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From Falcon to Flat McConaughey: The Pop Culture Winners and Losers of Super Bowl LV

This year’s ads matched the strangeness of the game, with nightmare fuel and Robot Michael B. Jordan, plus Juju Smith-Schuster riding a prehistoric animal that ate Samuel L. Jackson

Ringer illustration

With a [checks notes] 43-year-old Tom Brady once again leading his team to glory, this year’s Super Bowl felt a little unstuck from time. It’s only fitting, then, that one of the buzziest ads from Sunday night was about a beach with mysterious aging properties—any chance Brady is heading there for a post–Super Bowl vacation? That was a chaotic tone-setter for an evening when commercials walked an awkward tightrope between acknowledging the ongoing pandemic and trying to make people laugh—while Disney just reminded everyone that their Marvel domination is now a year-round thing. Below, we hand out some winners and losers from a strange but memorable night of ads and trailers.

Winner: Peak M. Night Shyamalan

Since M. Night Shyamalan has been busy working on a TV series for Apple TV+ for the past couple of years, the fact that he’s actually got a movie coming out this summer feels like one of the filmmaker’s signature twists. And, for better or worse, the subtly titled Old comes across like peak Shyamalan nonsense. In the trailer, a family spends its tropical vacation on a secluded beach where the children start aging as quickly as Wanda Maximoff’s twins on WandaVision. Given Shyamalan’s, uh, entire career, Old will either mark a stunning return to form or the inevitable twist about the aging beach will be the dumbest thing he’s conceived since The Happening’s murder plants. Either way, I can’t wait.

Loser: Flat Matthew McConaughey

In what feels like a spiritual nightmare cousin to last year’s Skinny Jason Momoa, Doritos marketed their 3D crunch chips by making Matthew McConaughey two-dimensional. It was not alright, alright, alright.

Considering how many McConaughey ass shots we had to endure in Steven Knight’s batshit masterpiece Serenity, perhaps this cursed Doritos commercial is worthy penance. Somehow, this has me wistful for the days when the actor was rambling away in a Lincoln.

Winner: Everyone Horny for Michael B. Jordan

Amazon’s big Super Bowl spot was horny fan-fiction come to life, with one woman imagining that her Alexa device was replaced by a life-sized replica of the reigning People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Michael B. Jordan. (At least, I assume it was a robotic replica and not Jordan’s actual body being hijacked by Amazon and forced to do the company’s bidding, but we can’t totally rule that out.) The entire concept was legitimately hilarious and, it can’t be stressed enough, ridiculously horny. “Things are getting way too wet around here!” the woman’s jealous husband shouts after she turns the sprinklers on her new eye candy. Given Amazon’s world-dominating ambitions, though, we’re probably not that far off from Robot Michael B. Jordan becoming a reality.

Winner: Everyone Horny for Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan

The titular Falcon and Winter Soldier are the most dysfunctional Marvel couple this side of Wanda and Vision.

With the series set to follow WandaVision on Disney+, the company is ensuring that 2021 will be a year of [sigh] endless Marvel content after the Marvel Cinematic Universe took the last 12 months off. (After The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki is on the way, and there are still movies like Black Widow on the docket.) For the foreseeable future, the MCU is as inevitable as Thanos.

Loser: The Paramount Mountain of Corporate Rebranding

If you didn’t know any better, you would assume that yet another streaming service was announced during the Super Bowl, one called Paramount+ that debuts in March and has Spongebob Squarepants, Snooki, Star Trek, and James Corden. But here’s the thing: You can already access all of these entertainment options on CBS All Access, which is simply being rebranded into Paramount+ next month. (Between Apple, Disney, Discovery, and now Paramount, streaming services really think adding a plus sign is catnip for subscribers.) It’s probably not a great sign that your streaming service needs a full rebrand—and four different spots throughout the game to promote it by having celebrities and cartoon characters scale a metaphorical mountain. For Paramount+ to compete with the Netflixes of the streaming world, they still have a—I’m sorry—mountain to climb.

Winner: Not Bowing to Any Sponsor

“It’s like people only do things because they get paid, and that’s just really sad.”

Loser: Dolly Parton’s “5 to 9”

Dolly Parton is a national treasure—but this Squarespace commercial was awful. It’s one thing to update the lyrics of one of your smash hits; it’s another to make it all about the appeal of a side hustle. “Gonna change your life, do something that gives it meaning!” Parton sings for “5 to 9,” the bleakness of the message disguised by a faux-cheeriness that would feel right at home on an episode of Black Mirror. It’s kind of hard to think about tacking on an extra four hours to your work day when we’re still in the middle of a pandemic—most people are exhausted and probably a little more concerned about surviving the year than promoting a side business on a personalized website. (Dolly’s still great, though.)

Winner: Tim Burton for the Inevitable Timothée Chalamet Edward Scissorhands Sequel

We never had reason to consider what Timothée Chalamet might look like in an Edward Scissorhands sequel, but this Cadillac commercial makes a convincing case that the Victorian-era schoolboy-looking thespian would be a solid “Edgar Scissorhands,” moping his way through high school. (Timmy got a Super Bowl–sized check to barely say anything.) Just imagine: the plot of Heathers, except instead of Christian Slater we have a punk kid with scissors for hands; Election, but it’s about Reese Witherspoon’s lookalike daughter running for class president against a kid with scissors for hands; The Breakfast Club, but one of the kids serving detention has scissors for hands. In any case, we absolutely need a high school film where Winona Ryder plays Chalamet’s mom.

Loser: Hologram Vince Lombardi

Everyone: Hologram Vince Lombardi isn’t real, he can’t hurt you.

Hologram Vince Lombardi:

Loser: People Who Like Oat Milk

The only thing worse than a cringey, low-budget Super Bowl commercial is when a company intentionally makes a bad spot so they can sell merchandise about it. Oatly, one of the most recognized producers of oat milk, paid for 30 seconds of their CEO singing (horribly) in the middle of a field—and then immediately started selling shirts that say “I Totally Hated That Oatly Commercial.” I don’t have a marketing degree, but I don’t think encouraging everyone to hate your ads is a good way to get more people to try your product.

What’s even worse: I’ll still use oat milk in my coffee.

Winner: Deep Cut Deep Blue Sea References

When giving a rousing speech to gamers like he’s in the third act of Ready Player One to promote Verizon 5G, Samuel L. Jackson is swallowed by a prehistoric sea creature ridden by Juju Smith-Schuster (sure), because the Super Bowl wouldn’t be complete without a throwback to a decades-old shark movie with an all-time great jump scare:

At this rate, Super Bowl LXXI will show Jason Statham fighting a megalodon on state-of-the-art VR headsets while Robot Michael B. Jordan gives us daily weather reports.