In the lead-up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a real danger of your trailer announcement disappearing behind a record opening. Nothing major – save for what may play in front of Avengers or compete directly with it in a few weeks – is even bothering to release a new trailer in this time frame. This leaves us with an interesting collection of counterprogrammed announcements focused on specific actors and a handful of overseas trailers.
If you’re making a Johnny Depp movie, your trailer has one responsibility: remind people he never stopped being Johnny Depp. Put another way, remind everyone he can still act circles around anyone starring in the movies you’re going to see this summer. The idea that he’s sold out by making sequels only works if you’re willing to give back seven Harry Potters and a couple of Godfathers, Aliens, and Lord of the Rings. The idea that he’s making worse movies is inaccurate – have you seen all of his old stuff?
Even at the height of his career, Depp interspersed phenomenal performances with utterly unwatchable films. If you think he overacts now, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Once Upon a Time in Mexico would like to have a word with you. The only thing that’s changed about Depp is our expectations of him post-Pirates of the Caribbean. Where before his failures would only be seen by half a dozen viewers in a ghostly art house no one would ever be able to find again, ending up as nothing more than a Box Office Mojo footnote, now they’re critiqued by millions. Nothing’s actually changed about Depp but the attention we invest in him. Yet we’re convinced something has changed, so the trailer’s sole duty is to remind us we’re wrong. It’s not an easy task, but Black Mass accomplishes it beautifully by framing the trailer squarely on Depp’s uncanny mesh of Ray Liotta and Jack Nicholson gangster archetypes. It releases September 18.
The unrecognizable silhouette of a hero approaching in slow motion. A Michael Caine voiceover. A wide shot of a city glittering away in the night. A hidden room full of weaponry and gadgets. What does the first 30 seconds of this trailer make you think about? If you answered, “Vin Diesel as Batman,” then you’re on to something.
Diesel’s Furious 7 just became the fourth-highest grossing movie in cinematic history. Don’t look now, but that gives him three in the top 100. (Four if you include his motion capture and voice acting work as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, which you should.) Although The Last Witch Hunter may be something closer to Constantine, the trailer’s only responsibilities are to show us Diesel in another big production and connect him to an icon that helps us understand what sort of movie he’s in. Whether accurate or not, emulating the Dark Knight franchise for the first 30 seconds does more to build our anticipation than the 50 seconds of more impressive visuals that follow. You’ll also notice that Vin Diesel may never again appear in a trailer without a car by his side at some point…and it kind of looks like he faces off against Groot at 1:03. The Last Witch Hunter arrives in theaters October 23.
Supposedly, this is the final Mad Max: Fury Road trailer. For a movie that’s had approximately one billion trailers so far and that’s the first event movie up to challenge Avengers: Age of Ultron in two weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s one more “final trailer” on the way. If this is the final one, it’s very badly timed – it will be swallowed whole by The Avengers.
In terms of technique, we’ve seen the insane orchestrations of colorful imagery in the other Max trailers. Now, director George Miller’s teasing at the approach that made Furious 7 so successful – focusing the first half of the trailer on a single sequence (get used to seeing this technique in event trailers). It helps us see just a little bit of the rhythm and pace that makes up the experience of watching the film when things aren’t blowing up. It only lasts a minute before relenting to another assault of truly impressive, quickly cut action imagery, but it makes us feel more clued into what the viewing experience will be like. It’ll be a slightly late birthday present for me on May 15.
Rhythm trailers are hard to pull off correctly. A fraction of a beat or image in the wrong place and they cease to work. When one’s pulled off as elegantly as Youth, you take notice. By Paolo Sorrentino, director of The Great Beauty (which won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year), there ultimately isn’t a big audience in the U.S. for films like these. More accurately, I should say distributors don’t believe there’s a big audience for them. Either way, it gives a trailer like this the freedom to be esoteric and artful as it pleases, and sometimes that creates trailers that are in and of themselves touching creations. Michael Caine, Paul Dano, and Rachel Weisz star. There is no U.S. release set yet. Please be warned the trailer is NSFW.
Starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy again as identical twin gangsters who terrorized London 60 years ago, Legend isn’t actually that good of a trailer by American standards. We tend to like our trailers as summaries of a movie’s set-up. Sometimes, these summaries go too deep into the story and spoil their own plot twists, but they still feel better than a seemingly random collection of visuals, no matter how clever and impressive they might be. Legend is a good example of how crime movies are trailered in Europe, however – being a British film’s debut trailer, this makes sense, especially because Hardy has yet to really penetrate the U.S. market reliably. His recent Child 44 was a box office disaster of pretty epic proportions, but Mad Max may broaden his appeal. Watch this trailer for the upcoming French gang film The Connection for one of the best examples of the European approach to trailering crime movies. Legend should arrive in September (and The Connection arrives May 15).
If there’s one trailer I’d want to recut this week, it’d be the debut for Strangerland. Australia has one of the most daring film industries in the world, especially when you consider how badly its funding has been slashed in recent years. Strangerland focuses on style and atmosphere, but I’d like to see Nicole Kidman a little more front and center. Like Depp in Black Mass, she’s an actor you have to forcibly remind audiences is worth the ticket price on her abilities alone.
A lot of movies are so bad they’re good. It’s very difficult to make a trailer that communicates this. They mostly just end up looking bad. You have to have true dedication to a concept so stupid that it should never be put to film.
You wouldn’t forgive me if I failed to point you toward Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs, available May 19. I didn’t say I was going to watch it on May 19. Just, you know, for anyone interested. I mean, if I try to order Citizen Kane and my finger slips and up comes Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs, I’ve already paid for it, right? There’s nothing I can do at that point. It’d be like destiny or something. I’d be honor-bound to not waste money.
Yes, Worst Trailer of the Week is here to stay. One of the things that’s made Woody Allen so artistically successful as a writer-director is that nothing is really off the table as subject matter. Perhaps that should change. The story of an older man in a position of responsibility developing a relationship with a young woman sits uncomfortably close to Allen’s real-life relationship with his ex’s adopted daughter, as well as the findings of a 1993 custody case in which the judge said evidence for Allen molesting his own adopted child, Dylan, was inconclusive. That the trailer makes the whole plot seem like it’s about curing the main character’s erectile dysfunction through a relationship with someone younger makes this one of the creepier trailers I’ve seen recently. Curing male mid-life crises with college-age ingenues is a waste of my time as a viewer. If the film does something new with it, it’s not shown here. I really don’t know what they were thinking. Even if it weren’t complicated by these factors, the trailer manages to make three exciting actors – Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey – look downright boring inside of two minutes. It comes out July 24. Don’t be shocked if you see a Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs review from me instead.