I mean, check out the photo above. There’s a Smurf with a mohawk, a bald-headed woman, Andy Dwyer, a green lady, a human-mantis, the winner of the 2005 Royal Rumble, a talking raccoon, and a baby tree. The characters and even the premise — a bunch of space weirdos fight bad guys — are inherently ridiculous, and writer and director James Gunn knows this. That’s why he packed Guardians of the Galaxy with honest-to-goodness jokes; the climax even involved an extended dance sequence. That’s in stark contrast to most of DC’s mope-fests, including Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with self-serious scripts written by 16-year-old Hot Topic employees.
Unfortunately, even though DC refused to drop $5 million to promote Wonder Woman or Justice League, all that downbeat brooding was everywhere during the Super Bowl movie trailers on Sunday night. It was in Transformers: The Last Knight, a film about robots kicking the crap out of each other, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in a series based on a theme park ride, and Logan, in which a beer-drinking mutant befriends a young girl. Even The Fate of the Furious — the poster-franchise for absurdly over-the-top fun — takes half the teaser to drop its first corny wisecrack. These trailers downplayed the innate absurdity of the movies, and acted like deeply serious art films. Call a spade a spade, and a dragon a dragon.
Take the worst offender, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. First off, there’s no one on Earth who can name every Pirates movie, in order, with the correct lengthy subtitle. It’s even more confusing than the Twilight or Harry Potter series. Anyway, the trailer also strips away everything people liked about the first Pirates movie, namely the goofy misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp’s makeup-heavy shtick has gotten old and irritating, but at the time of The Curse of the Black Pearl‘s release, he was praised for his Keith Richard-inspired performance. “Consider how boring it would have been if Depp had played the role straight,” Roger Ebert wrote. “To take this material seriously would make it unbearable. Capt. Sparrow’s behavior is so rococo that other members of the cast actually comment on it. And yet because it is consistent and because you can never catch Depp making fun of the character, it rises to a kind of cockamamie sincerity.”
That’s a good way of looking at (this Ebert guy was pretty good): sincerity in a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers is fine, as long as it comes with a dash of cockamamie. There’s none to be found in the Dead Men Tell No Tales trailer. It’s a drag. Instead, we’re treated to slow-motion shots of stormy weather, Johnny Cash’s ragged and wheezing “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold This Body Down),” and whispered dialogue. The only moment of levity, if you can call it that, comes right at the end, when a mud-covered Jack Sparrow says, “Pirate’s life.” (It’s almost as if family-friendly Disney is trying to downplay the whole Johnny Depp thing…). But that brief instance of liveliness is more than you’ll find in Ghost In the Shell, or A Cure for Wellness, or Life.
(Or in most of the non-movie Super Bowl commercials.)
I’m not saying these movies shouldn’t have serious trailers. They’re “serious” movies, after all, but it’s all too much when they’re piled on top of each other, misery followed by misery. I don’t want to eat fancy sushi every night — sometimes I’m in the mood for fast food, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a greasy and delicious hamburger. The trailer isn’t trying to be anything more than what the movie is. There are bright colors, quips, the characters actually seem to be having fun (as expressed through Star-Lord’s “woo-hoo!” and Rocket Raccoon’s laughing), Baby Groot swearing, and Fleetwood Mac’s breathlessly anthemic “The Chain.” To quote Drax the Destroyer, that was awesome.
Escapism is important. It’s why many of us go to the movies in the first place. Trailers are supposed to be an indication of a movie’s tone, and based on what we saw Sunday night (the non-Atlanta blowing it part), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight, and Logan, three of the four most popular teasers on YouTube, look like heavy reminders that the world is exhausting. But the fourth, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (and to an extent, The Fate of the Furious), suggests it will be a two-hour amusement park ride with no line. There’s excitement and drama, but it’s also exhilarating and wildly fun. More movie trailers — and by proxy, movies — should remember to be freaking fun.