On April 30, one day before Avengers: Age of Ultron either saves or obliterates the world economy, AMC’s hosting a special Marvel double feature. The Avengers, followed by Age of Ultron; four hours of superhero team-up bliss. Also you get a poster, which is the relevant part here. Show up to one of those Avengers double features and AMC will give you one of three free prints seen below.
The “Ultron and His Troops” one is no great shakes, but the other two are especially cool. The first has a neat geometric look going, with bright solid colors and straight lines creating a prism effect. The third is minimalist, but not so minimalist that you can’t tell it’s an Ultron hand crunching up the Avengers logo. Also, the bits of falling broken glass are a nice touch.
I don’t know if I’ll be seeing the Avengers double feature (the 29-hour Marvel Marathon of Death sounds a little more appealing) but those posters would be a nice trophy. And not just on poster merit alone, but because for the most part, Avengers posters are about as captivating as bowl of cold, plain oatmeal. Ignore the creativity and unique art styles seen above. Instead, gracing the outside (or inside) of every movie theater in the country is this mess:
There are so many Avengers on this poster that there’s no actual room for background. Glance to the very right and very left and you’ll see slight hints of buildings caught in mid-crumble. That, plus the unknown void at the Avengers’ feet and the generally circular pattern of the Ultron minions above, and it kinda looks like the Avengers are caught in a tornado (maybe Age of Ultron is far more tornado-centric than anyone realized). It’s weird, it’s messy and I don’t understand it at all. Which is exactly what happens when someone needs a movie poster with a big mess of Avengers on it. They just… put Avengers on a poster. Just slap ’em on there, and so long as you’ve got a check mark for every major character (there’s the Vision, half-obscured under the words “Mark Ruffalo,” so yes, every box has been checked), the poster is a rousing success.
This extends beyond Age of Ultron. The same issues plagued the first Avengers’ poster offerings.
Everyone’s just sort of standing there, looking cool. Admittedly, this poster is a thousand times better than the one for Age of Ultron. Is the photoshopping awkward and extremely noticeable? Sure. Is Captain America inexplicably five stories tall? Of course. But there are fewer Avengers, zero excess minions and at least a few inches of space between most characters. It’s so much easier to read.
Now let’s widen the scope again. Poster-cramming isn’t an Age of Ultron problem. It’s not a general Avengers problem. It’s a movie problem- specifically for any movie where a large group of actors/characters/superheroes all coming together is the main draw.
Take the Expendables series, which started out as plain as posters can be.
Black and white. Names on top, bodies on bottom. Not creative at all, but it works, kinda. Until the poster for The Expendables 2, which took all that and set it on fire.
Same general group of dudes standing in the same general fanned-out pattern- only now there’s debris, collapsing buildings, multiple explosions and the same licks of flame you’d see on a bad Hawaiian shirt. The good: Sylvester Stallone managed to coordinate 11 men all simultaneously not turning around to look at an explosion. The bad: everything else.
At least everybody wised up by The Expendables 3. We’re back to the original style, only instead of nine names listed, there are 17. I’ll admit, the first Expendables poster does nothing for me, but the third one has crossed into some weird, small, perfect corner where it’s cleverly self-effacing and laughably stupid at the same time.
The trap of “let’s just throw everybody on the poster and call it a day” affects more than just Team Expendable and Team Avenger.
If it’s got a lot of big names, chances are someone’s tried to slap those names onto a battle-strewn city street or a generic white background and call it a day. Which is a shame, because there are actually a handful of posters that manage to balance a unique design with the necessity of showing off a hefty ensemble cast. Plenty of posters just do a Drew Struzan-type effect- turn the characters into disembodied heads and float them into the middle of the poster, slightly above center. Not every Struzan poster looked like that, but enough of them did to make that an easy out for epic ensemble casts.
Here’s Struzan’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
And here’s someone else’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Another option: poke fun at your own hilariously overstuffed ensemble cast. I’d include The Expendables 3 here, but the same goes for say, Gosford Park:
You don’t need to include a single face. The poster conveys the concept of murder at a high society dinner party with a single image, with the added bonus of the cast being on the menu. Or the guest list. Kind of hard to tell.
Or, perhaps the best option of all: just cram everyone into a tight space anyway, but do it with style, a sharper eye and a much cleaner use of Photoshop. A perfect example would be The Royal Tenenbaums.
There are ten characters on that poster (12 if you count the hawk/beagle) in about half the size. That Age of Ultron poster towards the top also had ten characters, but looked like a tornado’d mess. Royal Tenenbaums created something iconic (well, semi-iconic, anyway) out of even tougher circumstances. It just involved a little outside-the-box thinking
Disappointingly, outside-the-box thinking will probably stay far away from all future Avengers posters (at least not the major theatrical ones- those double feature giveaways are pretty cool). This is the last franchise that’ll ever take a creative risk on anything (at least as far as the marketing goes)- not when there are billion dollar grosses and another record-breaking opening weekend at stake. Still, that’s one very good reason to look forward to a double helping of Avengers: Infinity War. If Age of Ultron’s poster looked cramped, just wait until Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and several other newcomers (probably) are all squeezing each other out of the way to get half an inch of poster space.