Note: I'll be calling the film THE AVENGERS in the following post, as opposed to the new UK title AVENGERS ASSEMBLE because I am lazy and fear change, in that order.
OK, I’m in.
Just to clarify. I’ve always been more of DC guy than a Marvel guy, although I did have a brief flirtation with being a Marvel man a few years ago when the Civil War mini-series was going. I also dip in and out of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man as I’m a fan of both writers, and I also pick up Daredevil every now and again, as he’s by far my favourite Marvel superhero (which makes the achingly mediocre Affleck-tation all the more painful). I’m definitely more of an Avengers person than an X-Men person, which I think puts me in a minority – that said, I haven’t read any actual Avengers comics in a very long time. As for the movies – I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees (if we’re discounting the two Hulk movies, and frankly who isn’t at this point?), but I haven’t actively loved a Marvel film since SPIDERMAN 2.
As a result, I’ve been vaguely interested in THE AVENGERS, largely due to the involvement of good guy Joss Whedon, but I’d never felt the HOLY SHIT excitement than many seem to have been enjoying until now.
This trailer is great in just about every way it’s possible to be great. It’s brilliantly edited, for a start. It’s not needlessly enigmatic – the story, the chracters, the conflicts and the beats of the story are set up perfectly, but crucially it doesn’t give away the whole plot of the film like a lot of modern trailers do. It gives you exactly as much as you need to know about the film, while still adding in a couple of amazing context free WTF moments.
One trope that’s prevalent in nearly all blockbuster trailers is the a snapshot of something indescribably epic, followed by a jump cut to black – the tease of unimaginable spectacle that will only become clear to you once you go see the film. Think the White House exploding in INDEPENDENCE DAY, or the tsunami crashing into the coast in DEEP IMPACT.
The trouble is (at least for me) is that the crazy CGI shots of battles, explosions, and disasters have become so prevalent that I’m totally numbed there’s virtually nothing you can show me that’s going to shock or impress me any more, spectacle wise. Show me a world folding in on itself while a intergalactic space battle rages in its orbit and I’ll show you a fat, yawning mouth that belongs to me.
I was thinking this during the shot where Iron Man is battling his way through a city scape, firing lasers and getting fired at. Same old, same old. A lot of computer generated sound and fury signifying nothing that I don’t quite comprehend.
Then the Hulk appeared from nowhere to save him, and I was out of my seat. Same with the shot of OHMYGODWHATISTHAT at the end. Get away from him, Downey Man! You are but a speck on its mandibles!
It’s these two shots that made me realise how ingenious the whole concept of THE AVENGERS is, and how successful it’s going to be. What’s been missing from most blockbusters in recent years is genuine character development. The increased reliance on delivering special effects spectacle has squeezed out more and more time spent getting to know and/or care about the characters who are in the middle of these crazily intricate, technically stunning worlds. That character development is essential for an audience to give a fig about happens in the film (especially in a time when special effects have sort of plateaued), or ultimately the actors become just as disposable as the pile of pixels inevitably attacking them.
What’s brilliant about THE AVENGERS is – we already know these characters. And not just the characters, but these particular interpreatations of those characters. All the character development’s been done, in some cases years ago, in IRON MAN 1 and 2, THOR, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and CAPTAIN AMERICA. We know what Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and Chris Evans’s Cap will be like, and (hopefully) we’re already invested in them.
Crucially, this means the spectacle’s already been earned before anyone’s even stepped foot in the cinema. We’ve already got our context – we know Downey Jr’s Iron Man is brave and fearless but also cocky and foolhardy; we know the Hulk struggles with channelling his rage into good or even into anything that can be controlled; that’s why the Hulk/Iron Man moment has actual resonance and an emotional impact in the frigging trailer.
So the ability to concentrate on pure spectacle is combined with the sheer geeky pleasure of seeing the first ever big blockbuster cross-over realised on screen, by people who actually know what they’re doing and have money (see ALIENS VS PREDATOR and FREDDY VS JASON for what happens when this isn’t the case).
This genuinely feels like a recipe for a film we’ve never been able to see before. If Marvel pull it off, it’s something we might get used to seeing – you can bet the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie that’s been in development hell for years will be fast-tracked if this ends up killing at the box office. What else? How about ROBOCOP VS TERMINATOR? KING KONG VS TRANSFORMERS? BATMAN VS SUPERMAN? ASH VS THE DALEKS? MUPPETS VS GREMLINS?
I could be cynical about all this inevitable brand cross-pollination and hold it up as a prime example of an increasingly homogenised artistic landscape slowly being poisoned by its own nostalgia…but then if you’d gone back and shown my 11 year old self the trailers for THE AVENGERS, THE HOBBIT, and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I’m pretty sure seeing all my 90s nerd dreams realised at once would have resulted in my head exploding 30 seconds in.
Yes, the motives behind all of these films are cynical. But somehow the suits have managed to find their way back to the heart of what makes the original blockbusters so special, even if it was probably by accident – impeccably realised and technically impressive fantastical worlds, sure, but ones that are populated by iconic characters, brilliantly realised, by film-makers who have been given the time and space they need to make us care about them.
A significant number of comments under this trailer are variations on the phrase ‘Too soon…’, which while clearly in reference to the fact that this is one of the quickest reboots in history (though I think the Hulk was even quicker), it’s also basically equating SPIDERMAN 3 with 9/11 as some sort of unimaginably tragic atrocity that we need at least another decade to process before we can begin addressing it with any sense of clarity.
*pauses, leans on microphone stand*
I love trailers. Absolutely love them. Back in the early days in the internet (when I was 13-14) viewing trailers was pretty much all I used the web for, besides reading Ain’t It Cool News and sending lovelorn MSN messages to rightly disinterested and uneasy teenage girls. I downloaded the grainy Quicktime trailer for The Phantom Menace along with everyone else. Same with Fellowship of the Ring.
I can’t help but feel that trailers have lost a bit of their luster for me in recent years – the accepted wisdom is that now trailers give away too much of the film, yet I really don’t think that’s the case. If anything, older trailers are just as bad if not worse about giving away plot details. Check out this After Hours trailer – or rather, don’t if you haven’t seen the film, because it’s beat for beat basically the entire film. Granted, After Hours doesn’t have much of a plot, so it isn’t the end of the world – but how about this trailer for Chinatown? THE END OF THE TRAILER IS ALSO THE END OF THE FILM. Old horror films are particularly bad, with Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street both being guilty of showing every single murder that takes place in their respective climaxes.
I think the problem with modern trailers is not that they give away too much – it’s more that they are more transparently prepared by a marketing company, as opposed to the film-makers. There are some notable exceptions – the recent Muppets trailers have a lot of fun with trailer tropes, and David Fincher puts some really good trailers together, with the fantastic The Social Network trailer recently blowing minds. (I have a friend who has seen upcoming The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trailer and reports it’s similarly awesome, with another great cover of a classic song…)
On the whole though film-makers seem a lot more reticent to become involved with trailers, which is a shame because it is basically a chance to make another little short film, with just as much potential for imagination and craftsmanship as there is in their feature length counterparts.
Someone who understood this totally was perhaps the greatest and most influential of all directors, Alfred Hitchcock. In this wonderful trailer for The Birds, embedded below, Hitchcock himself delivers a monologue on the history of birds that is both hilarious and dripping with sarcastic menace. There is only a couple of seconds of footage from The Birds itself at the very end, yet it’s still a wonderful advert for the films whilst also being a great short. Also, despite its irreverence, it is actually a great compliment to the film itself – it casually brushes off and pre-empts an unanswered mystery in the film that could have proven to be a sticking point for audiences, who might have left the film asking “Why did the birds attack?” Hitch’s typically sardonic response, issued in the form of this fantastic trailer, is: “Why wouldn’t they?”
I've been terrible updating this blog recently - I've been very busy and much to my chagrin I've had to concentrate on doing actual work and stuff. From the 'Site stats' feature on WordPress I can tell that my lack of activity has had a dramatic effect on both of my readers, so I'm going to endeavour to stop neglecting you and hit you with some sweet content over the next few days.
First up, here are some quick reviews of some great, recently-released films I've seen over the past few weeks:
A beautiful looking film structured and composed with flair and imagination, Blue Valentine only falters occasionally - where Williams's character is extraordinarily plausible and well-realised, Gosling's occasionally lapses into caricature (his alcoholism is an easy and obvious narrative crutch), and the faint whiff of misery porn (stale bedding and ramen noodles, if you're interested) abounds in its heavier moments - Blue Valentine is ultimately rendered into something special by the humanity and generosity that filters down into the whole project from the two spectacular lead performances.
Unexpectedly, this is an austere, understated and powerful masterpiece from a country that has built an impressive cinematic legacy on shlockly exploitation (definitively *not* a slam, Mad Max 2 is one of the best films ever made, yadda yadda let's move on) - this is a serious piece of work, both tense and intense throughout with a uniformly phenomenal cast. In the pantheon of recent neo-realist gangster thrillers, this is way, way better than the stuffy Gomorrah and not that far behind the magnificence of Le Prophet. See it, see it, see it, go see it.
NOTE: Animal Kingdom has a terrible trailer - avoid it at all costs. Embedded above is a quick spoiler-free clip instead.
It's not easy to make a raging narcissist likeable and interesting but Submarine absolutely nails the suffocating solipsism of adolescence, while doing so with a refreshing lack of sentimentality and no shortage of humour and charm. It loses momentum in its closing moments, but overall it's a total joy - wonderfully observed, stunningly shot, and with an abundance of excellent performances (Noah Taylor was my personal standout). Submarine isn't just a film people will enjoy - it's one that people are going to want to revisit and live in for a very long time to come.
I still haven't seen True Grit, The Fighter, or 127 Hours, to my intense shame. Will try to rectify at least one of those before they disappear completely from cinemas.
Coming up, I'll try and do a retro round-up of all the old films I've been catching up with lately (of which there have been quite a few). In the meantime, I'll be back shortly with a special post on a GREAT cult film I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen this weekend...