Archer has been on TV since 2009, originally airing as an animated adult spy comedy, but in its fifth season the series took a sudden turn and literally blew up the spy agency where all the characters worked. To make ends meet they become drug dealers selling the cocaine they had previously confiscated in a particular spy mission. That season Archer became Archer: Vice.
This wasn’t the natural turn of events based on story-lines the series had been seeding over previous seasons. It also wasn’t entirely because the spy agency was called ISIS, although it was a little that. In fact the only explanation for the sudden shift took place behind the scenes. The writer got bored.
Archer creator (and sole writer) Adam Reed just ran out of spy stories and wasn’t having fun anymore. So he blew up his series core premise so his characters could be in a different story. It gave the show new life and, when it tried to go back to spy stories in season six, it simply didn’t work like it used to anymore. Since then every season of Archer has come with a soft reboot. In season seven they were private investigators and season eight, dubbed Dreamland, is a noir.
Writer fatigue is a real problem and it can become easy to start repeating story beats. Often writers will leave a series after a couple seasons so that, the longer they run, the less likely you are to find anyone from the original staff there. Some times a show just runs out, because the premise really only allows for so many stories to be told. Which is exactly why a series needs to blow up its own premise to find new stories to tell.
Think about some of the best shows of the century. Most if not all of them completely change their premise somewhere around the end of their third season. LOST’s third season ends with “we have to go back” promising a completely new direction for the show moving forward. Game of Thrones ends its third season with the red wedding while Battlestar Galactica ends its third by revealing who the final five cylons are and Starbuck announcing she knows where Earth is. Even comedies do it on a smaller scale, with Parks and Recreation teeing Leslie Knope up for a Councilwoman campaign and How I Met Your Mother finding Barney falling in love with Robin. All of these shows fundamentally changed themselves with no means of going back.
That shift, that willingness to blow up the premise, reinvigorates the series behind the scenes and opens up far more storytelling potential for the writers. This season another show has just returned from blowing up its premise: iZombie.
The little zombie show about an undead girl who eats brains to solve crime ended its third season by infecting Seattle in mass with the zombie plague. Now in season four Liv, the hero, doesn’t have to keep her zombie-ness secret because its out across town. Other cops work in pairs with a zombie who eats brains to solve crime. Blaine, the shady brain dealer, has moved his businesses into the mainstream, and it looks like a war between different classes of zombies is more likely than one between zombies and people. But it’s still the same people, with the same character flaws, and the show hasn’t lost its sense of self in the shift.
This need to change things up to keep the show alive is a recent phenomenon. In the old days (and still on CBS) a series is meant to stay the same forever. Anyone could tune into any episode and understand everything about a show. But with the advent of streaming, the ease of catching up, and the need for eyeballs in an ever growing and crowded market, shows need to stand out. A status quo is good to have for a while, changing things drastically every year could mean cutting yourself out from some stories, but every couple of years blow it the hell up.
Yes my last post was about Marvel, but that was before I saw Black Panther and oh man is there more to say now.
The most common criticism against the MCU is that it has almost no good villains. Loki is good, but can anyone even remember what Whiplash was all about? Or Yellowjacket? Or Malekith? I literally just had to look up that last name. Marvel never seemed to particularly care though. It mattered more for you to like the heroes, after all they’re the ones that’ll be back in the next movie. If you want compelling villains you have to check out the various Marvel TV series that are only technically part of the MCU.
Enter Killmonger, bar none the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Light spoiler warning! That being said if you haven’t seen Black Panther you are missing out on what looks to be a significant pop culture moment.
Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is an outsider with a grudge who attempts to usurp the throne of a hidden and extremely advanced civilization. He actually shares a lot in common with Loki, the previous record holder for Best Marvel Villain, but he edges the competition out by having an argument that’s actually relatable.
Wakanda hid itself while the rest of Africa was ravaged by colonists, then continued to hide while Black people across the world suffered subjugation and racism. Wakanda could have saved them, and with its Vibranium technology it very well could. If he can arm the oppressed around the world they could rise up and change things, with Wakanda in control.
Of course Killmonger is also bloodthirsty and dangerous. The guy scars himself for every kill he makes and there are MANY scars. His plan is similar to what the US used in the middle east and clearly that has gone very well over the past few decades. But the fact that the core idea sits in your head means he’s a little right. And to make Killmonger a little right, then T’Challa, Black Panther, has to be kind of wrong.
That’s how Black Panther makes Killmonger such a great villain. The movie allows its main character to be wrong. Black Panther uses its central premise as an afro-futurist wonderland as a cause for debate and not just a setting. Through conflict, our hero learns something from the villain and comes out the other side changed for it, with a better way to be a hero. That relationship between T’Challa and Killmonger brings to mind another Marvel movie from before the MCU.
Okay sure, Professor X and Magneto follow the MLK and Malcolm X parallel but that’s not what I’m thinking of here.
Yeah that’s the one! Wayyyy back in (oh god) 2004, Otto Oktavius walked into Peter Parker’s life on four metal tentacle claws and challenged him. He challenged Peter to take risks and try to get the girl. He challenged Peter to pick himself up and be a hero when he thought he couldn’t. He challenged Peter to save an out of control train. He wasn’t just a big bad villain, he embodied both the best of what Peter could be when he was sane, and the worst when his research took him over, and taught Peter to find his way down the middle of those two extremes.
Killmonger similarly challenges T’Challa to be better. Wakanda can’t just hide like T’Chaka wanted it to, but it also shouldn’t wage war against the world like Killmonger wants. It’s up to T’Challa to forge a new path for his country’s place in the world.
But what makes Black Panther so successful at this is how much time it spends telling Killmonger’s story. The movie is equally his to T’Challa’s, so that when you know his origin story and when you see him cry, you feel for him. That’s what gets his point of view in your head. That’s what makes you think he’s a little right.
That’s what makes a great villain.
PS, Am I the only one who really liked the Civil War Black Panther suit better than the new one he gets?
When I was young my father gave me this comic book:
Fantastic Firsts, a massive paperback full of first issue and origin stories for the heroes of the Marvel universe. By this point, just about anyone could name the characters on this cover, but at the time that knowledge was still fairly obscure. Some of it still is! The man in gold right in front of the Hulk is Iron Man!
In his origin story Tony Stark was captured by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War and suffered a deadly injury. He was able to prevent shrapnel from getting to his heart by building a full size vest that magnetized them away, then from there built an armored suit that allowed him to break free and become a hero.
I rather liked that origin story, then in 2008 I saw the first picture of this:
I had heard an Iron Man movie was coming, but I didn’t expect them to recreate the homemade suit from the comics! The X-Men movies wore leather instead of their costumes, Daredevil had his silly zip-up, and Batman was running around with his nipples exposed. But this movie, the more I saw in the trailers, used the comics origin story as a template for a more modern superhero story.
Then I saw the movie, and this logo for the first time:
I had seen Marvel before in front of a movie, but never Marvel Studios. I didn’t really know what a studio was! I was 14! What followed was a very good superhero movie that bucked a lot of traditions in the genre, and as I left while the credits rolled I was content. That would be the last time I ever left a Marvel Studios movie during the credits.
In the next few days people told me about a scene after the credits. I didn’t believe them. We tried to find a clip of it on YouTube. Easy to do now, but not then. Which meant I had to go see Iron Man again and sit through the credits to get to this:
I lost my god damn mind. See I had been reading a series called the Ultimates. It was a more 21st century take on the Avengers and in those comics Nick Fury, traditionally white, looked like this:
He looked exactly like Samuel L Jackson. He looked like Samuel L Jackson and someone actually cast him to promise there was more to come, to promise not only SHIELD but the Avengers. I was locked in.
Then over the next three years I watched the movies fulfill the makeup of the original Avengers comics (give of take an Ant-Man and The Wasp). The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America all got their movies and a promise at the end of their credits.
They Will Return in The Avengers
The Avengers was, in no uncertain terms, a cinematic event. The first of its kind, a team up superhero movie that was also better than anyone could have hoped. The movie climaxed with a moment that still resonates to this day:
Oh yeah, that movie also changed big budget franchise film making forever. Despite the small fact that literally nobody else has been able to pull it off.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has an edge over other wannabes like the DCEU, the X-Men, the already dead Dark Universe, and the Monsterverse (that’s the one with Godzilla and King Kong, the second best connected universe right now). Marvel Studios does only this. WB, Fox, Universal and Legendary are massive movie studios with many projects on the table. Disney may own Marvel now, but they keep hands off and allow the studio to do it’s own thing. It’s own thing, by the way, is tell increasingly complex stories about its characters.
Tony Stark’s arc has taken him from an arrogant weapons dealer to a peace keeper to the man willing to sacrifice himself for the world. Then in phase two, that sacrifice left him traumatized and, when that trauma was stoked, he created something he couldn’t control to protect the world that wound up putting everyone in danger. Coming off of that he surrendered control of himself to the governments of the world, the opposite of where he stood in Iron Man 2, and nearly killed one of his closest friends in blinded rage. Of anyone’s his story is the most complex. While the movies may not have gone all in on his alcohol addiction they’ve given him another one, super heroics. He tried to quit at the end of Iron Man 3 but a call from the Avengers brought him right back. This will probably kill him.
Steve Rogers went from the shrimp who didn’t like bullies to the super soldier who could actually defeat them, and gave up everything to do it. Only he didn’t die and woke up 70 years later to a world he couldn’t recognize but had to live in. For him, World War II never ended, which is why when Hydra revealed itself within SHIELD he found a new opportunity to finish it. At a point he couldn’t see the human he once was, only the super soldier, until his best friend Bucky appeared in the present as the Winter Soldier. For that last tie to who he was he shoved back against the world and gave up his place in it. One wonders if he’ll ever find peace.
Thor’s story is by far the simplest of the founding Avengers. He was poised to take the throne, walking down the path among his people, braggadocios and bold. His father humbled him and sent him to earth where he learned to be mortal, fell for the world and of course Jane Foster, then gave both those things up to stop his brother from exterminating his old enemies. He found his calling as a hero, but refused to take the throne when it was offered to him. Instead he chose to continue his own fight as a hero. Right up until his father died, leaving the throne in the hands of his evil sister. Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, and after sacrificing Asgard to defeat Hela, Thor once again makes the long walk to the throne. This time, however, he’s solemn and regal. Unlike Cap and Iron Man, his arc is complete. He could fly off into space safely if it weren’t for Thanos’s massive ship bearing down on him.
For these three their stories are likely to come to an end in Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. Whether by death or retirement we may never see them again. But with them they’ve brought so many more heroes into their world. The MCU has slowly trained its audience to understand heroes and comic book logic to the point that the Vision could just appear in the final third of Avengers: Age of Ultron and nobody has to tell you what he’s capable of. You just kind of roll with it.
That’s the other great strength of the MCU. The sheer power of the brand means that characters who would otherwise never get the spotlight can take center stage with ease. Would we ever see a Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, or Black Panther movie if they weren’t part of this universe? It’s unlikely. They don’t have to explain how their powers work, they just have to get the characters right and we buy into the rest. They didn’t even have to retread Spider-Man’s origin story for the third time in 15 years, they just put him in the world. Thank god.
For a movie studio to have released almost 20 blockbusters in 10 years that are all, at the very least, surface level enjoyable is unheard of. The scope of it all is insane, especially when its thrown into stark view in that class photo header image. (Check out the high res version)
The greatest thing to happen in my life has been watching my interests somehow become, not only mainstream, but a driving force in pop culture around the world. At the end of Iron Man 2 I had to explain to everyone what a hammer in New Mexico meant. At the end of The Avengers I had to tell everyone who Thanos was. At the end of Thor: Ragnarok I didn’t have to tell anyone what that ship meant. I expect I won’t have to explain Black Panther’s tag either. We’ll see today.
Over these past holidays I found that comic, Fantastic Firsts, and brought it back home with me from my parents house. Flipping through it, there aren’t many classic characters for Marvel to adapt after Phase Three. In whatever comes next they’ll have to look to the present, in newer heroes like Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Kamala Khan as Captain Marvel, Riri Williams as Iron Heart and Kate Bishop as Hawkeye. I cannot wait for that.
Marvel Will Return
PS, I recently rewatched a bunch of old Marvel trailers, so don’t be surprised if a massive Marvel marketing piece comes out down the line. Maybe I’ll save that one for Avengers 4.
January 10th, 2015 was my first full day in Los Angeles.
January 10th, 2018 marks my three year anniversary of living in LA.
On that first day I woke up on my sister’s couch. I had spent the night there before my apartment would become available that first day.
Today I woke up in my bed, in the house I’ve been living in for about two and a half years now. I have no intention of leaving any time soon, and count my roommates as some of my new family out here.
On the first day it was raining, but still around 60 degrees outside.
It rained again yesterday! Then today it’s supposed to be 57 degrees out. Yet all of that is still better than the endless cold that has gripped most of the rest of the country. Basically I’ve been seduced by the warmth of California.
I hung around for most of the day, waiting until my apartment would finally be available.
My day started at work, then I went to bed around 9 am when I got home. My schedule is weird right now but in the afternoon I’m going to the gym and eating dinner before, well, hanging out until work starts again.
The only occupation I had was “student”, and I hadn’t secured an internship for my semester in LA yet.
I have TWO jobs now. I am an Overnight Vault Technician at Picture Shop, a post-production house in Burbank. I’m basically a media asset librarian. But I’m also a Remote Polygonning Intern with Ubermedia, which involves outlining buildings on maps.
When I finally moved in to my apartment I met my roommates for the first time. They were almost complete strangers, and I knew only one other student in the program ahead of time.
I’m determined to see those old roommates this year. We’ve lost touch a bit but we all live in LA now so there’s no excuse. Apart from them I have my make shift family in my best friends, podcasting co-host, roommates, and actual literal sister. From their friends I’ve found an extended family. It all keeps growing and getting better.
We took our first trip together to buy groceries, bonding over food and plans to cook more than in the past.
In my house we want to start cooking more group dinners and have more parties at the house, not to mention getting Universal Studios Annual passes to go there a bunch together.
That night I crawled into bed, in a room that I shared, anxious about the next day and the semester to come.
Tonight I may nap for a bit before getting in the car and driving to work to start the whole process over again. Like I said, it’s a weird schedule.
After living in LA for three years I am feeling anchored here. One of the oddest things about visiting the east coast for the holidays was how out of place I felt there and how quickly I wanted to return home. I never used to call LA home. I’ve switched jobs yet again for the better, I’ve found some success with a Riverdale Podcast, and I’ve even written a short I intend to make this year. My primary goal this year is to do better with money, save more and hopefully make more with a new and better job. I know this post is weird and self serving, but every time I come back to it I’m reminded of how far I’ve come each year. That’s pretty special for me.
Now to roll up my sleeves and jump into year four.
PS, but like, on a macro level, 2017 was very very bad.
Around 16 years ago, Spirited Away became the most successful film in Japanese history. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the only hand drawn animated and Japanese animated film to do that. This year it was named the second “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far” by the New York Times. When Spirited Away hit, little 8-year-old me thought that movies like it, anime, would finally become mainstream. I thought we would see them everywhere. I was wrong.
To be fair, Anime (Japanese cartoons) can have a high barrier of entry. Something like Spirited Away is so deeply entrenched in Japanese folklore that it can be impenetrable to international audiences. The fans don’t help either, almost speaking a separate language with coded language like “Otaku (anime fans), “Waifu” (a fictional girl you’d like to marry), “Best Girl” (your favorite fictional girl which is apparently different), and “Kawaii” (cool). They turn their noses up at anime voiced in English (called a dub) in favor of the original Japanese voices with subtitles. Most importantly, however, they can be very unwelcoming of outsiders into their fandom’s safe space. They call those “filthy casuals”.
Yet most people who grew up in the 80s and onward are already deeply familiar with one anime or another. Pokemon, Dragonball Z, and Sailor Moon are all anime that your mother could potentially name. Since my mom reads this blog I know she’ll at least recognize the first of those. In the United States we treat anime as kids stuff along with all other cartoons, except for comedy cartoons aimed for adults. But animation isn’t a genre. It’s a style.
Anime is special because of it’s ability to depict spectacle. The creators use insane cost saving efforts so they can go all out on specific scenes and blow their audience away. This can be in your typical tale of a superhero clash…
… a gripping science fiction western…
… sports stories as good as any movie…
… and romance as far as the eye can see.
But none of the spectacle or smooth animation in these anime hold a candle to last year’s breakout film Your Name.
Your Name has become the 4th-highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, won the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, and has been tapped for a live action adaptation by JJ Abrams. But beyond that the film is so visually stunning that just about any frame could be taken and framed as a work of art.
It’s the story of two teenagers, Mitsuha who lives in a small rural town and Taki who lives in Tokyo. They start switching bodies seemingly by chance, each taking a day in the other’s shoes then coming back to their own body to deal with what the other did. They form an odd bond by leaving each other notes scribbled on their bodies and eventually fall for each other.
If only it were that simple.
The spectacle is beyond anything televised anime can produce, obviously it has a greater budget. This movie impresses with it’s lighting, it’s music is perfectly synced to it’s visuals, and most importantly there is no barrier for entry on Your Name. Everyone I know who loves anime adores this movie, but more impressively people who actively hate anime like this movie. This movie is so appealing, so entrancing, that again my mother (hi mom!) could probably sit down and enjoy watching it. If this movie got a wide release in American theaters it would have killed.
The movie isn’t perfect. The lead characters are archetypal teenagers. It has a running boob joke that somehow becomes a major moment of emotional catharsis by the end. There are serious plot holes when you get down to the specifics of the plot. Yet for Your Name none of that really matters.
There’s some kind of magic in the presentation of Your Name. The way everything is so much prettier here than in real life. It looks like how memories feel. It brings to mind the carefree days of being a teenager. In Japan that involves local festivals, part time jobs, and going to cafes after school, all major aspects of their culture. For someone in the US it may elicit thoughts of summer vacation. Late nights with nowhere to be in the morning. A summer job. Exhaustion from doing everything you possibly could in a day. And of course, your crush from a very long time ago you only half remember.
Unfortunately Your Name only got a small and limited release in the States. It is now out on Blu-Ray and, presumably, On Demand services. I sincerely hope everyone watches it. In the mean time we should all keep an eye on the writer director Makoto Shinkai who seems poised to be the next Miyazaki.
I’ve got that feeling from 16 years ago again.
PS, the live action adaptation is not inherently a bad thing. No adaptation is (and I could do a whole other piece on that). Worst case scenario, it’s not good but drives more eyes toward the original like what happened with Ghost in the Shell.
Christmastime was my favorite time of the year growing up. Actually, it still is. Since I was the smallest one in my house, I was tasked with going up into the attic to grab all of the Christmas decorations. We had lights for the windows and the bushes, decorations for the tree, stockings, and garland for the stair railings. But we also pulled out our Holiday themed movies.
Do you remember how easy it was to pick a movie when you only had, like, five options? Well the few Christmas VHS tapes we had included White Christmas (a classic), Prancer (which was always better in my memory than it was when I watched it), and The Muppets Christmas Carol (the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever made).
There are almost twenty screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol. The first one came out in 1917! But none of them do it better than The Muppets. That’s not just because The Muppets allow a very dark story to be accessible for children, though it is a factor. Most of the credit absolutely has to go to Michael Cain as Ebenzer Scrooge.
When you tune into a Muppet movie, you expect any human alongside them to be pretty game. They’re having a good time and are in on the joke, but Michael Cain made the conscious decision to play Scrooge completely straight and the movie is better for it. In fact, it puts him so at odds with the wonderful and energetic world of The Muppets that you understand why everyone sees him as this dark presence in the world. He’s not just treating people and his employees like trash, he’s kicking a muppet bunny and yelling at Kermit the Frog. What a monster.
But muppets can be dark and scary too, lest you forget Jim Henson made The Dark Crystal (new series coming next year!). Once the Ghost of Christmas Future shows up every moment of levity is drained from the film. The Muppets he sees in his future become grotesque, marked with boils and blemishes. The bright colors from earlier in the movie are gone. And, of course, Tiny Tim dies. Ebeneezer is shown all of this by a puppet who went on to personify death in my subconscious.
That time is marked by the loss of one of the best elements of the movie, one nobody else has done in the many adaptations. Charles Dickens actually leading us through the movie and narrating for us, in this case played by Gonzo. With Rizzo beside him for extra comedic relief.
They gave themselves a built in way to convey information without main characters speaking in exposition. Scrooge and everyone from his Christmas pasts speak like they have real history, then Gonzo tells us what that is while dealing with his own side bit. For kids watching the movie, it saves the whole thing and makes it entertaining for them. For anyone older, just appreciate how this allows them to cut parts of the book but still convey their information to the audience.
Also it’s a musical!
The Ghost of Christmas Future may be terrifying but the Ghost of Christmas Present is THE BEST. All the Christmas Ghosts in the movie are new, but the Ghost of Christmas Present is the most on brand of all of them.
He’s big and jovial and he plays into the distinct muppetness when he finally gets Scrooge to enjoy himself. The other-worldliness of the Ghosts allows them to stand out, but Present’s distinct Muppet-ness allows him be a bridge for Scrooge into that world.
He’s basically a big walking metaphor for the movie itself. Except he dies at the end of his act. So maybe that’s not the best connection.
I may not be in my parents home anymore, and VHS may not be a thing these days, but The Muppets Christmas Carol is currently streaming on HBO GO so you can bet your sweet butt I’ll be watching it again and again this year too.
And at the end they tell you to read the book! Every adaptation should.
PS, I do have to admit I don’t like the Ghost of Christmas Past’s design. I have to believe they didn’t intend for her to be as creepy as this.
Justice League comes out this weekend, and if I were to go back in time and tell myself I would be (at best) morbidly curious about it, it would break my heart. The DC Extended Universe has been a series of lows (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad)) and one very high deserved high (Wonder Woman), but Justice League is means to be the big one. Like the Avengers was in 2012, Justice League will become the thesis statement for the entire franchise by default. So why is the general excitement for this one so low-key? It’s a combination of coming from the same creative voices as Batman v Superman, a real low point for general audiences, and a marketing campaign that has left a lot to be desired.
The Justice League marketing is fascinating to look at because it has been going on for almost three years now. It began before filming did and the focus of the marketing has shifted through changes behind the scenes. Every few months it seems like they are trying to advertise for a completely different movie.
Justice League was formally announced Justice League along with a slate of DC movies in October of 2014, not at an event like Comic-Con where they could have gauged an audience reaction, but over an investor call that news outlets could report on. Here’s the full film slate reported then.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Justice League 2
So far they’ve been on track for this but by now their route has changed. They’ve added a Batman movie, a Nightwing movie, a Gotham City Sirens movie, another Suicide Squad movie. Have you noticed this is all focusing more and more around Batman? More on that later.
Now, because this announcement was not an event of any kind, it is not part of the marketing push. Things could have died down until Justice League truly got off the ground. Things didn’t.
In February of 2015 Zack Snyder gifted us with the first image of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman under the tagline “Unite the Seven”. This was before Batman V Superman had even come out yet, but the tagline is clearly talking about the Justice League which has typically been made up of seven heroes. Why would Zack Snyder put this out there so early? Did he want to show off the new character design? Aquaman traditionally looks like this:
I’ll admit it took me a minute to accept the new look. Could it have been meant as a part of the Dawn of Justice marketing? Potentially, but the man is in under a minute of the movie. The point is, if the seven mentioned here are the seven members of the Justice League than why didn’t they put out other character posters for the other seven members to get us excited?
Oh yeah, because they killed Superman.
In March of 2016, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice came out. It left a bad taste in the mouth of fans everywhere. People agreed Ben Affleck was good, Wonder Woman was great, and the Martha thing was dumb enough to make a good meme. But the movie ended with the death of Superman after showing off the other nascent members of the Justice League in a series of quicktime videos.
If you count them, there are five surviving and potential Justice League members. No Green Lantern in sight. So “Unite the Seven” becomes a moot tagline. They would continue to use at least two more taglines before settling on one.
This led to a marketing push that revolves around the League being formed to pick up the slack Superman has left behind. After the negative backlash to Batman V Superman, WB made it clear that these movies would lighten up and even invited many entertainment news sites to visit their set. A lot of those articles came out in June of 2016, just shortly before San Diego Comic-Con of that year. Except the first thing they did was this picture of the league:
Yup. There he is. There they are.
Everyone and their mother knew that Superman was coming back to life in this movie. In the third film he would rise again, in fulfillment of the scripture. It was actually kind of refreshing for this image to throw off the pretense that he wasn’t. But what makes this image baffling is that since this they have continued to, in almost all marketing forms, suggest that Superman would remain dead for the entire movie. Why? We all know he’s coming, and wouldn’t that build more interest as to how he comes back, or what he’s like when he does?
But never mind that, within the same weekend they showed the first footage from the movie at the convention:
Using what must be most of what they had filmed by that point, they cobbled together a trailer that really does fight back against the tone of the previous movie. It’s got jokes. It’s got color. It’s got the White Stripes. But this also became the template for future trailers. They position batman at the center, bringing these people together. We get a lot of really cool shots centering on Batman, a fun Flash moment, and barely any Cyborg because what idiot decided to make him fully CG!?
WB! You made Green Lantern! You know a fully CG body doesn’t work! Even Iron Man has a partially practical frame! What machine built for combat has so many moving parts visible from the outside! Why is he just a human head if he’s supposed to be half-man and half-machine! This is money you did not have to spend! Bwaaaaaaaaaaaa!
Shortly after this Suicide Squad came out. In the movie both Batman and the Flash show up. Amanda Waller could get in contact with both of them yet still chose to form a team of murderers and psychopaths instead. Listen nobody likes this movie, but at the end Bruce Wayne tells her he’s putting together a team of heroes.
The issue for WB is they, once again, had to push against their own brand to make Justice League look more inviting. Luckily to commemorate their last day of filming in the UK they had the opportunity. Cue the, admittedly good, behind the scenes video:
It honestly looks like this movie was a blast to film. The first signs that Jason Momoa would walk away with the whole thing are there. But pause at 37 seconds. There’s Superman! He’s right there! We all know he’s in this movie what are we doing!?
Anyway they followed this up with the plot synopsis in February of 2017, doubling down on the death of Superman.
In the wake of Clark Kent/Superman’s (Cavill) death at the hands of Doomsday in BvS, vigilante Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) reevaluates his extreme methods and begins reaching out to extraordinary heroes to assemble a team of crime-fighters to defend earth from all kinds of threats. Together with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot), Batman seeks out cybernetically enhanced former college football star Vic Stone/Cyborg (Fisher), speedster Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) and Atlantean warrior king Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa). They face off against Steppenwolf (Hinds), the herald and second-in-command to alien warlord Darkseid, who is charged by Darkseid with hunting down three artefacts hidden on earth.
Then in March we got this teaser poster:
Nobody will ever hang that poster on their wall. But it does feature the first “official” tagline for the film. “Unite”. This would later be replaced.
That same month they dropped a bunch of character posters:
And finally that month gave us the first “official” trailer for the movie:
Again, it’s a lot of Batman finding the team. There’s some rock and roll, along with a fun cover of the Beatles’s Come Together, which feels appropriate. But it also feels like they’re having a hard time putting all these characters together in one shot that feels compelling. To be honest the first trailer for The Avengers (the only precedent here) is similar, but we already knew all of those guys and the joy was just in seeing them share the same frame at all. Justice League doesn’t have that advantage.
Here’s the other struggle with Justice League. This thing looks expensive already, but consider that trailer doesn’t even have finished VFX. We haven’t seen the villain or its minions yet. We haven’t heard his voice. All we really know is that these five (six) will be there fighting something and that isn’t very exciting. We don’t even have fun moments between characters unless they include Batman.
This would change after Wonder Woman came out in June of 2017 and basically won the summer.
If there’s one thing that’s pretty clear, it’s that Zack Snyder LOVES Batman. He loves Batman so much he turned Superman into a sexy lamp* in his own sequel to inspire Batman. Everyone who watched BvS admitted Batman was good so they made him the center of Justice League.
Zack Snyder loves Batman, but EVERYONE loves Wonder Woman. Since her movie came out there has been a very conscious effort on the marketing side to give us far more shows of her now than before.
For example, the best poster for Justice League dropped at Comic-Con of 2017:
I can’t get enough of this poster. It looks like an Alex Ross drawing, and artist who’s work is so life-like it makes everyone look like they’re wearing cheap halloween costumes. This is when “All In” became the new tagline, which I appreciate because it also tells you how much WB is banking on this movie. Though, guys, you put the Superman logo right there in You Can’t Save the World Alone.
Still, I’ve also been seeing the crappy version of this poster around town:
It’s so lame, but it does put Wonder Woman front and center, something I believe was the point of it in the first place. If she is positioned as the lead, more people will be interested.
At that comic-con they also released a four minute long trailer:
Oh look who’s first! It’s Wonder Woman! There’s Themyscira and the Amazons! There’s also a line that gets by Green Lantern loving heart racing. “No protectors. No Lanterns.” This is a pretty solid trailer, finally giving us a good idea of the stakes and the characters. Except, again, Cyrborg who doesn’t really get a moment here. And clearly, once again, Aquaman will 100% be the best part of this movie.
But then there’s that tag at the end. It’s supposed to be a mystery for who it is but considering how Jeremy Irons says “hope” there it’s clearly Superman. We all know! Everyone knows! By trailer two they put Spider-Man in Civil War!
The narrative took a major shift again around late July of this year when Zack Snyder announced he was stepping away from the movie after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the movie with $25 million worth of reshoots. There was a lot to swallow with the news. It was a horrible time for the Snyder family, the movie would become cobbled together from two very different directors with very different approaches, but, you guys, Superman’s mustache.
“Justice League’s Man of Steel had expected to be able to finish shooting the sixth Mission: Impossible film before needing to don Superman’s spandex again. That has not been the case, however, as the new scenes that are being shot have required him to jump back and forth from each production. Because of this, a mustache he grew for his character in the Mission: Impossible sequel will have to be digitally removed in post-production. Paramount, which is distributing the Mission: Impossible sequel, would not allow Cavill to shave the facial hair while production was taking place.”
This is my favorite news story and makes me want to see Superman in the movie even more! The whole world needs Superman with a mustache. It was even my Halloween costume.
Anyway, we’re really starting to catch up with the present now, which is when all of the product tie in marketing happens. A lot of those feature Superman. This poster from August features Superman.
This new trailer from October features Superman, still says he’s dead, but none of them feature Superman with a mustache. I remain unsatisfied.
I will bet you money that opening bit with Supes is from the end of the movie, after they save everything and he goes home. But sure, lets keep pretending he’s not in this one. You get some Whedon-y lines in this one. But I wish there were less effects shots and more fun character moments. Though, again, Aquaman is having a blast.
That trailer was in October. Now every TV channel is showing off 30 second spots for this one. While the marketing for Justice League has been weird it seems to have found itself in the months since Wonder Woman came out, certainly sooner than BvS did, but not as easily as Man of Steel or Wonder Woman knew themselves.
Still, they are clearly holding themselves back from giving us a better sense of the movie, probably because they’re holding back a large amount of Superman footage. Is this the right decision? Who knows. Early social media buzz is mixed but leans toward the movie being good.
For a movie of this scale and importance its hard to say how much marketing really matters. A Star Wars movie doesn’t need to market itself. People would come even if they never saw a single frame of it beforehand. People showed up to the Avengers to see if the experiment would work and I suspect people will come to this for the same reason. However the experiment in this case is, can WB turn this around? I honestly don’t know. But I hope they do.
So I can get the good Green Lantern movie I need in my life.
*A sexy lamp is a character who only exists to be pretty and inspire others. They do not carry the burden of narrative decisions and could be replaced with a sexy lamp with no change to the movie.
PS – Imagine if Thor: Ragnarok hid that the Hulk would be in the movie. Yes, the twist would have been more surprising but the trailers would have been so bare that people might not have been sold on the movie. That’s how I feel about the Superman thing.