It goes without saying that we, as a communal and passionate fandom, carry enormous expectations into the cinema upon each new release. We pray that our annual Star Wars entries live up to the series’ crown jewels and soak-in each year’s multiple comic book films with beady eyes, usually judging the filmmaking and source material loyalty to an unfair degree. And while the sped-up internet age we now live in supports and amplifies our anticipation by allowing debates to be shared and intense discussions to be had on social media platforms, it can also poison our moviegoing experiences by exposing too much information via advertisements and company leaks, or enabling our nerdy minds to wander too far with insane theorising that often doesn’t come true. Obviously, some people have no issue here. They can watch advertisements and learn leaked details, yet still enjoy the film all the same. I envy those people. But, now with Star Wars: The Last Jedi peeking over the horizon and the internet currently blowing up over the long-awaited Avengers: Infinity War teaser trailer, I guess it’s as good a time as any to discuss this for a few minutes.
Cast your mind back to 2014, when Sony’s grubby plans for Spider-Man crumbled with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, driving the Wall-Crawler to be split between Sony and Marvel Studios and co-star in the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead. Admittedly, it wasn’t a good movie, and it’s probably the character’s weakest outing to date. But did it quite deserve the overwhelming flak it received at the time? The film’s advertisements, I think, were partly responsible for its abysmal reception. For anyone who remembers its final trailer, which was already jam-packed with puzzle-piece content that could be re-assembled into an actual narrative, you may remember that it closed with a shot of Spidey swinging towards Paul Giamatti’s charging Rhino, indicating an epic battle was afoot for the actual movie. So when the film infamously concluded with the exact same shot, never actually reaching said battle, everyone who’d seen that trailer felt robbed. I don’t blame them. Sony had used its closing moment to close an advertisement. Imagine if you watched a Gone with the Wind trailer which closed with “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” How annoyed would you be upon seeing the film? Well, maybe this Spidey flick doesn’t quite share that status, but you get what I mean. However, personally, I felt robbed by this movie for an entirely different reason.
The trailer in question was edited together to hint at a particular plot path, a plot path which had absolutely nothing to do with the film itself, nor had any indication of being used in deleted scenes. For example, one clip within the trailer hears Harry Osborn tell Peter, “Oscorp had you under surveillance…” And when asked why, Harry responds with a sinister smirk, “Isn’t that the question of the day?” Soon after, with an Oscorp-centric theme running through the imagery, Chris Cooper’s Norman Osborn can be heard stating with a rather evil tone, “We had plans for you, Peter Parker.” So, what does that tell someone who hasn’t yet seen the film? Well, before finally watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I was led to believe by this trailer that its story would be about Oscorp having a deep-rooted involvement in Spidey’s origins. My theories extended the idea; perhaps Oscorp planned his “accident” as an experiment, initially planning for him to be a villain and having kept tabs on him ever since. What a concept, right? Obviously, my theories were just that: my theories. But had Sony just advertised their actual film without this phony dialogue obviously added for promotional purposes, my expectations would have been more focused on what the film could realistically offer. Also, side note — don’t reveal the third-act twist of the Green Goblin in your trailers, dude. Not cool. Bad Sony.
Deliberately editing a trailer a certain way to mislead an audience into buying movie tickets isn’t exactly breaking news. FilmDistrict tried to promote 2011’s Drive as an action flick, while Warner Bros. “forgot to mention” in 2006 that Pan’s Labyrinth was entirely in Spanish, not showing a single word of dialogue in their trailer. But Sony’s advertising of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 remains the most glaring and offensively deliberate example in recent years. The other, most criticised issue they had on their hands during this appalling marketing was revealing far too much content and leaving nothing, besides small details and basic narrative threads, left for the moviegoing experience.
Look to another example in Marvel Studios’ triumph from last year, Captain America: Civil War. Being inspired by the great comic book crossover storyline, “Civil War”, in which Captain America and Iron Man lead opposing sides of a political war, there was already the lingering question, would Chris Evan’s Cap meet his end in the concluding chapter of his stand-alone trilogy? But when word broke from Marvel Studios that two deaths were officially scheduled for this film, fans considered their question answered. On top of that, some (including myself) even considered that Cap’s death would be far too predictable and, in grand MCU fashion, the film would throw us a surprise twist by having Cap kill Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man instead. Now, just for the record, I’m of the opinion that Captain America: Civil War benefitted from killing neither character, allowing instead the team’s separation and the franchise’s loss of innocence to be the film’s harshest effect that will later continue in Avengers: Infinity War. However, with two promised deaths by the company itself and my crazy theory looking all-too-possible at the time, I can’t say I didn’t feel slightly underwhelmed by the film’s climax upon first viewing. I certainly loved the film, but I do remember thinking, “Why couldn’t they have just gone through with it?” Having rewatched it several times since, I’ve now come to appreciate the brilliance in that bloodless ending, even preferring it, and I’m positive my initial disappointment was at least partly caused by Marvel Studios’ misguided statement.
2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens perfected blockbuster advertising. Director J. J. Abrams demonstrated just how to promote the biggest film in the world with a number of full-length trailers, each playing John Williams’ grandiose orchestra and showing mind-blowing imagery that made fanboys and fangirls sob with joy worldwide, but without revealing a single spoiler or a mere scene outcome. Watching that film for the first time was like washing-down a glass of fresh, cold water on a dry afternoon, as every sequence and pivotal moment was an unspoiled revelation to be enjoyed for the first time while comfortable in a movie theatre. Thankfully, I can say the same about this year’s epic sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049, which managed to plant its face all over the world through trailers and billboard posters without actually revealing a shred of it’s central plot. If you ask me, that’s some heavy lifting, and both examples just go to show what can be done about keeping our expectations at bay by keeping information under wraps before a film’s release.
The fact of the matter is, film advertisements aren’t going to change any time soon. And if you’re an internet user and regular moviegoer, it’s not easy to stay clear from big blockbuster trailers — trust me, I attempted that with the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer, but to no avail. You could probably engage in a blackout for slightly smaller films like next year’s Black Panther, but if you’re thinking of doing that for Avengers: Infinity War, pfft — best of luck to you, mate. Perhaps those of us who are affected and bothered by the issues I’ve brought up should try to keep our expectations below a certain level and our theorising at a minimum, no matter what potential spoilers are revealed or hinted at through today’s sometimes clunky advertising. If the major film studios won’t come to our aid, then we need to help ourselves have fresher and more relaxed experiences watching our most-anticipated movies of each year. After all, it’s a hell of a time to be a nerd right now. Let’s enjoy it.