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The Winners and Losers From Comic-Con 2017

Plucking out the best (and worst) from all of the trailers that came out of San Diego this past weekend

(Warner Bros./Nickelodeon/HBO/Ringer illustration)
(Warner Bros./Nickelodeon/HBO/Ringer illustration)

Trailers for basically everything premiered this past weekend at Comic-Con 2017: a newer, brighter promo for Justice League, a Walking Dead trailer featuring Rick with an old-man beard, and even teasers for multiple Nickelodeon revival projects. With so much hitting the internet, our staff took off their Captain America costumes and strapped on their critics boots to separate the good from the bad, the winners from the losers.

Winner: ‘The Walking Dead’

Ben Lindbergh: AMC may have finally found the solution to the drudgery of postapocalyptic life that often bogs down The Walking Dead: Skip some of it. The bulk of the lengthy trailer for Season 8 concerns the advent of all-out war between Negan’s Saviors and the militia formed from the union of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom, but the most revealing moment occurs in the final few seconds, when an older, white-bearded Rick awakens in bed, looking like a Just for Men "before" photo. A cane, familiar to fans of the comics, drives home the impression that a considerable length of time has elapsed.

The apparent flash-forward seems like a spoiler that Rick survives his coming confrontation with Negan, which could have undercut the conflict if anyone still believed that Rick’s plot armor might have a hole. Instead, it’s an enticing vision of a hopeful future, the likes of which we haven’t seen on the show for more than a few episodes at a time. The season-plus setup for this all-out assault was a slog that alienated swaths of the show’s still-large audience, and the trailer seems calculated to bring Walking Dead deserters back into the fold, rescuing fan-favorite Daryl from the sidelines to target explosives from the back of his hog, replacing appeasement with preparation and conversation with combat, and extending Season 7’s build-up to a "bigger world." After the misguided and gory way in which Season 7 was sold, though, the greatest relief is how little we see Lucille.

Loser: ‘Ready Player One’

Zach Kram: Let’s be clear at the top: Novelist Ernest Cline’s tale of ’80s nostalgia is not an outstanding work of fiction, but it’s at least fun and inventive. Ready Player One’s premise holds that, decades into the future, everyone in the world spends time in the OASIS, a virtual-reality simulator that also functions as a massive multiplayer game and features a scavenger hunt for its creator’s fortune. It’s a paean to the ’80s — chiefly old video games, but also movies, TV shows, and more — but those references serve as mere window dressing in the larger appeal of the story; the imagination involved in envisioning OASIS is the greater draw.

But in the six years since the RP1 book published, VR has became a more recognizable reality, and video games have changed such that the visions of OASIS offered in this trailer already feel dated. Moreover, the trailer suffers from the same problem that afflicted the onscreen Battle Room in Ender’s Game, among any number of other sci-fi adaptations: That which readers can explore in individualized, creative ways in their own minds naturally appears more compressed and muted when translated into a singular rendering in a film. It’s a hard problem for any adaptation to solve, and the first look at RP1 doesn’t offer much optimism on this front. Plus, the trailer is leaning far too much in the nostalgia direction, the lead looks nothing like the book version of Wade Watts, and the climax involves a car race, which is odd because no such event appears in the book. I hope the movie is better than what these two minutes hint at, or else I’d rather spend an afternoon rereading scenes from the book.

Winner: ‘Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie’

Shaker Samman: Allow me a few seconds to compose myself because they’re making another Hey Arnold movie, and I’m having trouble breathing normally. In a three-minute clip released Friday, Comic-Con caught a glimpse of its favorite P.S. 118 students nearly 15 years after the series concluded. Arnold (and Helga and Gerald and the rest of the gang) is back. The show ended with the cap-wearing, karate-kicking, tango-dancing 9-year-old stumbling on a map in his parents’ journal: on it, the route his long-lost family took on their last voyage to San Lorenzo.

We never learned what happened to the adventurous Arnold, but for years, we assumed a movie would fill in the holes. If the teaser is to be believed, it just might. In it, Helga, Gerald, Stoop Kid, and every other named and unnamed member of Hillwood band together and submit an Arnold highlight reel in a contest. The top prize? A trip to the same Central American country where Arnold’s parents went missing.

In Gerald’s words, Arnold is a bold kid, and a true hero. And he’ll have to be if he’s going to find his kin. This is the last loose end in the Arnold cinematic universe. All that’s left is for the titular boy wonder to return to his place of birth and track down his parents. It’s a tall task, but if anyone can do it, it’s this plucky fourth-grader. So forget Justice League, Rick and Morty, and even Thrones. If you need me, I’ll be in the foothills of San Lorenzo.

Loser: ‘Justice League’

Samman: A confession: When the first Justice League trailer came out in March, I was all in. Batman! Wonder Woman! Aquaman! The Flash! All set to the White Stripes’ "Hardest Button to Button." The teaser didn’t have the same campy vibe recent DC superhero films have had. Sure, the Flash caught a batarang, but it was cool and Batman had revealed his identity to a new pal.

Unfortunately, whatever charm that first clip had didn’t translate to the new trailer. Whereas the first teaser felt upbeat, with its action shots and lighthearted banter, this weekend’s trailer had a different vibe. An assortment of piano riffs paired with tight shots of characters looking off into the distance with a sense of concern dampened the mood. Superhero movies should be fun. They should be explosive and wild and occasionally goofy. They should have stakes, sure, but enemies shouldn’t feel overbearing, and heroes shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. By the looks of it, Justice League fancies itself a worthy adversary to Marvel’s Avengers. Time will tell if the film has what it takes, but after seeing the new clip, I doubt it’ll pack the same punch.

Winner: ‘Stranger Things’

Lindbergh: As its second season approaches, Stranger Things isn’t the unlooked-for streaming surprise that saved us all from a slow summer in 2016; it’s a sci-fi phenomenon with enough cultural clout to get the actress who played Barb an Emmy nomination. The Stranger Things cast came to Comic-Con like conquering heroes, and their Season 2 trailer gives no indication that the show will wilt in the face of expectations as steep as any awaiting the return of a series not named Game of Thrones.

The Duffer brothers keep promising that Season 2 will be "bigger, darker, [and] scarier" than Season 1, and we get glimpses of that darkness in Will’s visions, Chief Hopper’s upgraded arsenal, and Winona Ryder’s ever-agitated eyes. But the show hasn’t become so entranced by the mythology of the Upside Down that it’s forgotten its greatest strengths: a nostalgic setting and the bonds among its adolescent leads. The trailer doesn’t skimp on the early-’80s imagery, giving prominent placement to Ghostbusters, Thriller, Dragon’s Lair, and, for good measure, a "Reagan-Bush ’84" lawn sign, and the kids are still cute, without any evidence of disconcerting growth spurts. All trailers lie, but based on this one, I would Eleven myself through a sticky wall to see Season 2 in October.

Winner: ‘Westworld’

Danny Heifetz: Season 1 of Westworld was a revelation for ambitious storytelling in the post–Game of Thrones television landscape. The fictional Westworld was so successful, Disney is going to build a real one. Cocreator Jonathan Nolan has promised more worlds and more chaos in the ensuing seasons of Westworld, and this trailer, our first glimpse of Season 2, delivers. The first action that we see in the trailer shows Bernard, with extremely symbolic flies crawling all over him, staring at what looks to be a tiger. This seems to confirm a crossover with the parallel Samurai World revealed in the Season 1 finale.

(HBO)
(HBO)

Later in the trailer, slaughtered employees litter Delos headquarters, including the control room.

(HBO)
(HBO)

"I want to live, not merely survive," Sammy Davis Jr. blares over the opening of the trailer. "And I won’t give up this dream of life that keeps me alive." The trailer reveals little in the way of plot, but confirms that the classic Nolan bros. chaos is coming. If you buy the theory that Season 1 introduced us to the Garden of Eden, then it looks like Season 2 is going to be about getting thrown out. That may not be a win for Adam and Eve, a.k.a. Bernard and Dolores, but it’s going to be great for us.

Winner: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Lindbergh: Star Trek: Discovery has been through a lot since its unveiling in November 2015, including multiple months-long delays, the loss of showrunner Bryan Fuller, and the announcement that the show would be relegated to CBS’s All Access streaming service after the premiere. Although the casting news seemed promising, the production difficulties, along with a lack of plot details and footage, made fans fear the worst for the show as its September 24 debut date approached.

Discovery’s Comic-Con trailer assuages some of those concerns, at least to the extent that a few minutes of carefully curated scenes can. Even without Fuller, the show seems to have a strong sense of story and tone, raising the specter of a war with the Klingons (who’ve had a makeover since we saw them last) as a backdrop for the internal struggle of Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, a human Star Fleet officer whose Vulcan schooling and mentor-protégé relationship with Sarek (Spock’s father) make her question her own beliefs in time-honored Trek fashion.

Judging by the trailer, Discovery boasts by far the best special effects ever to grace a small-screen Star Trek, and the show doesn’t seem to have cut corners with its diverse cast (another Trek hallmark) or character-building. Nor does it appear to have gone overboard with Star Trek Into Darkness–style mimicry; there are homages here, but Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd is the sort of fan service that’s easy to support.

Loser: ‘Pacific Rim 2’

Heifetz: I fell in love with the first Pacific Rim about as quickly as you can fall in love with a movie, thanks to one of the most awesomely efficient and efficiently awesome opening scenes of my lifetime. (I dare you to watch the first 1:15 of that video and not want more.) It had giant robots smashing giant aliens with cargo ships being used as baseball bats. The plot was just good enough, and just stupid enough that enjoying the fight scenes felt naughty. It also didn’t take itself seriously, evidenced by Charlie Day being the smartest person in the movie, or this shot of an in-movie newscast.

Pacific Rim succeeded because it followed the New England Patriots model: Know what you are and do your job. People came to see Godzillaesque creatures destroying cities, and 25 seconds into the movie, that’s what you got.

The trailer for Pacific Rim 2 does not know its job. Where there should be Jaeger carnage, there are meaningless tropes and leftover stock film of the Fox Sports NFL Robot. "Join the Jaeger uprising," the trailer says in the most quarter-hearted recruiting pitch imaginable. Since literally zero people, even at Comic-Con, are going to see Pacific Rim for "plot" or "character motivation," the only conclusion I can draw is that none of the fight scenes have been CGI’d yet, but some poor creative team still had to make a trailer for Comic-Con.

Winner: ‘Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling’

Lindbergh: The original Rocko’s Modern Life used its cartoon visuals and kid-friendly slapstick as a delivery system for satire of America’s materialistic, corporate culture, which hasn’t grown any less ripe for ribbing in the decades since the show went off the air. The old episodes have held up so well in their countless reairings that a reboot from creator Joe Murray makes sense, and the first footage of the hour-long TV movie slated for release on Nickelodeon next year takes aim at energy drinks, iPhones, and superhero movies, among other 21st-century totems.

Static Cling is far from the first TV show or movie to make fun of those things, but this one has ’90s nostalgia on its side. As the latest season of South Park pointed out, that nostalgia is itself absurd enough to be satirized, and a shot of Rocko sailing by a "Reboot" sign suggests that Static Cling will wisely poke fun at its own role in (and debt to) reboot culture. The preteens who tuned in to Rocko in the ’90s are grown-ups now, but that’s no obstacle to Static Cling’s success; Rocko’s Modern Life was always as adult-oriented as any show that ostensibly catered to kids.

Loser: Trailers in General

Andrew Gruttadaro: The worst trend in movie trailers is not the dark cover of a popular song from the ’70s, or the canned, ominous establishing shot of a city accompanied by a voice-over — it’s the teaser for the trailer within the trailer. If you watched any of the trailers that dropped during Comic-Con, you saw at least one of these: a five-second onslaught of imagery and noise before a title card that more or less says, "This is the movie trailer." Justice League had one, Ready Player One had one, Jigsaw had one:

I’m sure several other trailers had them as well, but I decided to stop counting because so many trailers had already stolen so many seconds of my life. What are we doing here? Running ads for a movie trailer inside that same movie trailer? Interesting strategy — maybe grocery stores should start training their cashiers to advertise potato chips after you’ve already bought them.

In analyzing this concerning trend, The Verge writes, "The teaser within the trailer speaks to a moment in which we have so many distractions and choices that marketers must sell us on giving a trailer three minutes of our time." Moving beyond how sad it is that marketing and advertising companies think of their consumers as newborns lying beneath a mobile, the strategy is still all turned upside down, more focused on how many people watch a trailer than how many people see the movie the trailer was allegedly made to promote. Warner Bros. might be getting more YouTube views by beating people over the head with their embedded pre-roll ads on Justice League — but they’re also in danger of beating the desire to see Justice League out of those same people.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.