by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Last week, we spoke a bit about the current state of advertising in Hollywood - specifically, how film distributors have figured out a way to tease the trailers for upcoming films, of all things, only to fall prey to Internet hackers and piracy. What we didn't talk about, though the topic certainly merits some discussion, is how these trailers seem to be advertising for films you may have already seen on the big screen. And I'm not just talking about sequels repeating the vices and virtues of their respective originals, as is so often the case. I'm talking about specific shots or sequences lifted from previous blockbusters. They just might be too subtle for anyone to notice them.

There's Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron, of course, which just opened to $191 million in the U.S. (and crossed the $631-million mark at the box office worldwide). But while you can expect the sequel to the Third Most Successful Film Of All Time to continue many of the MCU's long-standing traditions - sequel baiting, mystical doodads, killing off major characters only to bring them back in future installments - there's a moment, approximately 1:30 into the third and final trailer for Age Of Ultron, that should be instantly familiar to fans of The Matrix Reloaded:

Note the rapid-fire glimpses of Steve Rogers/ Captain America battling the titular baddie atop a speeding semi truck, objects occasionally spilling into oncoming traffic, as leather-clad Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow races after them via motorcycle...

...action beats and even certain camera angles that play out in a similar fashion during the Wachowski Brothers' polarizing 2002 super-sequel. (Not to mention both films pit their protagonists against an evil artificial intelligence bent on human destruction!)

Equally polarizing, at least among disgruntled fanboys, is the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (man, does it hurt my fingertips having to type that out!), due March 25, 2016:

Oppressive imagery aside (cripes, even the daytime scenes look like they're shot through red and orange filters), BvS looks to repeat the same Judeo-Christian symbolism of Man Of Steel, plus that essential part of the Batman mythology, Alfred Pennyworth's incessant insistence on dishing out advice to his beloved master ("That's how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men... cruel"). This image at 1:34, on the other hand, while clearly inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (Holy high-powered rifle, Batman!)... more likely copied from this shot from The Dark Knight Rises (2012), with the Caped Crusader brooding over a vast cityscape:

The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, meanwhile, has been greeted with something closer to pure joy and adoration from fans and non-fans alike. This after much speculation that J.J. Abrams would "ruin" the franchise with his signature lens flares and time-jumping narrative tricks, the same way he "ruined" his rebooted Star Trek. Well, not only is the new trailer blessedly free of lens flares (whether time travel plays a part in the plot remains to be seen), it teaches us something that George Lucas's frowned-upon prequels apparently could not: that no matter how many fantastical CG creatures you shove in our faces, nothing gets us quite so nostalgic for Star Wars as a simple shot of a man and his Wookie.

Lest you forget Abrams also had a hand in that other prolific science-fiction franchise, however, we're also treated with these rhyming shots, first from The Force Awakens and then from Star Trek (2009):

Finally, some thoughts on Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, opening July 31st. Originally slated for a December 25th release, Paramount decided to move up the film by a full six months instead, to avoid competition with Star Wars and Spectre. While that certainly says a lot for the studio's confidence in the sequel itself, the trailer for Rogue Nation (which, one day prior to its release, was also teased with a truncated version of the very same trailer) seems to be trading on a different sort of nostalgia. Note the similarities between this preview for 2011's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and its immediate follow-up:

The stunts. The exotic locales. The cryptic voiceover (from the boss at the IMF, no less) describing sinister machinations afoot. Tom Cruise punching bad guys, showing off his still-chiseled 50-year-old physique. Cruise and his team, plotting their next move. The team's lone femme fatale, in a leg-revealing dress as she heads off to the movie's penultimate party sequence. The wordless montage of dudes pointing guns, set to a Top 40's hip hop track (Eminem's "Won't Back Down" in Ghost Protocol, The Fugees' "Ready Or Not" in Rogue Nation). And the climactic shot of Mr. Cruise, performing his latest act of death-defying insanity, dangling thousands of feet in the air as Lalo Schifrin's iconic Mission: Impossible theme sends us off with a silly grin on our faces.

To repeat, it is absolutely the job of a sequel to recycle the best bits and pieces from the movies that preceded it. That, after all, is their basic appeal in a nutshell - the fun of the familiar. But for a franchise that initially prided itself on each chapter reflecting the different personality of its director - the cold, enigmatic reserve of Brian De Palma's M:I-1, the flamboyant action of John Woo's M:I-2, the spy-tastic thrills of J.J. Abrams's M:I-3, and the high-wire imagination of Brad Bird's M:I-4 – the Mission: Impossible films are now in danger of becoming stale, homogenized, a product, virtually indistinguishable from everything else churned out by the Hollywood hype machine. (The director of Rogue Nation is Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and directed Cruise in the excellent, stripped-down Jack Reacher.)

Time will tell if M:I-5 stands proud and apart from its blockbuster brethren or simply offers up more of the same. For now, though, the prognosis isn't looking good. Whether it's Mr. Cruise reacting to car bombs...

...riding motorcycles...

...or leaping tall buildings in a single bound...

...everything old, it seems, will be new again.

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