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The Trailer Test: Analyzing 5 New Trailers From ‘Gangster Squad’ to a Final ‘Dark Knight Rises’

The Trailer Test: Analyzing 5 New Trailers From 'Gangster Squad' to a Final 'Dark Knight Rises'

Editor’s Note: This column is dedicated to bringing a critical eye to new trailers by examining their creative aspects and whether or not they provide accurate samplings of the features they’re designed to tease.

The Bourne Legacy

The “Bourne Identity” trilogy, which kicked off under the direction of Doug Liman before Paul Greengrass kept the franchise alive with two breathlessly paced sequels, has taken a strange turn. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter of the earlier installments, steps behind the camera for this quasi-sequel that trades Matt Damon’s Bourne character for another trained assassin gone wrong with the same government-sanctioned name. Gilroy’s previous directing credits, “Duplicity” and “Michael Clayton,” don’t feature the same action-driven intensity that the new movie will likely contain — but the latest trailer, produced for television broadcast, most certainly does.

Greengrass’ “Bourne Ultimatum” was an extraordinary editing feat that crammed a mathematically-calibrated series of edits to create the dizzying sense of getting overwhelmed by a relentless pace. “The Bourne Legacy” trailer contains a similarly dense formalism. With six cuts in the first four seconds, it immediately establishes Edward Norton as the latest government baddie on Bourne’s tail, as well as the return of the morally conflicted CIA operative played by Joan Allen. By 13 seconds, a frantic Renner has already taken out a handful of goons and announced his status as the latest Bourne character. At that point the trailer dovetails into a mesmerizing round-up of the usual “Bourne” gymnastics: Running, punching, jumping, swimming, climbing, and a sidedish of romance (the fleeting appearance of Rachel Weisz in Renner’s tender embrace). If this isn’t the real movie in a frenetic nutshell, it should be.

Released by Universal Pictures on August 10.

The Dark Knight Rises

While there’s still a week to go before the two-and-a-half hour conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, months of trailers have provided plenty of snapshots from the movie, as did a recent 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Most of this material is carefully designed to make audiences gradually salivate as they gear up for the big screen experience. The latest and presumably final trailer, released this week, reflects this intention as well as everything preceding it; however, it also contains less mystique since so much of the plot has already been revealed elsewhere. Instead of hinting at the ominous nature of masked villain Bane or the long-discussed injury that puts Batman out of commission for much of the movie, the trailer focuses on placing “The Dark Knight Rises” within the context of the entire franchise by spending the first minute recapping events from “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.”

The second half gets into the details of Bane’s plot to destroy Gotham City and the disgruntled Wayne lurking in his mansion, unsure whether he should get back into the Batman game. Once Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) says “we’re on our own,” the trailer shifts into a wordless montage of Bane’s destruction before confirming that, yes, Batman returns to the game with a greater willingness to throw himself into the action than ever before. More than anything else, the trailer displays the mixture of noir ingredients and an epic scope that give Nolan’s treatment of the Batman mythos its distinctive identity.

Released by Warner Bros. on July 20.

Gangster Squad

Ruben Fleisher’s first two directing credits, “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less,” displayed a penchant for playful black comedies. While the snazzy-looking period piece “Gangster Squad” isn’t exactly driven by jokes, it does appear to have fun with its genre. The trailer for this star-studded retelling of the LAPD’s 1940’s-era assault on Jewish mafioso Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) relishes in the pastiche of suave, dangerous men in trenchcoats bearing guns. “Back east, I was a gangster,” says a raspy Penn. “Out here, I’m a god.” This teaser treats the crime ingredients in a similar fashion, at times slowing things down relish in the rain of bullets and occasional bedroom digressions. It also shows off the rest of the stars — a frank detective played by Brolin and the combatively giddy Ryan Gosling stand out — whose celebrity stature heightens the way this tidbit skillfully champions style over substance. That’s precisely the kind of liberty that well-crafted trailers usually take.

Released by Warner Bros. on September 7.

“[REC] 3”

Among the many found footage excursions at the movies in recent years, the Spanish horror franchise “[REC]” stands above the usually shaky-cam standard with its incredible orchestration of classic suspense mechanism and gothic imagery combined into a menacing first-person perspective. The third entry in the trilogy drops the found footage device altogether and broadens the tone to construct a wilder sense of black comedy. The red band trailer, however, is a genre delight unto itself: It avoids the use of subtitles by setting the stage with a simple voiceover and otherwise drawing out its wedding-gone-awry scenario with a series of increasingly ghoulish images. The chainsaw finale amounts to pure visceral escapism, conveying the way bloody mayhem can translate into a wild ride in a single shocking instant.

Released by Magnolia Pictures on VOD August 3 followed by a theatrical release on September 7. Trailer produced by AVSquad.


Another masterful found footage horror excursion, the anthology project “V/H/S” revealed many of its shocks in a red band trailer released last month. The green band trailer still contains plenty of mortifying events from the series of interconnected short films, as knives, fangs and invisible phantoms wreak havoc every five seconds or so, sustained by the occasional POV of an ill-fated character fleeing danger and screaming in terror. The movie itself is less focused on precise explanations for the devilish events that unfold than their impact on the viewer, which turns the trailer into a speedy highlight reel that, even green, still manages to deliver plenty of uneasiness.

Released by Magnolia Pictures on VOD August 31 followed by a theatrical release October 5. Trailer produced by AVSquad.

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