Why superhero movies don’t live up to their trailers
Why hasn’t a superhero movie won the Best Picture Oscar yet? Simple. If you only saw the trailers, you’d think each one of the Marvel or DC tentpole features had the emotional depth of Forrest Gump and the grandiose scope of Lawrence Of Arabia. But once you’ve forked out your money and somehow managed to smuggle in an XL pepperoni in anticipation of two hours of mind-blowing thrills, you’re more often than not left unsatisfied. We’re going to find out why.
All these modern superhero trailers seem to have something in common - setting the morose mood. First, they start off with some minimalistic but foreboding music, then a voiceover from the main character muttering a thematic line, before the beautifully ominous score crescendos to a dramatic climax and the lid gets blown off the thing when it becomes an epic montage of action scenes and expressions of anguish on the main characters’ faces. It gives fans the chills to see those advertisements, because they’re expecting to see an electrifying film that gives them all the feels, and yet superhero movies are becoming more generic than ever. There’s a tonal disparity between the movie we’re being sold and the movie we’re seeing. We want a superhero movie to make us weep, but our heart-strings barely feel a tickle when we see a superhero movie, despite the operatic trailers.
The essence of movie trailer editing is to prune the footage down to a titillating short film, showcasing the most powerful scenes while still leaving enough gaps so our imagination can run wild. They condense and intensify the depth, darkness, and, most importantly, emotion. After fans pointed out that trailers for the two most recent Star Wars films included scenes not shown in the final product, advertisers admitted to shooting footage specifically for promotional reasons, because the goal is to get your ass in the seats, even if it dishonestly represents the tone of the movie.
It’s not that these movies are bad – they’re just not what’s being pitched to us. Have a look at the first trailer for Logan, Captain America: Civil War, or any of the spots for Man Of Steel, and notice that they’re promoted as if they have just as much tear-jerking drama as Manchester By The Sea. With moody shots of waves enveloping a rocky shore, Superman embracing the warmth of the sunlight on his face, and a sentimental musical score, Man Of Steel was hyped as a soft-spoken Terrence Malick tone poem. But the first 25 minutes of that movie features a planet blowing up, a fight scene, an oil rig exploding, and a bus careening off a bridge, all before the lead actor has a line of dialogue. As a result, they falsely advertise award-worthy dramas but actually favour action over emotion, which is so Transformers.
Award-worthy movies champion histrionics, but blockbuster films emphasise consonance and plots with constant upward momentum, which leaves little space for emotion. In fact, contrary to their marketing, these movies tend to lean more into light-heartedness and full-on comedy rather than sentimentality. Marvel has been commended superior to DC in its ability to pepper in humour.
Studios often take a light-hearted, cookie-cutter route because they want to appeal to all audiences to secure a return on their investment. But studios like Pixar show that you can have it both ways. Pixar is as much an animation studio as it is a tear-manufacturing sob factory. Their all-pleasing movies have comedy, heart, lots of adventure, and churn out Academy Awards like it’s an unshakable habit.
We all buy tickets to see the formulaic Marvel movies, but the films we ultimately raise on our shoulders are the ones that took risks. We want to see the next Batman Begins or Spider-Man 2, both of which are character studies wrapped in superhero films, because they were more like the movies we keep getting sold to us with these provocative trailers. Even Deadpool, which was always intended to be a comedy, got heavily rewarded critically and commercially because it was a breath of fresh air in a market overwhelmed with monotony.
It’s fine that blockbuster movies aren’t our sources for melodrama, but that’s exactly what they’re pitching us with their sensationalist commercials. We keep getting PG jokes, action scenes every 10 minutes, and global calamity instead of small, personal stakes. Filmmakers and movie studios aren’t paying attention to the fact that we actually want to see these tonally expressive movies they’re selling us. Here’s hoping sometime soon a superhero movie filled with grown adults in bright spandex makes us laugh and cry, astonishes us with its action, and ends up lifting a golden statue. But that will only happen if their films more closely resemble the trailers.