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How Spider-Man avoided the worst mistake of the Justice League trailer

What are we afraid of?

Peter Parker and Iron Man bond over being superheroes

Today’s Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer did a lot of things right, although it also kind of gave away the entirety of the film in doing so. But one of the best aspects of the trailer is that it set up the stakes of the film, including antagonists both internal and external.

This is an area where the Justice League trailer completely falls apart; it struggles to find any reason for the viewer to care about what’s going on, nor does it justify why these heroes are teaming up.

Spider-Man’s external villain is Vulture, but the real bad guy here is Spider-Man’s own eagerness and lack of experience. He wants to use his newly acquired suit to save the city, even though Tony Stark warns him that job is best left to the older and more experienced heroes. It looks as though the suit is actually taken away during the course of the movie, making Spider-Man mirror that horrible gaming trope where you’re given all your powers at the beginning of the game only to lose them and spend the next few hours gaining them back.

The good news is that we know what the stakes are. Vulture doesn’t care if he kills people, but those people may be saved by the existing heroes even if Spider-Man stays home. It doesn’t seem as if the world itself is in jeopardy; Vulture is a contained threat with a limited ability to hurt others who is fighting against heroes who are already in place. Spider-Man himself seems a bit redundant, even though we’re of course cheering for him to prove himself to Stark. Who hasn’t felt inadequate in front of a parental figure?

This conflict is relatively small for a superhero film, which matches the film’s whimsical poster. This sort of arc is refreshing, and it helps Spider-Man: Homecoming feel more interesting than just being another superhero movie.

He’s not fighting his way through a sea of faceless, disposable grunts. He’s either fighting low-level crime or failing to do Iron Man’s job when it comes to dealing with the big bad. We know what we’re supposed to be afraid of, and it’s mostly Spider-Man’s emotions. He just wants to grow up and save people, and he’s either slipping up when doing so or being told he’s moving too fast. It’s relatable, which was always the best part of Spider-Man as a character for many of us.

To be clear, we don’t know if the story being sold in this trailer is the same story as the movie itself, but for now that’s all we have to go on. The important thing is how well the trailer grabs the audience and gets them interested.

Which brings us to the Justice League trailer.

Sorry to keep beating up on Warner Bros. but ...

The Justice League trailer does absolutely nothing — outside of very basic fan service — to get us to care about this conflict. The planet or galaxy hangs in the balance, we think, but the trailer relies on the same faceless horde of disposable bad guys that we saw in the Batman dream sequence from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Our heroes dutifully beat up the aliens while quipping to each other about this and that, but there never seems to be anything actually at stake.

“There’s an attack coming, from far away,” Bruce Wayne says in his heaviest of heavy voices but ... why is that scary? We have a big group of heroes who seems in charge of the situation through the whole trailer. There are no stakes, there is no bad guy to fear and no reason given for why these characters need to team up. They are in control of every situation in the trailer, and there are no character arcs even hinted at. Bruce Wayne is rich, The Flash is fast, and Cyborg is bad CG. They beat up on the would-be Chitauri and that’s that.

“There's certainly logic to amassing an army against a super-team, especially on the big screen: It stops your protagonists from looking like bullies (who really wants to watch a five-against-one fight?) while giving each of them something to do simultaneously; it is, after all, harder to temporarily ‘hide’ that characters are present in a scene (or a physical space) onscreen compared with a comic book,” a Hollywood Reporter story about the use of faceless drones in superhero films states. “That setting your heroes loose against an army also allows for multiple action sequences and the good guys get to look kick-ass and productive without ending the movie too early is just an added bonus.”

The problem is that we have no reason to root for our heroes when they don’t seem to have anything to overcome. The speculation is that Superman returns as a bad guy — and that’s cringe inducing for a whole host of reasons — and of course we know who the actual bad guy is due to cut scenes and interviews, but the trailer fails to give us any hint of drama or struggle. There should be something big happening to give all these legendary characters a reason to work together, and the best the trailer can do is say bad dudes are on their way. Thanks?

The first Avengers trailer made sure to establish the threat first, along with scenes that suggest normal people put up a strong resistance to Loki but failed. Then the team is assembled, and we see them fighting each other as well as sometimes losing in combat to Loki. The logic of what is happening and why is established, and we’re sold on the fact they had to come together.

The Avengers used the faceless army trope with the Chitauri, much like Justice League, but the trailer didn’t only show scenes of victory and what passes for humor in the Snyder-verse. The trailer’s editor knew that showing fear and uncertainty was the best way to pull the audience in. They need to have something to overcome for the film to be interesting.

Justice League doesn’t give us that at all, and Spider-Man’s trailer did so by lowering the stakes due to the fact he’s entering a mature cinematic universe with existing characters who are more than able to take care of these situations without him. He has to prove himself to Iron Man and the world at large as much as he has to fight Vulture, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how the movie removes Iron Man from the situation to give Spider-Man an excuse to step back in and take care of things, thus proving himself to The Avengers and setting up 15 sequels and blah blah blah. We know where the story is going, but at least the trailer attempts to get us invested in the arc of the character.

Marvel changed the tone of Spider-Man from existing movies in its universe, and addressed the fact that heroes already exist and finding a way to keep the film tense is going to require at least a bit of imagination. Keeping Spider-Man’s largest struggle emotional is a good way to do this, but Justice League has yet to figure out a way to get audiences to care about the film’s story without simply using their existing love of these characters.

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