You saw those trailers, right? There’s almost no point in asking. Star Wars: The Force Awakens dropped teaser number two on Thursday; the Internet summarily exploded. The next day, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice dropped teaser number one, another Internet-splosion. If not quite the same magnitude (the as-I-write-this YouTube hit count: The Force Awakens has 40m, Dawn of Justice has 23m. Even with a day’s difference, Star Wars comes out on top).
But both have this in common: fans. Millions of ’em, who don’t just want to see a movie when it comes out but have a real, personal connection to the words “Batman,” “Superman” or “Star Wars.” Last week’s trailer-fest was geared towards these people, whether you realize it or not. Both held a moment. That Moment. The moment people had been waiting to see for decades upon decades: The Star Wars original trilogy’s original trilogy (Luke, Han and Leia) returning to the big screen; Batman and Superman finally sharing the big screen for the first time, ever (because The LEGO Movie totally doesn’t count).
So why did people seem to like The Force Awakens so much more than Dawn of Justice?
The trailers aren’t so different. Not at all, really, when you strip them down to the basic nuts and bolts. Both open with a great big wide shot of our setting, wordlessly sharing the broad strokes of what happened since the last movie. For The Force Awakens it’s the desert planet Jakku, looking pretty barren except for a lone speeder and the horizon-filling wreck of a Star Destroyer. Extremely relevant: if you remember those Mr. Plinkett Star Wars prequel reviews back when everyone was talking about them, I always thought he summed up A New Hope’s opening sequence as well as anyone ever could.
“(Little arrow pointing to Rebel ship) Rebels.
(Little arrow pointing to Star Destroyer) Empire.
We get a sense to how small and ill-equipped the rebels are, and how large and powerful the Empire is. The low angle implies dominance, and the length of the Star Destroyer implies the long reach of the Empire. This shot says everything we need to know without saying one word.”
The Force Awakens? Same deal. Except what’s large and powerful are the aftereffects of war on Jakku (Star Destroyer), and what’s small and ill-equipped are the people scrabbling to survive in the aftermath (speeder).
Dawn of Justice pulls a similar move, but it’s not as clearly telegraphed. We push in on a city, which I’m assuming is Metropolis, given the Superman statue front and center. You’d think from the voiceover and the ominous music, both clearly stating one thing- that Superman fellow’s up to no good– that there’d be some kind of visual synergy. Not really. Despite the darkness, the city looks great, well-maintained. Postcard-worthy, even. I’m assuming that’s Luthor’s doing, with some kind of “Clean Up Metropolis Because Superman Wrecked It” campaign. All this will be explained in the finished film, I’m assuming. But I’ve also had to use the word “assuming” four times now for just this opening shot. Makes for a puzzling watch.
Both teasers continue as teasers often do- more voiceover and ominous music for each, leading into a series of oh shit what was that? one-second snippets. These snippets piece together what it is the fans really want to see. Vader’s helmet, suffering from space corrosion. Luke, obscured by a heavy cloak. Leia’s hand, for like a second. Can we just see them already? Finally: Han and Chewie, in the flesh. Han vocalizes what every weepy, joyous fan is already thinking: “Chewie, we’re home.”
Ditto for Dawn of Justice. The action snippets start on Superman- flying, lifting things, looking majestic. Then Batman- brooding, gadget-using, doing that superhero thing where you survey your city from up high. Our minds are meant to piece it together, that eventually these two heroes will actually be in the same scene. And then they are. Threats are snarled- “tell me… do you bleed? You will.” Pavement goes crunch. It’s cool, but somehow this:
This is the first-ever instance of live-action Batman and Superman in the same frame and it doesn’t have nearly the impact of Harrison Ford standing in place and saying three words.
But as tingly and fulfilled as those three words make you feel, having Ford detonate a nostalgia-bomb was probably an easier mission than turning Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice into a crowd-pleaser. Fixing Star Wars is easy. On paper, anyway. People love the original trilogy. They don’t love the prequels. Hire Mark Hamill, shoot on location (no green screen palaces) and commission a few aliens built from genuine cloth and rubber. Problem solved! Not in terms of making a good Star Wars movie, but in meeting the bare minimums of pleasing the fan masses.
Now try that with Dawn of Justice. Instead of two sets of movies- one cherished, one reviled- there are at least four film series and eight bajillion comics out there featuring these characters, with just as many writers, artists and interpretations. Everyone has their own favorite. Giving everyone what they want is now impossible.
Plus, the equivalent Prequel Trilogy sitting so sourly in everyone’s minds might just be Man of Steel. And somehow I doubt Zack Snyder would be willing to double back on every creative decision he’s ever made to please fan audiences. If anything, he’s taken the opposite route back to full-on Snyderville. The two minutes of Dawn of Justice we saw bear the overzealous, color filtered comic panel aesthetic that he eased up on last time (check the “FALSE GOD” statue- visually, it’s something out of Watchmen or 300, not Man of Steel).
At The Hollywood Reporter, Graeme McMillan dissected the same subject– fans love The Force Awakens, snub their noses in disgust at Dawn of Justice– but argued the opposite angle. Dawn of Justice is just as valid as any summer blockbuster, he claims, but the preconceived notions that everyone decided on beforehand make Han and Chewie the golden children and Bats and Supes the black sheep. The following sentence refers to Terminator Genisys, which McMillan places in the same precarious situation, but it’s a good summation of the argument:
“At some point, it was collectively decided, in some corners of the Internet, that it was a movie that didn’t need to be made. “
I’d argue that it’s something much simpler. On a general population level: the Force Awakens trailer looks fun. Dawn of Justice’s doesn’t. No conspiracy theories in the Internet’s dark corners. People are immersed in movie trailers these days. For the most part, we’ve become efficient movie-quality bloodhounds. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’s promos saw Kevin James rattle off fat jokes, slug an elderly housekeeper in the gut and fall down a lot. The verdict? 0%. Mad Max: Fury Road’s trailers are a marvel of editing, music, vehicle annihilation, faces done up to look like skulls. I’d wager it comes away with a much higher Tomatometer score.
On the hardcore fan level, it’s the same situation with keener noses. That BvS trailer- darkness on darkness on darkness- is affirmation of something people have been sleuthing into for years. Fans are the ones following along during pre-production, through off-kilter casting choices (any thoughts, having heard Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?), worrisome creative decisions and a sense that WB was doubling down on what made Man of Steel such a bitter pill to swallow. Released on the heels of The Force Awakens’ feel-good moment, Dawn of Justice’s feel-bad moment never had a chance. And I wouldn’t call it the fans’ fault.
Think of it this way. Would a convention center full of Star Wars fans have burst into actual tears if the trailer skipped “Chewie, we’re home” and opted for Han and Luke, face-to-face, weapons drawn, barking death threats? Not likely, I’d say. Whereas, if Dawn of Justice’s trailer capped off with a slick Avengers-style hero tracking shot of Batman, Superman and maybe Wonder Woman too (come on, we already know she’ll show up), I’d wager the reaction would have been plenty more positive. After all, there’s a reason the first Avengers teaser (the one hiding at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger) didn’t show a hint of the team fighting each other. And that Marvel Studios waited nearly a decade before adapting the “superhero best friends now hate each other, bloody conflict ensues” storyline.
In the end, the issue probably isn’t the trailers. It’s probably the movies themselves; that The Force Awakens includes a scene of Han and Chewie coming home and the audience feeling all warm and fuzzy and that it’s integral enough to the story to be our big trailer money shot. And that Dawn of Justice includes a scene of future superhero best friends about to pummel each other into wet paste, and that it’s integral enough to the story to be our big trailer money shot. Like I said, we exist in a culture of movie bloodhounds. The more we see of both, the better all those noses can figure it out for good.
Watch the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer:
Watch the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer: