Friday, November 19, 2010

First Looks: From X-Men to Green Lantern, ten years of comic book-film trailers.

It's hard to believe that it's been ten years since the modern comic book movie revival kicked off with X-Men and (kinda-sorta) Unbreakable. With the lukewarm response to the trailers to Thor and Green Lantern, and the Nolan Batman franchise wrapping up, we may just be on the tail-end of this particular run. For the sake of my own amusement, let us take a quick trip down memory lane with the most memorable trailers in the current comic book explosion. After all, in many ways, getting that first glimpse was often more exciting than seeing the actual film. For the record, this list will only include originals; no sequels (with one exception that I'll point out). And away we go...

X-Men (2000): Technically, this was the second trailer, but I'm posting it here because the first glance at X-Men was an infamously awful tease, a confused, jumbled mess of random images set to techno music. This vastly improved trailer, released relatively quickly after the first one to deal with the fan backlash, actually did the job. There is a clear sense of what the plot was, a roll-call of major characters, and a compelling third-act montage of action and incident, set to music from X-Files: Fight the Future. The first tossed-off teaser nearly killed the franchise before it even began, and this second trailer saved it. I still remember being uber-excited for this trailer, both at its overall quality and a sense of deep relief that that upcoming X-Men movie had a shot at being a winner after all.

Spider-Man (2002): Again, this was the second piece of marketing, but it was the first real look at the movie itself. As you likely recall, the first teaser was released over summer 2001, and it was a stand-alone sequence that had Spidey stopping bank-robbers by trapping their chopper between the Twin Towers. Post-9/11 controversy aside, this full-length trailer was a stunningly-effective sell, showcasing every major character (Peter, Mary Jane, the Green Goblin, etc) and presenting the film as a living-breathing 1960s comic book come to life. Even if the trailer gave a bit too much away (the climax and the last moments in the film), it sold itself as a kicky, colorful blast, the antithesis to the dark and gloomy world of Tim Burton's Batman. Sony certainly has its work cut out for it whenever it decides to cut a trailer for Marc Webb's upcoming Spider-Man reboot.

The Hulk (2003): I was in the minority the day after the 2003 Super Bowl. I adored this kitschy and violent little tease for Ang Lee's Hulk. I'm not sure what people were expecting, but the tease I saw was a loud, chaotic, and insanely colorful preview that gave people exactly what you'd think they wanted: a giant green monster wrecking everything in sight. Obviously the final film was more tone poem and character-driven mood piece than action-adventure. Ironically, the very people who trashed the film itself for not being 'fun' were the same who ridiculed this campy little smash-a-thon.

Batman Begins (2005): I couldn't find an embeddable copy of the very first teaser, which doesn't even announce that it's a Batman picture until the final moments. A second teaser was released in December 2004, and it was equally cryptic in its own way. The 75-second tease showed off realism over spectacle, promising a Batman epic that would feel every bit as plausible as a more conventional spiritual journey picture. The marketing campaign was a somewhat honest one, giving us character and narrative over money shots and spectacle. Heck, the film didn't even look remotely 'fun' until the 2005 Super Bowl spot. It only faltered right at the end, with a misleading full trailer which positioned Rachel Dawes as a Mary Jane-like love interest and implied that Bruce's quest was all about impressing his childhood sweetheart (it also contained a sped-up version of the eventual 'Batman theme music'). Frankly, the somewhat uneven sell had me worried about the film's quality, a worry that only dissipated when I actually saw the thing. Whatever faults the marketing team made when advertising the first Nolan Batman film (which resulted in a lower-than-expected opening weekend), they certainly fixed the problem three years later.

Superman Returns (2006): One could argue that this Bryan Singer-reboot was a sequel to the first one or two Richard Donner Superman films, but all things considered, this is indeed a first look at a would-be new Superman series. As I wrote back in July, this is a beautiful, stirring, soulful little teaser. It was the perfect piece of marketing to entice the new and old to go on yet another adventure with the Man of Steel. Using the most emotionally-powerful piece of music from the original Richard Donner picture (the 'Krypton theme') and sampling relevant bits of Marlon Brando's narration from the 1978 classic, this brief and silent glimpse at the new world that Bryan Singer had created was genuinely jaw-dropping, reaffirming Clark Kent as the definitive American hero of the last 100 years. Obviously the movie didn't live up to the tease, but that's beside the point. This is a powerful piece of stand-alone art.

Iron Man (2008): This initial tease at Marvel's first stand-alone film was just that, a 2.5 minute tease. The first 110 seconds basically spelled out the first act of the movie, climaxing with twenty seconds of images. We were given a brief glimpse of Terrance Howard's Jim Rhodes, a handful of shots of Jeff Bridges's villain and his respective super suit (you can clearly see it's him in a few shots), Terance Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow fleeing in terror a few times. Then we get an extended look at the traditional Iron Man suit as Stark plays chicken with fighter planes. Like Nolan's first Batman teasers, the primary concern was establishing a real and recognizable playground for Tony Stark and friends, and on that count, it was a success. We don't even see the recognizable Iron Man costume until the very end of the teaser. Like Nolan's The Dark Knight (which of course came out the same summer), this was a comic book adventure that took place in our world.

Thor (2011): I've written at length about how poor I think this trailer is, how it fails even as a fan-targeted highlight reel as it feels stagy, dull, and inexplicably cheap. Obviously, unlike the above examples, we do not have the benefit of hindsight, but this was not a very persuasive initial tease. And that brings us to...

Green Lantern (2011): As you might have guessed, this underwhelming teaser is what inspired this article, as I'm still shocked that the studio would allow something this poor to be released as their first-impressions marketing tool. As I wrote on Tuesday, the pacing is ghastly, the thing feels edited with broken scissors, and the whole enterprise feels inexplicably claustrophobic and earthbound, quick trips into outer space aside. Like the Thor trailer, we might all be laughing in seven months about how wrong we were, but two of the four major comic book adaptations have released their previews (X-Men: First Class and Captain America have yet to release teasers), and neither of them look very good at all.

But for now, a parting thought. The modern comic book film was arguably started by Superman and kicked into overdrive by Batman and revived by X-Men. Maybe the finale of Chris Nolan's Batman series, the prequel to X-Men, and one last shot at reviving Superman is as good a place as any for this run to end.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Greer Hart said...

The trailer for Ang Lee's character study was waaaaaaay better than Incredible Hulk


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