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Three of the biggest movies of 2012 – The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man have already released “teasers” – short trailers whose purpose is to declare “Hey! This exists!” to whomever out there was not already aware of that fact. They also drop cryptic story hints to create free publicity by keeping devoted fans, bloggers and internet movie critics talking about vaguely plausible minutiae as though it were actual news. Let’s take a look!

The Dark Knight Rises

Firstly, how about you watch it?

The obvious joke, of course, is that Dark Knight was such as massive success – and its follow up so hugely anticipated – that its ad campaign doesn’t need to show anything other than Batman and a release date. Even still, it’s kind of surprising to see that that’s more-or-less what they’ve delivered. There are two very brief glimpses of the inexplicably prominent new heavy Bane, one brief look at Batman (still wearing that overdesigned-monstrosity of a costume from the last movie), a whole bunch of flashbacks to Batman Begins, some guy (Bane?) crawling out of a hole, Commissioner Gordon lying injured in a hospital bed and a visualization of the key art image of a crumbling skyline forming the bat symbol. Let’s face it – if not for the association to what was already one of next year’s most anticipated movies, this would be a serious snooze.

I’d have to say the closest thing to intriguing about it is how heavily it re-introduces elements from the first movie. People tend to forget that Batman Begins wasn’t a huge hit for Warner Bros. at first, and outside of a cameo by The Scarecrow, the more popular Dark Knight makes little reference to its events. So it’s pretty surprising to see this one leaning heavily on voiceover dialogue from Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul – leader of the anarchist ninja cult “The League of Shadows” from the first film.

The intrigue is even more so when one considers bigger (however unlikely) implications of what it could mean if what this teaser is teasing is actually the reappearance of the aforementioned “League” to the story. In Begins, they were an international army large enough to conscript supervillians and gangsters into their grand, societal collapse schemes – even with their leader (supposedly) dead, that’s an awful lot of ninjas out there who still know that Bruce Wayne is Batman and should be pretty pissed at him. Also, fans of Batman comics and especially The Animated Series from the 90s will recall that Ra’s Al Ghul’s whole shtick is that he doesn’t stay dead for long: a quick dip in a primordial chemical bath called a “Lazarus Pit” and he’s right as rain – and has been so for centuries. Nolan’s thus far stridently anti-magical Bat-universe sidestepped the issue by having Batman kill a different guy who claimed to be Ra’s Al Ghul, only to have Neeson show up later to imply that the name is just a title they pass around to keep the “immortality” legend alive.

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So, is The League of Shadows back? Is that them chanting over the title? Is some other guy the “new” Ra’s Al Ghul? Is it his daughter Talia (an important character in her own right)? Will Christopher Nolan make my year by having Liam Neeson come bounding up out of a glowy green slime pit and go “Ha! All better!” to a dumbfounded Bruce Wayne – which, on the Bob-Scale-Of-Superhero-Movie-Awesomeness, would be only one notch below Superman showing up with a Justice League invitation? (Spolier: Probably not.)

The biggest question mark, obviously, is the total absence of even a glimpse of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman – probably the third most well-known character in the entire Batman pantheon. Dark Knight’s entire ad campaign focused on reminding audiences that The Joker was returning to the big screen, after all; one would imagine that “Catwoman is back!” would get similar treatment. If nothing else, it’d give the cosplay girls a nice heads-up on what materials and colors they’re all going to need – there’s a bulk buyer for Jo-Ann Fabrics watching this teaser going “You’re killing me, guys!”

Unless, of course, someone on the production staff has suffered a minor brain injury and decided that the film doesn’t need Anne Hathaway to appear as a rubber clad, cat themed dominatrix, and they’re de-emphasizing her presence to let us down gently. (Spoiler: There is no way to convey “no Anne Hathaway in fetish gear” to me that would constitute “gently”.)

The Amazing Spider-Man

As before, take a look.

There’s a part of me that wants to gloat about how much people hate this trailer, given all the crap I’ve taken for pointing out the unlikeliness of it being good and the cynicism of its creation previously. But that part is restrained (for now) by the understanding that trailers are hard to cut when an FX-heavy film like this hasn’t been even halfway finished yet. But, yeah, this is one horrible ad; and in terms of what it was supposed to do – get a skeptical, reboot-fatigued fanbase slightly more open to the possibility that it might be good – I can’t call it anything but a disaster. Memo to Sony: Green Lantern also had a trailer that everyone hated but a “better” Comic-Con panel with an endearing star moment that everyone loved. Just something to think about.

Strangely, the stuff that’s bothering most people about this is the stuff that rolls right off me: Yeah, it’s another origin story – lame, but probably necessary. I can deal with that. Yeah, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker looks like Edward Cullen as a garage band front man; and yeah, Tobey Maguire’s hopeless King Nerd was much closer to a traditional depiction, but those films were superficially modernized tributes to the 60s vibe of the original books. If you’re really going to update this stuff, it’s worth working in how much the visual shorthand of “social outcast” has changed since then. Garfield’s Parker looks like a whiny hipster introvert, fine – that’s probably what a 21st century Spider-Man would be. The new costume is pretty grotesque, but they probably felt they had to redesign it to more fully separate it from the original films. And yes, that ghastly CGI point-of-view bit at the end looks like a Wii port of Mirrors Edge – but there’s time to make those kind of FX better.

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No, what makes me nervous about this is the tone and the small glimpses at the new, reworked origin story. On the “tone” side, it looks exceedingly drab and dour. Peter Parker being less of a nerd and more of a withdrawn loner I can deal with – but Peter Parker as a sulky, mopey sourpuss? No, thank you. The whole thing feels uncomfortably Batman-ish, as though the filmmakers didn’t get the memo that superheroes don’t all need to be Batman anymore.

As to the story, the big red flag detail here is that Spider-Man’s biological parents are going to be a factor. We see them dropping the toddler-aged Peter off with Aunt May and Uncle Ben as they head out for some dark and sinister errand from which – obviously – they will never return. As an adult, we’re shown Peter finding an old satchel of his dad’s that seems to contain lots of documents and photos. I lack the room to really get into it here, but suffice it to say that Richard and Mary Parker having been badass CIA and/or S.H.I.E.L.D. double agents or (in the “Ultimate” universe) super-scientists whose work is connected to Peter’s spider powers is just about the most consistently stupid part of Spider-Man’s ever-changing backstory; it’s a bummer to see it make its way into the movies. I’m dreading the idea of a Spider-Man series where “solve/avenge the conspiracy of my parents death” is a key motivation plotline.

It also looks like they’re leaning much more heavily on the “half-spider” aspect of his transformation, as he tries to eat a fly at one point. I kinda like that. Playing around with the obvious connections between this story and The Fly actually would be a welcome change of pace. What I’m getting a much stronger sense of is the idea that the creation of Spider-Man and The Lizard are connected (re: both guys with nonhuman DNA additions), which if accurate is the laziest kind of adaptation shortcut for connecting two characters (see: Joker kills Batman’s parents in the Tim Burton movie – ick!). A big plus of the original Spider-Man was that it didn’t do this bit – Green Goblin was just mad that Spider-Man kept getting in his way.

Also, Gwen Stacy is apparently a scientist now, which is … whatever, and interestingly, while “everybody knows” that the bad guy in this one is The Lizard, notice that the branding for all the science stuff in this says “OsCorp.” Hey – you wanna bet their cribbing from Batman Begins extends all the way up to borrowing the “Hey! The popular villain is in the next one!” final reveal?

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The Avengers

Unfortunately, as of yet you can’t watch a (legal) version of this online; but it’s playing attached to the end credits of Captain America in most U.S. theaters.

The current version of this teaser actually starts out looking like just a preview of Captain America 2 – with Nick Fury interrupting Steve Rogers’ angry workout with dire business about needing to save the world … but then cuts away to scenes revealing that this is, in fact, The Avengers by showing quick glimpses of everybody else.

You can tell that they haven’t shot a tremendous amount of footage for this yet, nor finished much of the (presumably numerous) effects shots. What they’ve got are brief looks at the main heroes, our first look at Mark Ruffalo as the new Bruce Banner (his Hulk form not yet shown), Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill, and lots of high-tech interiors one assumes to be the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier. We also get to (briefly) see Captain America’s new 21st Century costume (the blue parts are blue-er now) and what looks like Thor wearing a sleeveless variation on his costume. I’m going to assume that the odd shots of cars flipping over for seemingly no reason (the Spider-Man trailer has one of these, too) will be occupied by The Hulk in the final version.

The two “big deal” things are the next-to-last shot of all the main guys sitting at a big table, as if to say “Yes, all in the same movie. For real, yo,” and two quick looks at Thor heavy Loki, evidently having traded his Asgardian armor for more of a Game of Thrones meets Seattle circa-1994 look. Loki was the main bad guy against whom the original Avengers united in the 60s comics, and he’s been widely assumed to be the bad guy (but maybe not the only one) in this. If nothing else, his presence makes sense: Being a god, he’s the only (still living) enemy from the previous Marvel films who might conceivably need a whole team to bring him down.

It’s pretty incredible seeing this finally come together, I won’t lie – but I’m getting a little sick of Marvel using the “angry-music/tagline/angry-music/tagline/angry-music/tagline/angry-music/title-card/punchline” formula for every trailer. This is the FIRST epic-crossover superhero movie, guys – how about an appropriately “Gods Walking the Earth” aura of awe and dignity for a change? Granted, it’s not as obnoxious as Tool grinding over the credits of a WWII movie, but still.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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