Trailer reactions are more a review of a piece of marketing rather than a film in its entirety. I once read that Gene Siskel would not go into a theater playing trailers until they were done. After that, I started closing my eyes or looking at my phone until the trailers were over. Occasionally, a trailer sneaks through and catches my attention despite my best efforts. Jennifer Garner’s new revenge romp “Peppermint” did just that, for all the wrong reasons.
The trailer opens to show Garner’s character, Riley, along with her husband and daughter during happier times at a fair. As they’re leaving, the all-American family is gunned down by unseen assailants.
Riley survives and lives to identify the tattooed gang members who killed her family – only to see them walk out of court unscathed because they’re inexplicably powerful.
The group is an unmistakable calling card for MS-13 gang members, the scapegoats President Trump is using to call immigrants “animals” and migrant children “not that innocent.”
The premise of a wounded hero or antihero avenging the death of their loved one(s) is a well-told story. “The Crow,” “The Punisher” and even “Spider-Man” share some variation of this arc. ”Peppermint” looks to be channeling “Taken” and “John Wick,” both of which featured similarly distraught men killing their way to a massive body count for revenge. Pierre Morel, the director of “Peppermint,” was also the director behind “Taken.”
What makes “Peppermint” gross isn’t its revenge redemption arc but the racist undertones of its heroine’s actions. Riley is a white woman who takes justice into her own hands, killing a lot of Latino characters in the process. We’re supposed to assume they’re all bad and so her actions are justified.
After watching the trailer, I was convinced this movie bought into the political rhetoric that conflates gang members with law-abiding immigrants.
Riley blames an entire group of people for her loss instead of the few who were directly responsible. It’s not unlike the broad brush the president is using to paint all immigrants and Latinos as potential threats to the wholesome, all-American family.
Later, Riley continues to enact justice under the guise of “cleaning up the streets.” However, her violent brand of vigilante justice appears to be graphic and places the bodies of her victims out in public, like a gang would do if they wanted to make a statement. It’s bad when they do it, but since she’s the good guy, her actions are justified.
If the trailer is a teaser for what’s to come, I have no idea how the film will move away from the racist stereotypes it built its story around.
While some are already heralding the girl power vibes of seeing Garner back in action, what I saw was the empowerment of one white woman at the expense of nameless brown faces.
Those few minutes in the trailer preview has the makings of a white savior trope. Someone thought it’d be a good time to cash in on the current fears about Latinos when our lives — from families ripped apart at the border to the post-hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico — are at stake.