated out of London.

But Kitty was always my favorite part of the series, which I collected for about two years. She was the most relatable of the characters, dealing with her own version of the awkward teenage years, too old to be simply a sidekick but also feeling old enough to assume some form of leadership mantle. Indeed, her participation on the team was often just as central as that of Phoenix or Captain Britain, who were ostensibly the heads of the team.

That’s what makes it such great material for a Kitty story. If you jettisoned some of the other elements and focused on her being on her own – or with Rachel – in London while she tries to figure out her future. It’s a journey of self-discovery and the search for identity, independent of the X-Men. If you wanted to amp it up even further, introduce the Kelsey Leigh version of Captain Britain and make it a trio of female heroes out to protect Earth from some inter-dimensional threat.

Sure, there are issues with the timeline that are sure to come up. Ellen Page has played Kitty in a couple of the X-Men films to date, but continuity issues haven’t exactly been paramount at Fox regarding this franchise, which has zipped all over the place with nary a concern. I’m more interested in a screen version of Kitty that’s as interesting as the one presented in Excalibur or “Astonishing,” a young hero who’s driven not out of rage or desire for revenge or even a sense of obligation. Instead she just wants to be a hero and help people. It’s pure and exciting and could make for a really powerful story. I hope whatever gets made lives up to that ideal.

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

The Massive Unrealized Potential of Phoenix after X-2

There have been few endings to superhero movies that have left me as anxious and eager to see more than the final moments of X-2: X-Men United. Throughout the movie Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) had been hinting at feeling as if she were on the verge of losing control of her powers, like there was something terrible lurking just around the corner. The end of the film sees her then finally cutting loose with all the potential she has always had as she manages to hold back a massive wave of water while at the same time lifting the X-Men’s jet to safety. As she does so flames begin to roil around her. Finally, after everything else, the camera pans over the newly-formed lake and we see a bird-like creature of fire under the water.

x2 phoenix

It was the perfect setup for the Phoenix Saga, one of the most famous and well-received comics storylines of all time. Written by Chris Claremont, it has Jean Grey briefly becoming Phoenix, an incredibly powerful psychic that in actuality is the manifestation of a cosmic force. Drama and betrayal follow, culminating in Grey’s death, the first of many times she would die in the comics.

The story had already been loosely adapted in the 90s “X-Men” animated show, but seeing the incarnation of the Phoenix Force in a theatrical feature was next level, the capstone on one of the best superhero movies up to that point and a continued excellent feature, regardless of what’s come out about director Bryan Singer in subsequent years.

Most all of that potential was squandered in X-Men: The Last Stand, directed by the equally sleazy Brett Ratner and featuring versions of the characters that were all but unrecognizable from what we’d seen in the first two movies. Cyclops is killed off-screen, Wolverine suffers from Hugh Jackman turning in one of the all-time great “I don’t even care” performances, Xavier is killed by a psychic tornado and poor Jean Grey. Instead of being an all-powerful force she just kind of stands around in a red duster for much of the movie.

Instead of doing…well…anything of interest with the Phoenix concept and character, she’s turned into the world’s most powerful observer. The movie is instead a loose adaptation of the “Cured” storyline from Joss Whedon’s first arc writing Astonishing X-Men, though done without one-tenth of the nuance, character and art. Even in the final battle, Jean just stands on the sidelines, looking at everything that’s happening without doing much of anything until she asks Wolverine to kill her in a moment of lucidity.

There’s so much more that could have been done. Not that the movie needed to follow Claremont’s story exactly, but it might have at least used it as an outline. Jean could have had some sort of arc that didn’t make her seem like a woman who just lost her mind. Her resurrection could have been at least somewhat explored before it was dismissed and relegated to the status of a subplot.

Hopefully the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix will at least somewhat address what was missed the first time around. With Sophie Turner playing a younger version of Jean Grey in the recent X-Men prequels, Fox is taking a second bite at the apple and hoping to do something – anything – more interesting this time around.

As it stands now, there’s still a ton of unrealized potential in the character, something that’s surprising given the status the Phoenix Saga still has in the comics world. Not only is it beloved by fans to this day but the events of the story have continued to reverberate through the X-Men books ever since.

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