Most trailers these days are awful. I say this as someone who grew up loving trailers. Hell, I still do, but the vast majority just seem to be showcases of action or critical beats that leave you wondering how all of the stuff is connected. Alternatively they set about introducing the franchisable elements of a film that is already part of a series or designed to begin one. It’s boring! They rarely succeed in setting the tone for a movie aside from just saying it’s this kind of movie (romance, comedy, action, etc). Those labels are nice, but they don’t describe much. Every genre can play in infinite ways, so just throwing tags out there is pretty useless.
This isn’t universally true. Some trailers structured this way can be good (I’m looking at you Looper), but most of them either make me throw my hands up and storm off, or force me to shake my head, and mutter, “I guess I’ll see this anyway.” One recent exception was the first trailer for The Conjuring. It was just two spooky scenes, almost a short film. It didn’t give away any of the movie (I don’t really believe in spoilers, but I still think telling the whole story in the trailer is a bad idea), and it succeeded in conveying the feeling of the movie. From that trailer, it’s easy to see what you’re getting into despite knowing almost nothing about it. The Conjuring presents itself as a supernatural thriller that relies as much on its environment as on the jump-scares themselves. That’s all present in the trailer.
After that trailer hit the airwaves, it was always my go to in friendly arguments about how to make a trailer. It has been replaced emphatically by the Guardians Of The Galaxy trailer. This trailer is, to my mind, basically perfect. Not just as a trailer for the movie itself, but for situating it within the Marvel universe as a whole. If you haven’t seen it by now, go watch it now. I’ll wait, plus the rest of the article won’t make any sense if you haven’t. Done? Good let’s get started. You can tell from the get go that this movie feels differently about itself than the other Marvel movies. The studio has always been good about injecting comedy into its action stories, but this film clearly is putting the laughs in the spotlight. That’s no surprise from James Gunn who has managed to make two of my favorite recent movies (Slither and Super) both of which hit all of the critical genre beats while maintaining staggering laughter per minute rates. As with his other films GotG takes loving, precise shots at its own genre. This is exemplified in the trailer by the exchange John C. Reilly’s Rhomann Dey and another Nova Corps officer. “They call themselves the Guardians Of The Galaxy.” “What a bunch of A-holes.” This could just be annoying meta commentary, but it works in the trailer because it is juxtaposed to a beautifully crafted high-speed montage of exquisite action sequences. Those moments are presented without context, so they don’t effect the story but at the same time they serve as a reminder that while this movie is primed to be hilarious, it is also going to be a crazy space opera action movie.
The first ninety seconds of the trailer are dedicated mostly to introducing the characters and setting the goofy tone. The goofy tone is amplified by its juxtaposition to the very action movie style lighting and cinematography (a lot of darker colors that are high on contrast, and a lot of threatening shadows with empty space). Hard cut back to those action sequences. A lot of those are brightly lit and full of detail. That may at first seem like an insignificant detail, but I think it may be the second most important element of the trailer (we’ll get to the big one in a second). It shows pretty clearly that we are not getting into the dark gritty nonsense of so many contemporary action and hero films, despite hinting strongly at that darkness early on. Without giving away any plot, this trailer is able to convey tone, character, scale, all of it in a manner that is both effective and exhilarating.
But what about that most important thing? It also seems little. It begins with a generic bad guy prisoner thug putting on Peter Quill (Star Lord – Chris Pratt)’s headphones. What are they playing? Hooked On A Feeling! That’s what! Blue Swede’s 1974 hit provides the background to all of that action footage I’ve been referring to. It sets an incongruous tone for the movie, and that’s really the only tone a movie with a gun toting raccoon can take. This trailer is a warning that this movie will not be like other Marvel films. It’s also a warning to get ready. It’s going to be incredible.