Opinion Piece

Damn It, Batman v Superman, Couldn’t You Keep It To Yourself?

Batman-v-Superman-Dawn-of-Justice

Important Warning: this article talks about how the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer essentially spoils much of the movie. If you have been avoiding it for this reason, do not read this article as I will be talking about scenes from it. Do yourself a favour, and just skip this.

The second (or third, depending on your view) trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has hit the Internet with the force of a thousand Kryptons going kablooey. Plenty of people seem to been in awe of it and are getting hyped up for the movie, which is awesome, but for me the trailer killed what little excitement I had for it. It looks beautiful, almost like a comic brought to the big screen, as it should be, but it also represents almost everything I hate about Hollywood trailers right now. It hypnotises with its explosions and epic spectacle, hiding the fact that it gave away the entire plot, ruined several of its surprises and took away the tension of its very own premise. Why do studios continue to do this?

I suppose before I talk about the trailer itself I need to justify my previous sentence since I admitted to having little excitement for the film before the new trailer arrived. It’s shocking to me, in a way, because I’m a big fan of Batman and the idea of seeing him and Superman go toe-to-toe in a movie is an amazing premise, especially since we now have the technology to bring such a conflict to life in much the same way that we can finally do justice to something like the Avengers. The problem is Man of Steel. I don’t hate it, because I reserve hatred for more deserving things, like politicians and people who insist on talking loudly in the cinema, but for me it’s just a dull movie. Lots of people do love it and that’s really cool, and there are some great sequences within the film that makes the geek in me grin, but the entire thing feels hollow. Clarke Kent/Superman doesn’t have much personality, there’s absolutely no chemistry in the love story which feels incredibly shallow and abrupt, there’s no fleshed out characters at all and the action, while fun, is just missing something. I don’t feel like there’s any real danger in the battles, despite an entire city being levelled in the process. Indeed, the only thing that I really remember about the movie is Superman killing Zod, because I thought it was an interesting route to take. I am at least glad that the death of Zod and the destruction of Metropolis have been used as the foundation for Batman v Superman.

With Snyder again taking the helm it’s a little difficult to build excitement for Batman v Superman, although the premise itself is awesome. I mean, it’s Batman going up against Superman. That’s cool. But if Man of Steel did anything it was prove to me that I just don’t like Snyder’s style. He can create visually lovely films, but seems to find it difficult to build compelling characters to inhabit his beautiful worlds. So no, I had some mild excitement to see two iconic heroes trading blows, but that was it.

But this second trailer has just killed that very little excitement I had. It’s everything that annoys me about modern trailers, namely that they seem to insist of compacting the entire movie into a few minutes, giving away the general structure and numerous surprises in the process, seemingly intent on destroying the anticipation of experiencing the film’s surprises for yourself. By watching the trailer I feel like I’ve already figured out the basic outline of the three act structure; the two heroes will trade words, each trying to come to terms with their ideologies before moving to a physical confrontation in the second act and then teaming up with Wonder Woman to battle Doomsday for the finale. I hope I”m wrong. I hope that the trailer merely seems to indicate this, but in fact things are entirely different.

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Considering the marketing up until this point has been solely on pitching the idea of Batman going up against Superman, the trailer abandons that entire idea very quickly by making it clear they they’ll both come out of the scrap just fine and team up to fight the common foe. This removes much of the tension out of the movie, and almost goes directly against the prior teaser where we see a chained up Batman becoming genuinely scared by an approaching Superman who rips off his mask and, somehow, eyeshadow. This teaser was fantastic because it only gave us glimpses of the film without revealing too much about what’s going, and having Batman become nervous due to Superman’s arrival was a truly cool moment, the perfect scene to grab out attention and hold it until the move arrives.  The full trailer, however, damages this tension by showing us that everything is going to be just fine, and almost completely convincing me that the desert scene shown is just a nightmare.

But let’s go through it bit by bit. Firstly we’re treated to some dark banter between Wayne and Clark Kent, at which point both of them are presumably perfectly aware of the other’s secret identity. It’s hard to imagine that with his super-hearing and X-ray vision Superman doesn’t know who is under the Batman cowl by now, and Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, so if he can’t see past a pair of glasses then he’ll need to have that status revoked ASAP.  While this does go on for a little too long, it’s a good sequence and I’m at least happy to see that it won’t all just be punching. Watching both men take jabs at each other is intriguing, even if Superman seems to forget that he himself is a vigilante as well, and they are both very intelligent, so a discussion between them should be something special, although Man of Steel contained horrendous dialogue. Fingers crossed for some smoother speech this time.  Sadly it then gets interrupted by Jesse Eisenberg who is playing Lex Luthor. I enjoy Eisenberg’s work, but I’m not sold on his performance as Luthor here. It almost feels more like he should be playing Luthor’s son. He does, however, get a great line when he talks about how psychotic is just a three syllable word for simple minds.

What follows is pretty cool, a sequence of action that does what it needs to do by letting us glimpse what Batman battling Superman might be like, with Superman simply stating, ”If I wanted it, you’d be dead already.” For Bat fans that’s a hard pill to swallow, but given the sheer power of Superman as shown in Man of Steel it makes complete sense. But there’s always the idea that Batman could come out on top, just as he did in the fantastic Return of the Dark Knight, right?

Nope. The trailer takes this from us by clearly showing both heroes teaming up, both seemingly having come out of the conflict with minimal damage. It seems pretty clear that Snyder is going to go the cheap route by having no clear victor over the two, which is understandable.  Suddenly that excitement and tension drains away. Of course the counter argument is that we all knew they’d team up, because we’ve got the Justice League movie to do yet and Snyder was never going to have one of the characters kill the other, but that’s where our own suspension of reality comes into play; sure, we know these things will happen because Hollywood is nothing if not predictable, but there’s still a degree of mystery surrounding the events and the vague chance that something dramatic and shocking will happen that we never see coming, despite Warner Bros. and DC clearly not being willing to delivering something surprising because they would never want to damage either the Batman franchise or the Superman franchise. Who can blame them?

The point is even if a film follows a predictable route it’s the job of the trailer to maintain a sense of mystery, to simply give viewers a brief glimpse that intrigues them enough to shell out for a cinema ticket. The Stars Wars: The Force Awakens trailers are a perfect example of how it should be done, giving us quick views at the movie which build up excitement without actually giving away too many plot details. We know just enough to get what the film is about, but not enough to spoil anything. In contrast not only did the new Batman v Superman trailer manage to spoil one part of the story, it then proceeded to spoil two more elements by showing us that Wonder Woman will also be joining Batman and Superman, and that the ultimate villain is actually Doomsday, or at least I think its Doomsday. It’s hard to be absolutely sure, but if it isn’t then it’s basically just some generic super monster made out of Zod’s corpse by Luthor, which is something else the trailer managed to give away. But why? Why give away the existence of Doomsday when the trailer could simply have stopped well before it, leaving the audience with a neat surprise for the actual movie. It even undercuts its own reveal of Wonder Woman by showing Batman away to get blasted into pieces and then saved by Wonder Woman. Again, why? The scene with Batman away to get annihilated by Doomsday should be one of anxiety of the audience, a real nail-biting moment. Instead the trailer goes ruins it by showing us that he’s absolutely fine because Wonder Woman has saved the day! Again, the trailer ruins another potentially great surprise. We knew Wonder Woman was in the flick, but had no idea in what capacity or when she would appear.  The film is literally called Batman v Superman, yet this trailer clearly shows it should actually be ”Batman v Superman for just a bit before it becomes Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman v Doomsday: Dawn of Justice”, or BvSfjbbibBSWWvD:DoJ for short. It was nice to see Wonder Woman, but again we didn’t need to know that she would be helping out Batman and Superman, because again those two are supposed to be duking it out. Why even bother calling it Batman v Superman if the second trailer is going to show us that the movie isn’t actually about that? WHY!?

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To be fair it isn’t just Batman v Superman that has done this. There’s been a worrying trend of trailers that seem to be nothing more than compressed versions of the film intent on giving away every plot point before the audience can watch the actual movie, damaging the anticipation. Take the trailer for Terminator: Genysis, which spoils the fact that a character was actually a machine in disguise. The trailer for the Amazing Spider-Man 2 ruined the surprise of Harry Osborne becoming the Goblin, perhaps because the studio thought comic fans already knew it was coming, but either way it was a stupid decision in my book. Before I went to watch the Minions with my niece I felt like I’d seen the whole thing from the trailer.

I suppose the blunt answer to all this is that passionate movie-goers want to maintain a sense of mystery, but that studios simply feel the majority audience need to be wowed with a barrage of effects and a show-everything attitude. It’s like modern horror films where the audience complain if they don’t get to see the monster clearly, whereas a oldschool fan still holds that more often than not it’s what you don’t see that’s more effective. I fall into the second category. It’s what I don’t see in a trailer that usually gets me excited for the movie. Going back to the Force Awakens I’m excited to see what’s going on with Luke Skywalker because he isn’t shown, and to discover why Finn abandoned being a Stormtrooper.  The trailers paint the film in broads strokes; we know who the villain is and have been teased with his monologue to Vader’s helmet, but we don’t really know why he’s doing what he’s doing or what his plan is. We know Finn has abandoned being a Stormtrooper, but we don’t know the context of the situation. It says enough to give you a general overview of that the movie will be about, yet never provides too much detail. It’s brilliant. The best trailers set the Internet ablaze with theories, they get fans talking about what could happen or what this or that could mean. That’s exactly what the Star Wars trailers have done, they’ve got people debating every frame, arguing whether Luke has maybe gone to the Dark Side or whether Rey is maybe a Skywalker, or even that Jar Jar Binks is actually an evil mastermind.

Of course marketing a movie isn’t easy, and I don’t mean to somehow disrespect how tough it must be. How do you choose what to show and what not to? Putting together a smart trailer is no simple task, especially today when it seems the executives want to announce movies years before they are due to be released, and demand numerous trailers be put out in the intervening time. The audience are now bombarded with information over a massive time period, from teasers to trailers to write-ups, it’s easy to become bored with it all. It’s much the same with videogames now, where studios attempt to create huge, artificial hype trains and then try to keep the momentum going for a year or two or even three.

I guess I’m in the minority now. Scouring the Internet for every snippet of information about a film is commonplace, and websites love that because it drives so much traffic for them, which in turn means more ad revenue, hence plenty of clickbait article titles designed to drawn readers in. Studios do it because they have empirical data which shows that trailers that show more of the action and plot translate to better sales. The reason for this, as it turns out, is pretty simple; the people who like seeing a spoiler-heavy trailer will go and watch the movie when they see a spoilerific trailer, while those that don’t like it usually don’t dislike it enough to not go watch the movie anyway, thus from a marketing standpoint it makes more sense to load up the trailer with plot points and reap the benefits.

We’re doomed, then. Or at least, I’m doomed, to be more specific and fair. Spoiler-heavy trailers tend to put me off watching movies altogether because they lose some of their magic, they lose that wonderful sense of discovery, and so I’ll usually just get the film later when it arrives on Blu-ray and the price drops a bit and I’ve forgotten some of the details. Studios still get my money, though, albeit less of it in the long run, so I’m not combatting the problem. Maybe the answer is to just stop watching trailers altogether, as most people would tell me. But that’s going to the opposite extreme through maintaining mystery by knowing almost absolutely nothing about a movie at all, except maybe its official summary. I still want to have some idea of what I’m going  to see. I limit the amount of stuff I do read and watch, though, to help keep just a bit of mystery alive.

Maybe I’m just the last of a generation, a generation that wants to have some mystery  left in the film, a generation that wants a trailer to leave them wanting more.

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3 replies »

  1. I guess the trailers are fine to entice movie goers to watch the movie. The problem is the length of the trailers. For example, In trailers.apple.com, trailer #2 is around 3:34 which I think is a bit too long.

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