'Black Panther' Trailer Says So Little So Beautifully

The new Black Panther trailer offers the audience a lot, whether it's the eye-popping stunts, a cast that (welcomely) looks a million miles from the white-bread norm of superhero movies or a soundtrack that combines the old and the new for something that feels appropriately timely and different. The combined effect is potent; the message, "This isn't like the other Marvel movies, this is something else," rings out loud and clear. For that alone, it's a successful trailer. But in another way, maybe not so much.

The Black Panther trailer follows the same model as the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer and an increasing number of big-budget movie trailers: a collection of disconnected (yet appropriately "cool") scenes that catch the attention and open space for all kinds of speculative discussion in fandom, but provide very little concrete information beyond that. Characters aren't named in the trailer, nor are their relationships or allegiances defined. Outside of the fact that the movie looks good, there's not a lot the trailer actually tells anyone about the finished product.

There are pluses and minuses to this approach, with the obvious positive being that such trailers avoid the risk of accidentally spoiling the movie by revealing too much ahead of time. Black Panther, along with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, both have the added benefit of the fact that the audience is already excited about the project. There's no need to explain anything to the audience, or even try to sell the film at all, because they're already onboard.

Other movies don't have that same chance. You can look at the trailers for Valerian or, better yet, Blade Runner 2049 as following a similar low-information model for trailers — although, instead of going for the overwhelming, over-the-top quick-cut spectacle of Black Panther and The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049 was more along the lines of slow-moving tone poetry — but, without the benefit of a contemporary successful franchise behind it, audiences had no idea what it was looking at, leaving them disinterested in the movies themselves. (Blade Runner 2049, despite positive reviews, has underwhelmed at the box office.)

(That's not to say that a more literal promotional strategy, wherein Ryan Gosling looked into the camera and said, "Hey, remember Blade Runner? Maybe not, but it's a movie set in a future Los Angeles where some people are robots we call Replicants — and this is the sequel!," would have made Blade Runner 2049 any more successful; perhaps people just didn't want to see the follow-up to a pic that came out three decades ago.)

Taken together, the response to the videos suggests the limits of what audiences will and will not accept in terms of trailer vagueness. It's one thing to have pretty pictures and good music, but without a pre-existing emotional hook to the characters onscreen, that's all there is. The moral of this story? Put more meat in your trailers — unless you're revisiting some friends no one has seen in a couple of years.