Captain Marvel's trailers are breaking one of Marvel Studios' marketing rules, and it could be a big problem when the movie releases next March: they're forgetting to explain who Captain Marvel actually is. The first MCU movie in a jam-packed 2019, this is the shared universe's first female-led solo movie and, with Brie Larson reportedly locked in for multiple movies, is set to be a major new franchise in Phase 4 and beyond.

In fan circles online, it's been one of the most anticipated movies of 2019 superhero or otherwise pretty much ever since it was moved to its current release date. At SDCC 2017, the same Hall H panel that brought the Avengers: Infinity War teaser was almost overridden by excitement at the confirmation of Skrull villains and a two-eyed Nick Fury, while the post-credits scene for Infinity War set up Carol Danvers as the universe's only hope against Thanos. It's not an understatement that this is the only film Disney could release a trailer for ahead of Avengers 4 and not receive a backlash on.

Related: Avengers 4 Trailer Coming After Captain Marvel Is Better For Both Movies

When it comes to general audiences, however, that story may be a little different. So far, we've had two trailers for Captain Marvel. Both have a similar focus, introducing Larson as amnesiac pilot Carol Danvers teaming up with a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson in a 1990s setting meshed with Marvel's cosmic stylings. And... that's it. If you come into Captain Marvel's trailers as a Kree (or, heaven forbid, MCU) agnostic, then you're going to be completely bemused by what's here. And that is a big, big issue for Marvel.

Captain Marvel's Trailers Are Forgetting To Explain The Movie

The first Captain Marvel teaser released in late September to pair with Venom in theaters. Coming hot on the heels of an Entertainment Weekly cover story, it provided some perfectly screencapable and giffable shots (this is one of Marvel's real marketing strengths over the competition). However, in terms of selling the movie, a lot was left unsaid. Indeed, the very basics of the character - that Carol Danvers was half-Kree, how that happened, or the powers that gifted her - were all incredibly vague; you could piece Captain Marvel's origin together only if you knew it already from the comics. Perhaps the most egregious moment was a scene where Carol punched an old lady without establishment or explanation; again, comic fans will know that it's a shapeshifting alien, but nothing in the teaser itself suggested that.

It took two months for Marvel to clarify that snafu. The second Captain Marvel trailer, released in December to show with the likes of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman and Bumblebee, opened with an extension of the granny-punching that both showed and told that she was an alien. Even there, though, there were omissions - in stating she was a Skrull, the movie still didn't clarify that she was a shapeshifter - and then, straight after correcting a teaser oversight, the trailer jumped right into ambiguity again. It vaguely teased Kree DNA tampering and mysterious pasts without ever explaining what that actually meant, leaving audiences none-the-wiser to the character or plot.

There's a lot of visual eye-candy (albeit with Marvel's typically weak CGI body models), but after two full trailers, it's not clear what Captain Marvel's story actually is, who the villains are, what Ben Mendehlson or Jude Law's roles are, or even how its central hero gets her powers. Of course, most of that can be figured out online: the movie is one of Carol regaining her memories; Mendehlson is Skrull leader Talos; Jude Law is either Mar-Vell or Yon Rogg (an intentional mystery); and Captain Marvel got her powers from the explosion of a Kree/Quantum Realm device.

Related: Captain Marvel Trailer 2 Breakdown: 38 Story Reveals & Secrets You Missed

But trailers aren't invitations to explainer articles, and they certainly aren't just for online audiences. They're playing to the massive opening weekends of big releases from Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount, and it's in that mainstream collective (not die-hard fans) where most of a movie's cultural impact and box office comes from. So far, Marvel's completely ignored them. And when the character at the center of all this is Captain Marvel, that's a gamble.

Audiences Don't Know Who Carol Danvers Is

Although she's sometimes lauded as an iconic character, Captain Marvel - with the utmost respect - really isn't. It's a title born out of legal necessity that Carol Danvers has only held for six years (and is actually the seventh to do so). And, while she's certainly a candidate with much potential for a solo movie, that doesn't come from a high level of pop culture saturation; her comic distribution numbers languish around the 30,000 point. Simply put, general audiences don't know a thing about Captain Marvel.

Looking at the history, that's not too surprising. Captain Marvel, as published by Marvel comics, came into existence in the 1960s essentially as a way to block DC from gaining rights to the eye-catching title through their own Captain Marvel (now known as catchphrase Shazam). Called Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel was hardly a game-changer but served his purpose, and also led to the creation of Ms. Marvel aka Carol Danvers, who went by various other names throughout her career alongside the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and more. She became Captain Marvel proper in 2012, and it's only from Kelly Sue DeConnick's redefining run onwards that we really got the mythology we know.

There's nothing wrong with a hero that doesn't have a lengthy, lauded past and generation-long debates over their correct tone. As Guardians of the Galaxy proved, prior obscurity allows a lot of freedom, and this is doubly true for Captain Marvel, whose reboot makes her essentially a Marvel response to Superman. But there has to be some understanding that there won't be the same cultural shorthand for her; general audiences don't know Captain Marvel's origin story, so they don't have the contextual information to fill in the many gaps in the trailer, nor spot the more revisionist elements.

Related: Captain Marvel Trailer Confirms Her KREE Codename?

The same was true of Black Panther, a character whose cultural importance and film's blockbusting status wasn't reflected in how lesser read his comics were. But there was one key difference between Black Panther and Captain Marvel, and that's in the marketing.

Page 2 of 2: Why Captain Marvel's Trailer Breaks The MCU Rules

Marvel's Marketing Always Explained The Heroes... Until Now

The accidental genius of the MCU comes from all their banner heroes starting off as B-list at best characters. When Marvel became solvent after bankruptcy in the 1990s and looked to start making their own movies, the movie rights to their best-known properties - Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four - were locked away at other studios, so they had to make do with what was left. The likes of Captain America and Iron Man were, in the mid-2000s, lesser known: they were viewed as a propaganda holdover and a laughably named robot respectively. Every aspect of Marvel Studios' now tried-and-tested formula worked to fix that, with smart balance in comic reverence, astute casting and appealing stories overriding a lack of name recognition. But a key to it all was the trailers.

Marvel trailers aren't just selling the movies, they're selling the characters, and a key part of that is simply explaining their heroes. From Thor to Guardians of the Galaxy to Black Panther, the marketing campaigns for MCU movies strives to provide an overview of who they are, what their powers are and how they got them (if applicable) so that even if you've never heard of Ant-Man, you understand exactly what his deal is after two minutes. Even Spider-Man, the most popular superhero in the world, was sold in this manner; Spider-Man: Homecoming's trailers gave an earnest, straight view on Peter Parker, not letting his real-world stature get in the way of the proven (this is also why he and Black Panther debuted in Captain America: Civil War - it's more shorthand).

This means never having picked up a comic book is no excuse to not watch a film about a character, and also helps serve the shared universe as a whole: an audience member can follow Doctor Strange's arc in Avengers: Infinity War based on what's shown in his solo movie's trailer alone; and Black Panther can outgross almost all other films by bringing in an underserved audience. Trailers are such big events for Marvel because they're as important as the films.

Related: The Original Marvel Studios Plan Would Have Led To A Very Different Infinity War

Captain Marvel's trailers are actively working against twenty movies' worth of knowledge. They're not leading with any of the information up-front, instead teasing things only die-hards will know, with clarifications coming months later. The trailers act like the film is subverting something known, when all it's doing is rewriting a far-from-legendary origin. There may be an argument that the mystery is baked into the story and that makes selling Captain Marvel hard, but again considering that this is the corporately-owned Marvel's 21st rodeo, such obvious concerns should have been addressed in the scriptwriting stage. After all, there is one rule bigger than their own...

Mysterious Marketing Rarely Works

That final point about secrecy gets at the heart of one pitfall Marvel's consistently avoided. There's a very fine line when it comes to story reveals in trailers, with audiences typically wanting everything up to a specific, and then nothing at all. However, going too far one way is considerably worse than the other: if a trailer shows too much, audiences may grumble at having the film spoiled after seeing; if a trailer shows too little, audiences won't bother buying a ticket.

Sometimes, holding back massively in the marketing works. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the premier example, with the plot of a pretty standard reboot of the saga given a veil of immense secrecy by J.J. Abrams' mystery box marketing, and the hype for Episode VII vastly increasing as a result. But not every movie is Star Wars 7. Equally restrained trailers are widely believed as the cause for Star Wars: The Last Jedi's backlash and Solo: A Star Wars Story's box office bomb, and the same is true of films like Blade Runner 2049. Within all this, there is an argument about story preservation, but when we're dealing with $150+ million behemoths, a compromise is needed.

Ironically, it's Marvel that normally strikes the best balance. Their trailers start off as teases, gradually revealing more good stuff and providing audiences with a subliminal sense of narrative while holding just enough back (at least one big twist per movie) so that the eventual first viewing is surprising yet familiar. This can be best seen with Avengers: Infinity War, where, daughter murder and finger snapping aside, the story was broadly all in the trailer.

Related: The Last Jedi's Trailers Created The Star Wars Backlash

What they're doing with Captain Marvel, then, is more in-line with Solo than it is Thanos. There has to be a reason, but one that justifies working against every understood rule in marketing (not to mention leading to two so-so trailers that keep the audience at arm's length) has yet to emerge.


It's foolhardy to say Captain Marvel risks being a box office bomb. What Carol Danvers represents as the first solo female superhero in the MCU overrides any lack of recognition, and the whole Marvel machine is so conditioned now it will take a genuine misstep to slow down. However, in the marketing, Marvel has nevertheless taken a rather rogue step that could hurt what's set to be an all-timer 2019.

Next: Captain Marvel: Every Update You Need To Know

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