In my review of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice marketing campaign I wrote:
What I find most interesting is that it seems determined to double-down on the one part of Man of Steel that was the most controversial: The big fight at the end. Many reviews of that movie criticized the extended battle between Superman and Zod as being sense-numbing as they crashed through building after building in cartoonish fashion. The marketing for BvS: DoJ takes the fight between the title characters, which could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 50 minutes of actual screen time, and makes it the focal point of the trailers and other materials. That leaves little room for, well, anything else.
So there are a few things going on here and yes, I will be discussing spoilers. So bail out now if you want to avoid them.
Ready? Let’s go.
First: The trailers are chock full of the usual “putting two scenes together that aren’t actually connected in the movie” shots. In fact I’m hard-pressed to find a sequence in the trailers from the big fight that flows as it does in the movie itself. Even more than that the amount of time spent in the campaign on the battle between Batman and Superman is completely out of proportion with what’s actually on screen in the finished movie. While there’s lots of talk about how much Bruce Wayne doesn’t trust Superman’s absolute power, the actual confrontation between the two of them doesn’t amount to a lot of time in the final film. So the campaign is definitely guilty of over-selling the face off that the title promised by a fair amount.
Second: Looking back at it, the most accurate of the trailers is actually the second theatrical version. Why? Because it sells the strongest aspect of the movie, which is the Batman-centric plot. Within the 2:31 runtime of the film is a solid Batman movie that I’d love to see more of. But that gets to a bigger point that while Batman gets some time in the campaign to have his story and motivations fleshed out a bit (even if they’re not portrayed 100% accurately) Superman does not. That’s a clear indicator of where the studio feels the audience’s interest actually is, but it means the Man of Steel gets short-shrift in a movie that’s not only a sequel to his solo outing three years ago but one in which his name appears.
Overall the campaign sold the movie accurately, though there are surprises a plenty waiting for the audience in the movie itself, and not all of them pleasant. But there’s only so much of a 2:31 movie you can fit in the trailers, TV spots and more, particularly when the movie uses dream sequences not to advance the actual story but to either setup sequels or seemingly as an outlet for whatever random ideas the screenwriters came up with that couldn’t be shoehorned into the core story.
And there’s a lot of story here, though it’s littered with non-sequitors that advance the plot in fits and starts, without any logical progression of events and with lots of amazingly coincidental timing of various threads converging.
Also missing from the campaign, though it’s easy to guess at, is just how completely Wonder Woman (not Diana Prince, who’s given nothing of interest to do, but Wonder Woman) and Alfred steal the damn movie. Seriously, I could watch grumpy Jeremy Irons completely own every scene he’s in for hours. And Gal Gadot, once she becomes WW, kicks all kinds of ass. I can’t wait for her solo movie where she’s given more to do than think she’s going to steal back a JPG file.
The movie’s $170m box-office take has started all sorts of hand-wringing in the film media world along the lines of “critics don’t matter” since it was almost universally-panned by the professionals. So what, goes the thinking, is the role of the critic if they can’t convince people they shouldn’t be wasting their time on movies like this? There are lots of reasons for this and BvS is certainly not the only movie – even in the last year – to be labeled “critic proof.” But this time it seems to be especially spite-filled since critic positions are dropping left and right at major news outlets. So put those two things together and you have an environment ripe for those remaining critics at trade pubs to decry how the unprofessional bloggers wield more influence than they do.
I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, the democratization of film criticism is a demonstrable good thing. More people opining on movies means more opportunities for smaller movies to be championed and rise from obscurity, something that’s even more true in an age of more distribution options. So someone can really get behind a movie that might just be on iTunes and Netflix and hasn’t benefitted from a big Hollywood release marketing and publicity push.
But on the other hand, how that power is used is something I’m not always a fan of. Because many of these folks didn’t go through the ranks of the professional film world they’re lacking in certain chops and structures, when means they indulge their inner fan a bit more than someone with a strict editor might. That leads to a world that only helps these “critic proof” movies because they’re the ones whose every trailer is dissected in 17 different posts, whose spy photos from the set are analyzed over and over again and so on. They’re feeding the content beast but the content they’re producing isn’t all that different from what their competitors are, leading to a buzz bubble.
It would have been difficult for a movie like Batman v Superman that had so much awareness and buzz to fail. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but it would have been hard. The reality is it’s easier for critics to build movies up than to tear them down. So while critical positivity helped Spotlight and others do better than they may have otherwise, their impact on hurting BvS was, if there was any, minimal. No, what will do a movie like this in is word-of-mouth. Everyone went and saw it this past weekend, but how they’re talking about it with their friends and social networks will determine the long-term fate.