As Super Bowls go, last night’s showdown between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers was not exactly the stuff of legend. The low-scoring game didn’t quite deliver any of the electrifying moments or clutch plays for which the Super Bowl is known. The commercials didn’t fare too well, either. (I’m currently in the process of contacting other individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress after having been exposed to the surreal horrors of Puppymonkeybaby so that we may file a class-action suit against Mountain Dew.) But while advertisers floundered with their odd celebrations of post-Super Bowl child conception and piano-playing Jeff Goldblums, most of the movie trailers unveiled for the big event reminded the massive audience of the craft involved with advertising. If we learned anything from Mad Men — other than that adultery is fun, but sad — it’s that there’s a certain art to a good commercial spot. Below, we’ve separated the winners from the losers, the “Nineteen Eighty-Four“s from the “Cavemen“s, and even assigned them all superlatives. Though the Super Bowl comes but once a year, we can stoke the fires of the Hollywood hype machine all year long!
Captain America: Civil War — Spine-Tinglingest Image In Any Trailer This Year
The unseen crowds yelling “UNITED! WE! STAND!” and “DIVIDED! WE! FALL!” don’t add a whole lot to the trailer, but that hardly matters. This trailer could’ve been five seconds long, for all I care. All it really needs is that final pair of shots posing Cap and Iron Man against one another, flanked by their allies, prepared for a hero-on-hero beatdown. The five-on-six lineup is a bit unfair for Iron Man, though I suppose having two state-of-the-art killer robots on your team must give you something of an edge. But this trailer knows its strengths, and serves them to the viewer on a silver platter. All that’s missing is the little clip of Ken Watanabe in Godzilla saying, “Let them fight.”
10 Cloverfield Lane — Most Effective Use Of Silence
This trailer for the J.J. Abrams-produced mystery project bookends itself with split-second audio cues that, as in the original Cloverfield, make the suggestion of horrors far more disturbing than horrors themselves. The whirling car crash, juxtaposed with the sudden silence and stillness of the studio logo, recreates the odd coexistence of danger and stasis in the bunker. And then, that final monster’s roar works as a marker of terrors to come. Abrams has always been a master of creating mystique, luring viewers in, and his ad team does it again with this spot.
Gods Of Egypt — Tried The Hardest
It’s not about who wins or loses, parents gently masking their disappointment at their children’s shortcomings have long said, it’s how you play the game. This month’s Gods of Egypt will most likely not “win” under any vector of entertainment industry measurement, whether that’s box-office dollars or critical notices. But man, does this trailer play the hell out of the game. Gerard Butler, attempting to re-attain his status as “the guy from 300” instead of “the guy from all those horrible movies he was in after 300,” demands to be worshiped and makes it rain for the first time in recorded human history. Plus: a giant snake-monster that can breathe fire, a sand-monster, flying metallic gods that might also be robots(?), and a battle so intense it shatters a shield into tiny little pieces. Pour me a stiff one and sign me up.
X-Men: Apocalypse — Best Cast (Though You’d Never Know It)
The sentence “There’s a new movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, and Michael Fassbender coming out this spring” sounds like the lead-in to a difficult character piece with a road paved with Oscar gold laid out in front of it. But the X-Men franchise has done a bangup job of obscuring the phenomenally talented cast it’s assembled, hiding them beneath makeup in varying shades of blue, or sinister-looking helmets that amplify magnetism powers at the expense of ruining a hairdo. Oscar Isaac, joining the franchise as genocidal maniac Apocalypse, vaguely resembles Power Rangers baddie Ivan Ooze. This, in all likelihood, will not stop hordes of lovesick audiences from swooning over him anyway.
Independence Day: Resurgence — Most America
If the Olympics, World Cup, and the global war on terror are any indicator, nothing promotes national unity quite like an external threat. In this respect, Independence Day is really a fantasy of patriotism, where all partisan divides fall away in the face of total annihilation from an unknown invader. This trailer plays up the pro-America angle for all it’s worth, not content to soundtrack the spot with our national anthem, but throwing in a close-up on servicemen and a football stadium in the stars-and-stripes for good measure. Throw some hot dogs on the BBQ, snap off a salute, and remember that the aliens hate America and hate our freedom!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows — Most Egregious Use Of Soundtrack
Adam “MCA” Yauch, founding member of seminal hip-hop group Beastie Boys, hasn’t even been dead for four years. It’s a bit soon to use a Beastie Boys song to promote a dubious-looking sequel. And yet that’s just what the team behind the sequel to the 2014 reboot set entirely within the Uncanny Valley did with this new trailer. To the strains of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (because TMNT is set in New York, I guess?), the pizza-munching freaks of nature do battle with Krang and generally have a cowabunga time. While not as offensive as the car commercial set to David Bowie’s “Starman,” something about this clip still stings.
Deadpool — Most Football-Contemptuous Ad Aired During A Football Game
Not unlike every fifth joke in the Deadpool movie, the wisecrack here is not as clever as Ryan Reynolds’ smug tone would have you believe. Ha ha, yes, athletes have lots of illegitimate children, what a wonderful joke to make during this televised sporting event. It’s a pretty cheap potshot, irreverent for its own sake without any insightful idea behind it, though to be completely honest, I may still be salty over the “Superb Owl” Snapchat filter ad for Deadpool. 2012 was the last acceptable year for “Superb Owl” jokes. We, as a civilization, have advanced beyond this.
Eddie The Eagle — Least Trustworthy Armchair Critics
In the film criticism biz, there’s a nasty little epithet for critics who dole out effusive, buzzy reviews to pretty much anything in the hope of getting their glowing praise printed in advertising material. They’re called “quote whores,” and Drew Brees needs to stick to his day job. “A truly remarkable story” it may be, Breezus, but we can all tell you just want to see your name next to Peter Travers’ on the back of the Blu-ray box. Have some self-respect. You’re a Super Bowl MVP.
The Jungle Book — Grittiest Film About A Child Befriending Talking Animals
We fondly remember the jazzy production numbers and handmade animation of Disney’s The Jungle Book and less-fondly remember the plucky colonialist spirit of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. But here to wallpaper over both of those is the rough-and-tumble CGI of the remake due this April. “The jungle is no longer safe for you,” Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) warns Mowgli (Neel Sethi). It’s not hard to believe him — living in the wilds of India looks pretty perilous from this trailer. When did “fun” become a four-letter word?
The Secret Life Of Pets — Most Face-In-Dog-Ass Action
The cutesy large-intestine puppet was bad enough, but this year’s Super Bowl was inexplicably preoccupied with digestive systems. The pitch meeting for The Secret Life of Pets must have been the easiest of all-time (“Yep, it’s Toy Story with animals! That’s literally all there is to it. Now, who’s got the blow?”), but the executives from the same animation studio responsible for Minions probably didn’t mention that their Super Bowl spot would prominently feature man’s best friend engaged in some kind of dog-human-centipede of butt-smelling. Like the unspeakable horrors of puppymonkeybaby, it’s probably something we’d have all been better off not seeing.
Jason Bourne — Most Shameless Brand Promotion
Actual tagline: “YOU KNOW HIS NAME.” Implied tagline: “YOU KNOW HIS NAME, AND IN THIS MODERN ERA OF RAMPANT FRANCHISING AND UNCHECKED BRAND EXPANSION, ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT AUDIENCES HAVE A PASSING FAMILIARITY WITH PRE-EXISTING SUBJECT MATERIAL. YOU HAVE SEEN THE OTHER BOURNE MOVIES. YOU ENJOYED THEM, OR AT LEAST THOUGHT THAT THERE WERE WORSE WAYS TO KILL A COUPLE HOURS. GIVE IN TO THAT SENSE OF COMFORT AND ROUTINE. LET’S MEET BACK THREE YEARS FROM NOW AND MAKE THIS MOVIE AGAIN.”