On Monday it was announced that Benicio Del Toro had signed on to star in Guardians of the Galaxy and to also appear in several other Marvel films. It’s not a surprising arrangement for the comic book and film company, which has secured many of its characters to play the same role across multiple movies. What is surprising is the fact that his role is not being revealed. Most signs point to Thanos, the Marvel villain who made his film debut in The Avengers’ post-credit teaser, appeared in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers comic books recently, and whose presence in Guardians was alluded to when Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer character was described as “a human resurrected as a green warrior for the sole purpose of killing Thanos.” Sure, it’s possible that Del Toro won’t be playing Thanos. But we likely won’t know until the information leaks, at which point Marvel will continue to deny it, and so on. It’s unnecessary cloak-and-dagger stuff. Cut the shit, Hollywood.
(Spoiler Alert: A few well-known “big reveals” are alluded to below.)
From our perspective, there are two genuine reasons to withhold casting info: (1) To generate buzz. (2) To not ruin a big story reveal or plot twist. However, there is motivation and there is execution, and sometimes the two don’t meet.
1) Somewhere between 2008’s Cloverfield and this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness, buzz marketing started to feel as hacky, manipulative, and sweaty as regular marketing. By buzz marketing we’re referring to the process of supplanting traditional promotion (i.e. TV ads, actor interviews) with Internet-driven publicity, in which fans share news and talk about a movie. Basically every movie, like every junk food, soft drink, and adult diaper, incorporates it into their ad campaign now. And Star Trek Into Darkness’s whole “it’s not Khan, it’s John Harrison” thing was simply the worst we’ve seen in a while. From before he was even cast, there was a ton of evidence indicating that Benedict Cumberbatch would play classic Trek villain Khan (a role, coincidentally, that Benicio Del Toro was initially offered), but J.J. Abrams & Co. danced around it, knowing that they could rely on movie blogs and message boards to dissect any smidgen of evidence that was accidentally (or not) dropped.
And while such an approach totally succeeded in getting people to endlessly discuss the possibility of Khan, it failed to build genuine excitement or goodwill around the reveal. At some point, needless obstruction and misdirection just feels like lying and people (especially film bloggers and fan boys) don’t like being lied to. But you know what would’ve gotten a lot of people pumped? This headline: “Benedict Cumberbatch Signs on to Play Khan in Star Trek sequel!” We know you like surprises, J.J., but sometimes anticipation is much more powerful than obfuscation.
2) We get it: If you’ve got a twist, you want it to twist, particularly if the character is pretending to be someone else at first. In the months leading up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, for example, Marion Cotillard consistently lied to the press about not playing Talia al Ghul so that her big third act reveal would remain unspoiled. Okay, look, we’re not killjoy savages. It’s not like we’re saying that Lucasfilm should have sent out a press release for The Empire Strikes Back that read, “James Earl Jones will return as as the voice of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker’s enemy and father.” But this is the Internet Age, and things work differently now. Try as you might, you cannot control the flow of news the way you used to be able to. Information wants to be free, and word — especially on big blockbusters and superhero movies — will get out, either through set photos (like these, which indicated, early on, what Cotillard’s role would actually be), script leaks, or movie critics who reveal the reveal because they didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a twist.
So, come on, Marvel. Come. On. You know whom he’s going to play. He’s signed a multi-picture deal to play a character. Who is that character!? Is he Thanos or is he not? If he’s not, tell us if he’s voicing that cool raccoon guy or that sentient tree-monster or if he’ll dye his hair blond to play Adam Warlock (and his evil alter ego Magus). Tell us now! What’s the harm?