Posters of Prominence: The Avengers

5 Apr
2012

Usually, our Posters of Prominence articles are reserved for movie posters that speak to us in a personal and profound way. Works of art that fill us with awe and wonder, and stick with us because they are just So Cool.

This time, I’m looking at a poster that is prominent for all the wrong reasons. A poster that is so shockingly bad, it makes my heart ache: The theatrical one-sheet for Marvel‘s hotly anticipated The Avengers

Disaster Waiting to Happen

The Avengers is easily one of 2012‘s most anticipated movies. After all, Marvel has spent years and created four separate movie franchises (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America) just to build up to this one film. They gave Samuel L. Jackson a massive contract to appear in what seems like a dozen films just so he can be the badass leader in this one movie. They nabbed Joss Whedon – fanboy hero extraordinaire – to direct. Comic book superhero fans around the globe are clamoring for this film. Even among the Flickchart blogging staff, The Avengers claimed a spot as one of the five Most Anticipated Films of 2012 in the recent Flickcharters’ Choice Awards.

And then Marvel has launched an advertising campaign that, personally, I would call underwhelming at best.

Oh, Look, the Gang’s All Here

To me, this newest poster (easily the worst of this campaign) has very much the same feel as Marvel’s first teaser trailer for The Avengers:

Here’s the obvious point, of both this trailer and the poster: The gang’s all here. We’ve brought together all the heroes from our previous cash-cow superhero movies – both stars and cameos – and crammed them into one big adventure. Robert Downey Jr. is the big star because Iron Man is the most successful. There will be big ‘splosions and stuff (’cause, you know, we couldn’t get enough of that in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies). And, we have Scarlett Johansson here to look sexy in black leather.

The trailers have improved a bit since the campaign began. The most recent has even gotten me a little bit excited to see this movie again. But the posters have devolved in a big way.

Photoshop is the Devil

There are times, like now, when I truly believe that. The Avengers one-sheet looks like anybody with a decent knowledge of Photoshop could have cranked it out in about half an hour. Everybody is haphazardly crammed in there. Lighting and perspective are totally off. Last I checked, I didn’t think Captain America was supposed to be nearly as tall as the Hulk.

“Artists” get paid to create these posters.

But the truly distressing thing about this poster is not just that it’s so bad; it’s because this poster completely embodies the distressing current trend in bad, bad Photoshop for movie posters. That, and this was done on behalf of what is supposed to be Marvel’s flagship movie.

They’re Not All Bad

Certainly not all recent posters for comic book films have been bad. Warner Bros. and DC Comics completely nailed the campaign for 2008‘s The Dark Knight:

And while the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises is not as prolific in its campaign as its predecessor, the quality is certainly still there:

Which is not to say that Marvel hasn’t had some great posters, even in the past few years. A couple of the posters for Captain America: The First Avenger were truly great. Spider-Man 2 had a decent campaign. And the teaser for this year’s The Amazing Spider-Man is wonderfully effective.

But more often than not, unfortunately, a lot of these posters really have that “been there, seen that” feel. The Iron Man movies use the typical “floating head” aesthetic. Thor jumped on the “giant text over star’s face” trend that really took off after The Social Network. The Incredible Hulk poster resorts to the “back-turned, looking-over-the-shoulder” stance that is so oft-used for action movies.

And the less that is said about these, the better:

But Now…

It’s all culminating in Marvel’s worst poster campaign yet, for what is supposed to be their biggest movie. The teaser poster was okay, featuring a giant version of The Avengers logo: 

But then they took the character-poster route that so many of these blockbusters take nowadays. And they’re boring. Even last year’s oft-maligned Green Lantern had somewhat more visually interesting character posters:

Now, the one sheet. I’ve already lamented.

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

I know I’m missing the ’80s, when true artists like Drew Struzan created beautiful hand-made paintings for big event movies:

 And while posters like these are now fewer and farther between, here’s the thing I really don’t get about comic book movies: They are films based on graphic novels, a visual medium that starts with a film-like script and a flesh-and-blood human being putting pencil to paper. Why on earth have I never seen a comic book movie advertised with comic-book-style art for its posters? My experience with comic books themselves is not extensive, but I’ve read enough to know that there are some extremely talented artists out there, any of which could do justice to an amazing poster for one of Marvel’s big movies.

This point was really hit home to me when I saw this great poster by artist Joe Kubert for Red Tails:

And Red Tails isn’t even a comic book movie.

Instead, with a few notable exceptions, the comic book movies keep resorting to the generic, and it’s resulted in Marvel’s biggest movie to date being saddled with their worst poster.

I’m so ready to watch The Dark Knight Rises defeat The Avengers at the box office…and on Flickchart

Incidentally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the first promotional image that came out after The Avengers was announced, as detailed in the Flickchart Blog here. But here’s the biggest point: This image could and should have been the one-sheet. So much better than what Marvel has presented us now.

  • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

    So what you’re saying, Nigel, is that you’re having a hard time getting excited about The Avengers and you think The Dark Knight did it better.

    They did a comic book-inspired ad campaign for Sin City, and if you go back a bit, the Tales from the Crypt movies, too. You’re right that there’s a lot of squandered potential for comic book art-inspired posters. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the pervasive sense that Movies > Comic Books and that no one will want to go see a movie that actually resembles a comic book. I think that perception is changing, though, as each year Hollywood continues to overrun San Diego Comic Con and treat it as a trade show rather than a comic book convention where they’re invited as guests.

    Also, I look to the growing popularity of what Mondo has been doing with posters as an indication that perhaps studios will become aware that they can afford to take some more chances with poster designs. It’s quite a risk to take, though, because the average movie goer has to be comforted into spending $10 on a ticket. They want to be reassured going into the movie that they’re not going into something very far outside their comfort zone or expectations. A poster that looks too different can scare off potential viewers.

    Most of the Mondo posters are terrific pieces, but remember: 99% of them have been for older, established movies, where poster buyers are already familiar with the elements and devoted to the film. It’s difficult to imagine many of those pieces on display in the theater lobby and not seeming to be a bit too much for Joe Sixpack.

    In any event, I think The Avengers had to be a marketer’s nightmare just because of the number of principle cast members to include. Look how awkward it is to have Robert Downey, Jr.’s face prominently displayed in the middle of what’s supposed to be an action scene. Why would Iron Man not be helmeted right then? Same with Chris Evans as Cap. They just scream, “contract requirement!” instead of “aesthetic choice.”You know what this poster reminds me of? Colorforms. It’s like there was a generic, burning skyline backdrop and several different poses and sizes of each of the main cast and someone tinkered with them until they got bored and this was the final product.

    I can’t say I’m interested in seeing The Avengers, largely because I haven’t seen any of the precursor movies, unless you go back and count 2003′s Hulk (I’m given to understand that The Incredible Hulk glossed over it and made it entirely unimportant anyway).

    • Nigel Druitt

      Forgive the tardiness of this reply.

      Let me be clear: The Avengers is a movie I’m going to see. It’s a movie half the free world is going to see. Yes, I think the poster campaigns for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are light years ahead of this one, but those also aren’t the only ones. They’re making crappy posters for this movie. That’s my only point.

      You may be right about a “marketing nightmare”, especially since I’m certain there’s some clause in Downey’s contract about his face being on the dang poster, but this thing still just seems lazy.

      When a movie is as anticipated as this one, why couldn’t they afford to be a bit more adventurous and, dare I say, playful with their poster campaign? Even with SOME of the posters? I don’t think there’s much “risk” involved when you’re talking about The Avengers, a movie Marvel has spent a half-dozen other films hyping.

      Also, you’re right: Sin City had a great poster campaign. And I think it even contributed to me actually seeing a movie I ultimately didn’t like. I still like the posters.

      Not all movies – or even comic-book movies – have bad poster campaigns. But I am noticing an annoying trend where Marvel’s films are concerned.

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      I was at the C2E2 convention this past weekend, and Marvel Comics had a stage set up at their booth with a huge banner of this poster as the backdrop. Seeing it tower at, like, 15 feet tall created a much different impression than looking at the image on a computer screen, or even the standard 27×40 poster size. At that huge scale, it was much easier to tell that each character is looking somewhere different for the purpose of creating the sense that they’re surrounded by enemies.

      It’s still a flawed poster, but I do concede that there was more thought that went into it than I had originally given credit.

    • Nigel Druitt

      Forgive the tardiness of this reply.

      Let me be clear: The Avengers is a movie I’m going to see. It’s a movie half the free world is going to see. Yes, I think the poster campaigns for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are light years ahead of this one, but those also aren’t the only ones. They’re making crappy posters for this movie. That’s my only point.

      You may be right about a “marketing nightmare”, especially since I’m certain there’s some clause in Downey’s contract about his face being on the dang poster, but this thing still just seems lazy.

      When a movie is as anticipated as this one, why couldn’t they afford to be a bit more adventurous and, dare I say, playful with their poster campaign? Even with SOME of the posters? I don’t think there’s much “risk” involved when you’re talking about The Avengers, a movie Marvel has spent a half-dozen other films hyping.

      Also, you’re right: Sin City had a great poster campaign. And I think it even contributed to me actually seeing a movie I ultimately didn’t like. I still like the posters.

      Not all movies – or even comic-book movies – have bad poster campaigns. But I am noticing an annoying trend where Marvel’s films are concerned.

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