Monday, July 29, 2013

The Downside of the Stinger Era in Cinema


The uproar was spontaneous and loud in the dark theatre that was 80 percent full. Considering that the film was The Wolverine, such a response should not have been shocking at all. Superhero films generally get the crowd pumped if done well. What surprised me about this particular response was that the cheers and applause did not come during one of the many action scenes in the film. It did not even occur as the credits began to roll as a sign of overall approval, like the euphoric responses that overtook the crowd once The Avengers ended. Instead this reaction was for the brief post-credit scene (aka. the stinger).

That is right, after sitting in the theatre for over two hours, the biggest reaction came during a teaser for a completely different film. Exiting the theatre the talk amongst the folks who sat through the credits was not of Wolverine fighting on top of a 300 mph bullet train going through Japan, nor was it the questions of mortality that the film touches on. The only thing that was coming out of people’s mouths was the cameos from familiar characters in the stinger. While I understand that we have been conditioned to be impressed by the further marketing that occurs in post-credit sequences, I cannot help but think we have gone too far in the wrong direction.

While I will not spoil the stinger for The Wolverine, though chances are you have already read about it by now, I will be referring to some previous summer blockbuster post-credit sequences below. So you can read on at you own caution.

Now I am all for studios finding new ways to get people jazzed a year, or several in the case of The Avengers, in advance for a particular film. Kudos to them, especially Marvel, for finding a way to actually get people to sit through the credits and pay respect to the key grip and rest of the crew who help to make the magic of cinema happen. Unfortunately, it is extremely telling when a glorified mini-commercial gets a bigger response than the actual product that they spent over 100 million dollars to make. I would even argue that unless you are familiar with the plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the warnings in the stinger of a dangerous weapon being built will wash right over you completely. Regardless, it was clear from the response that merely showing familiar faces was enough to get blood flowing far more than any of the action sequences in The Wolverine.

This is not to say that this particular stinger formula cannot be used to great success. In my opinion the best post-credit scene of this summer was the one after Fast and Furious 6. Again, the method of bringing in a recognizable face (Jason Statham) is implored, but there were several big differences to how the crowd for that film reacted in comparison to the audience in The Wolverine. The most important being that the Fast and Furious crowd were very engaged with the film from the beginning. They laughed at all the right parts and cheered at key action sequences. The arrival of Statham in the stinger was merely the icing on the cake. The post-credit scene also worked because it not only established who the villain would be for the next film, but also perfectly linked Fast and Furious 6, and the rest of series for that matter, to Tokyo Drift which was previously the odd duckling of the franchise. Two birds with one stone, it is quite genius when you think about it.

I guess my issue is with the fact that we have become a generation so obsessed with ads for what is coming next that we no longer seem to care about the product in front of us. Though I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk, if you were to ask me to name three things that occurred in it I would list the South America chase sequence, the fight in front of Zanabar (folks from Toronto will get that reference), and that Tony Stark makes a cameo in the stinger. Truth be told, the Stark sequence would be the first thing I mention. It is no different to how the Shawarma scene in The Avengers still gets more buzz on social media than say the sequence where an enraged Hulk is chasing after Black Widow. The latter of which probably cost a small fortune to shoot.

So how do we change this? How do we make the films themselves and not the stingers the thing that gets people talking? These are questions not easily answered. If it was up to me I would only include stingers that have something substantial to say. Do we really need to see Ron Perlman searching for his shoe in the post-credits of Pacific Rim? Of course no studio in their right mind is going to pass up on a marketing opportunity that evokes such a response as the one after The Wolverine and countless other summer films over the last couple of years. Similar to Brad Pitt’s character in Seven, we all wants to know “what’s in the box” even if no box arrives. It has gotten so bad that we often feel shortchanged in the event that: a) we left the theatre before post-credit scene; or b) if there is no stinger at the end of the film at all. Maybe change needs to come from us the viewer.

Instead of hitting social media to engage in deep discussion about the possible meanings of a certain stinger, we should try evoking discussion about the film we just watched. We have gotten to a point where we are placing way too much importance on a thirty second post-credit teaser. These types of commercials should not be dominating our conversations as much as they are currently. Instead of obsessing over a hint of what may come, it is time that we get back to focusing more on the actual films that we have right now.

7 comments:

  1. Funny thing about this...

    Earlier this year, I sat down to finally watch the six films of Avengers Phase One in the order I thought they worked the best. That went like so:

    CAPTAIN AMERICA
    IRON MAN
    IRON MAN 2
    HULK
    THOR
    AVENGERS

    That makes the events roughly chronological and leads in well considering Loki & Thor are so central to the plot of AVENGERS. However, this order doesn't work if one takes the stingers into account. The question I have, is how much attention are we supposed to pay to those moments?

    If they are integral to the plot, why not put them in place as an epilogue *before* the credits roll? If not, you're just filming a trumped up webisode and including it at the end of the reel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I had serious issues with Iron Man 2, I agree with your order in regards to how best to watch Phase One. Also, you are right that this order does not work once you take the stingers into account.

      I think initially we were not supposed to pay so much attention to the stingers in films. Somewhere along the ling the studios started to see how powerful post-credit scenes were becoming in terms of getting people talking. Heck, the most of the talk in my offices today has been “did you stay for he credits of The Wolverine?” usually followed by a squeal of delight or an “OMG.” In many ways the studios want to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand they want to pretend that the stingers are merely fun throwaway moments, but then they turn around and put a lot of work into ensuring that the stingers set up what is to come next.

      Delete
    2. Boy howdy does this hit a huge soft spot for me, and thank you for elaborating on it so well. There's another crucial difference between the Marvel approach and the one used in F&F6. The stinger's have become such an integral part of their advertising strategy that it's become fan reassurance more than anything else.

      "Hey, this project that we've been working on openly for months, totally not a prank."

      The stinger for F&F6, by contrast, caught me completely by surprise. My girlfriend and I were almost out of the theater when the scene started playing and we backed up because we were curious. With any Marvel film I can find out what it is online before I even watch the film.

      All that said, from a marketing and community standpoint, they're well used. The stingers give people a bit of water cooler talk in advance and something to be excited about. As far as marketing is concerned I sometimes forget that the average moviegoer isn't paying as close attention as I am to directors, stars, fan speculation, and so on.

      I just wish, like you alluded to, that these stingers were the bonus point on a grade A project instead of the end of another routine Marvel film. That's why I loved those bits at the end of old James Bond movies so much, you'd get this slam-bang adventure and then, "Oh man! There's gonna be more!"

      Delete
    3. The thing with the Marvel films is that I am not sure the audience really need that reassurance anymore. Considering how much play Marvel's announcements at Comic-con get in the media, the audience already knows what the next four films will be prior to entering the theatre. You make an excellent point in regards to the Bond films. The great thing about the old James Bond films was that there was still an element of surprise. The internet and social media have really taken this element away. As a result people are going nuts for stingers to upcoming films that they already know a great deal about (e.g. set photos, casting news, release date, etc).

      Delete
  2. Interesting post. I guess I've never really been bothered enough by the stingers to think about the possible negative outcome.

    Overall, I think it's all pretty harmless but I totally get why the pure marketing moves would become a pet peeve of yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is not even the marketing that bothers me, the studios have a job to do; it is just the way everyone seems to be responding to the marketing that irks me. In the past week I have come across so many posts "analyzing" every aspect of The Wolverine stinger. Seriously, the stingers are merely commercials, why do we need to invest such in depth analysis/discussion about each one?

      Delete
    2. That's very true. I guess I don't come in contact with those types of posts as often so it's never been a thing for me. The superhero speculation stuff always starts out as harmless fun and then seems to delve into craziness.

      Delete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.