When the first full Avengers: Age of Ultron poster was released earlier this week, you might have felt a sense of deja vu: Our heroes standing around, looking off-camera while striking fighting poses with the exception of Captain America, who’s just kind of … standing there? It’s pretty much the poster for the first Avengers movie, except with added flying robots in the background.
That shouldn’t be surprising, of course. Avengers changed a lot of things for superhero movies in general, but it changed one thing very specifically for Marvel Studios movies: posters. Whether it was intentional or coincidental, the result of targeted research or superstition, Avengers heralded an era where every single Marvel movie poster was made of the same basic elements. Here’s a quick guide to the necessary ingredients for a Marvel Studios poster:
The Hero(es), Staring Off-Camera, Probably Frowning
Instead of showing the characters actually in action, or in a relatively passive hero pose, Marvel posters always seem to be intended to be shots taken in the lull of some big battle, with the villains just off to the side of the viewer and the heroes almost inevitably beaten up or, if Tony Stark’s Iron Man is available, in some state of disrepair. The message is likely intended to be “It’s all just about to happen, true believers! Stay tuned!”
Destruction of Some Sort
Going along with the idea that the posters are “happening” in the middle of a big battle, it’s almost a certainty that the heroes will be surrounded by scenes of carnage in some form or another. While the Age of Ultron poster is so packed as to make this almost impossible, viewers should note the remains of a building between the heroes and the flying homicidal robots. It’s not quite at the level of “exploding buildings” as in the original Avengers poster, but at least it’s an attempt, right?
Something in the Sky
You might think that the space behind the heroes should be left relatively empty to let the image breathe, but if so, that’s just a sign that you don’t work for Marvel Studios. Whether it’s falling Helicarriers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), fireballs (Thor: The Dark World), remote controlled suits of armor (Iron Man 3) or alien spacecraft (Guardians of the Galaxy), skies are there to be filled with objects to get fans speculating about what it all means. Age of Ultron’s flying Ultron drones, by comparison, seem almost too obvious.
One obvious running theme throughout the Marvel posters is the Uncanny Valley of it all. Sure, all the characters are there next to each other, but they just don’t look right. Light sources aren’t consistent, and in some extreme cases (The first Avengers poster being one of the worst culprits here), the tones on each of the figures are eye-catching in their inconsistency. The reason? Each of the shots have been taken in isolation and then composited together later, but in such a way that your eye can tell that none of these people were in the same place at the same time.
Comic book artist David Aja made a joke about Age of Ultron’s Photoshop usage on Twitter shortly after the poster was revealed:
— David Aja (@davaja) February 24, 2015
The bottom third of any Marvel poster is given over to the movie’s logo and the credits. It’s an odd tradition, at least in terms of the movies’ comic book origins, with covers traditionally giving their top thirds over to the logo. This one, at least, is far from unique to Marvel — most movies follow the same layout, presumably due to the credit block placement and desire to keep all the text together. (Also, it’s the one rule Marvel is happy to break: the first Guardians of the Galaxy poster featured the logo at the top of the image; thankfully, order was restored with the fact that the team was standing on top of rubble and looking off to the side of the viewer, so not all was lost.)
Marvel’s posters weren’t always like this; the posters for the first two Iron Man movies and the first Thor and Captain America installments are more traditional in their layout and, interestingly, brighter in both tone and color. It’s possible that the grim, muted nature of everything that followed was intentional for the “Phase II” era of the studio, and that we’ll see something else as we head into “Phase III,” but if not, let’s hope that Avengers: Age of Ultron will prove to be an end to this era of increasingly generic, boring posters.