Coca-Cola’s Not-Cool Attempt to Be Cool Because Marvel Explosions Are Cool, Right?

3 minutes

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

I pretty much hate American football, but being from North Carolina I felt some weird obligation to tune in this year. There was always the chance I’d get a Captain America: Civil War trailer (I did, #TeamCap!), and there are those (in)famous commercials people talk about. I spent the majority of the first-half snarking about American masculinity, gay panic, and misogynistic commercials. And then Coca-Cola decided to try to sell me their unhealthy product with Ant-Man and the Hulk. Not just, like, cartoon characters or wink-wink nudge-nudge selling. They made a full-on action sequence involving stealing soda, destroying buildings, and questionable MCU physics. It literally took all the sassy fun out of this entire endeavor because no, no, there was so much wrong with this entire sequence.

First, the MCU is unusually strident about policing its narrative boundaries. It has to be because it does some fascinating world-building work—particularly in Iron Man films where it deliberately positions Tony as existing in a universe so similar to ours that he hangs out with Elon Musk and is on the cover of Rolling Stone. The way each installment references and crosses over with the others constructs a very tight, consistent world. Rather than a really cool opportunity to advance that illusion, this advertisement was least-effort blatant commercial exploitation of recognizable pop culture. Which, whatever, that happens all the time. I’m not pissed that it’s finally happened with Marvel. Disappointed, yes. There is a big difference between intercutting clips of a car with clips from a movie and making an entire heist scene “set” in a fictional universe. But if you’re going to actually appear to set something in the MCU it needs to make sense in the MCU. This does not. The truly disappointing thing is that this was a phenomenal chance to further the conceit that the MCU is a coherent reality. Instead it shatters that illusion about as thoroughly as Age of Ultron. There’s no reason Ant-Man is stealing Coke from Bruce Banner’s lab (since when does Bruce Banner even have a lab?) There’s no reason he Hulks out to the point of destroying a building because the Coke is missing except haha cool action bro. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for tiny Ant-Man to drink normal-sized Coke—that’s some sketchy quantum physics there.

Now, this could have been hella cool. Rather than a weird forced usage of characters in an implausible scenario, Coke could have actually used the way the MCU deliberately plays with media. It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility that the Avengers have product endorsements in their own world. They’re media stars. There are Avengers action figures and kiddy costumes. The MCU is only separated from our reality by a paper thin barrier. They could have framed this ad as an artifact that escaped through a fissure between our worlds. If you want Bruce Banner to endorse Coke, make an ad where Bruce Banner legit endorses Coke. Ant-Man, as a complete unknown in that universe, should not be in any form of mainstream media. Tony Stark would be both most and least likely to endorse something: most because he’s a ham, least because he doesn’t need the money. Logistically, I know that the advertisement was the way that it was because with green Hulk and tiny Ant-Man all you need is CGI and you don’t have to pay Ruffalo, Downey Jr., etc. But, come on guys! Think for five seconds beyond the cool factor! This is how Age of Ultron was so awful.

Basically, this was pointless garbage that fits nowhere, even though its framed as an actual incident. The layers of metafiction here are inconsistent. It’s seriously lax policing of the universe boundary. Even if you do try to view it as an in-universe advertisement, Banner would never Hulk out for commercial purposes (it’s too dangerous) and no one even knows who Ant-Man is. I know how ridiculous it is to get bent out of shape about a Coke commercial, but there’s so much here that’s out-of-character and inconsistent that it’s offensive to my emotional over-investment.

Bad. Shame. I’m swatting your nose with a newspaper, MCU. This universe is not just for serving up “awesome” visuals—it’s doing some really cool stuff with media, metafiction, etc. I already had hints that they didn’t respect their own creation but this just seals the deal.

Anyway, I already think Coke is disgusting, so whatever.