So, I’m standing at my local supermarket checkout when a kid-say, 16-years-old-comes up in line behind me, holding a quart of ice cream and yakking on his cell phone.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it” he says, “Yeah, Ronaldo! And Homer’s all like, ‘D’oh!'”
On a night when the latest American Idol was being decided, this high-school kid was talking about “Write the Future,” Nike’s latest cinematic dazzler from Wieden + Kennedy, featuring soccer superstars from all over the world, and even a split-second visit from Homer Simpson.
Yes, unlike this month’s Vanity Fair cover — where he appears with Didier Drogba, shirtless and in their skivvies, with dueling six-packs — in the ad Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese star, bellies up to the world’s foremost Duff beer belly. In fact, the moment when an animated Ronaldo arrives at the iconic Springfield split-level, diamond earring flashing, and nutmegs Homer was the only joke I got the first time I saw it.
The spot is both star studded and diamond studded. It debuted on TV but is now a true viral phenom, being talked about, passed around and celebrated on Facebook and YouTube, ahead of the World Cup in South Africa, which begins June 11.
Some think it’s the best Nike commercial of all time. But for the first few viewings, I found it to be too much: There’s lots of fancy footwork, of course, and even fancier visual and temporal acrobatics, playing with multiple stories and time lines. So, while Nike has set the bar ridiculously high, I still would pick one of the stripped-down black-and-white spots from 15 years ago, with Michael Jordan at the free-throw line, as my all-time fave.
By contrast, I found the relentless fake energy and staginess of this new spot off-putting.
Still, without knowing anything, I loved the sheer ambition of it, the dynamic cuts and the amazing sound design. Is that song “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter? Yet I saw the spot as a Frankenstein of disparate parts sewn together, fake games and energetic crowds included.
That’s because I didn’t get the basic premise. As Homer would say, “D’oh!” (Here, he actually says, “Ronal … d’oh!” Which is awesome.)
The inspired idea is that each player (Drogba, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery, Ronaldinho, etc.) is shown dreaming of how the tournament will go, and the impact for his own personal future if he leads his team to victory or defeat. This is shown in terms of his pocketbook, popular culture and even global politics. And considering the (sometimes insane) passion of soccer fans worldwide, some of it isn’t so far-fetched.
The director is Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose work includes such complicated movies as Babel and 21 Grams. He’s a genius at weaving together multi-dimensional story lines and playing with time. In a serious film, this can come off as contrived. For a three-minute Nike commercial, it’s exquisite.
Considering how much Ronaldo is known for preening, his dream future shown in the spot — of having a giant gold statue of himself built in Lisbon — is hilarious. We also see a movie about his heroic life being made, starring Gael García Bernal-which is an inside joke, I guess, since Bernal has a role in all of Inarritu’s movies.
But the story that really grabbed me involves Rooney, the English star. (He and Ronaldo, by the way, are friends and former Manchester United teammates, and were famous foes in the England-Portugal quarterfinal at the last World Cup.)
Talk about radically shifting perspectives — the victorious Rooney is shown getting knighted by the Queen, beating Roger Federer at table tennis, and in a really high-spirited bit of filmmaking, causing all the boy babies born in English hospitals to be named Wayne.
My absolute favorite visuals in the whole spot, however, come when Rooney and England lose. Anyone who fears ending up as a bag lady (or man) can relate. He’s shown flabby and shirtless, living in a filthy trailer, with a giant (and probably smelly) ginger beard.
I’ve never seen Euro trailer trash before. The Brits call a mobile home a caravan, which sounds more elegant, but the scene is so well staged that it really looks grim, and Rooney acts the hell out of it. The details are perfect, right down to the can of baked beans on the counter.
To add insult to injury, Rooney then steps out of the trailer and sees himself replaced by Ribéry, a Frenchman, on a Nike billboard.
At once, the spot manages to be very funny and very current (except for the inclusion of Ronaldinho, who ended up not making the Brazilian team — whoops). And even with all the amazing layering and filmmaking and focus on global depth, it still conveys a really cool and simple message — that anything can happen.
Are you ready for some futbol?