The inventive setup, and specifically the way it expanded the space usually available to halftime performers, echoed the clever design of Timberlake's last big tour, behind 2013's "The 20/20 Experience."
Later on Sunday, after flashy renditions of "SexyBack" (which he mashed up with a few bars of "Senorita"), "My Love" (rearranged as a dreary industrial-funk dirge) and "Cry Me A River," Timberlake jumped down from the glittering main stage to the field itself, where a drum corps in formalwear backed him for "Suit & Tie."
For that number the singer played footsy with a trick microphone that kept threatening to fall over but never did -- kind of cool in a cruise-ship sort of way.
From there he moved to a white grand piano for the Prince tribute, then back to the main stage for the grand finale of "Mirrors" -- picture dozens of dancers holding you know what -- and "Can't Stop the Feeling!" which Timberlake's trusty live band had the wisdom to reharmonize with dreamy new chords that made you 3 percent less sick of a song you've heard 9 million times.
The singer ended by vaulting another set of stairs to find himself in the middle of the Super Bowl crowd, next to a kid who seemed to want a selfie.
Or maybe Timberlake just wanted him to want a selfie? It was hard to tell.
Either way, a selfie was taken, which Timberlake celebrated by saying -- and this is a true thing that happened -- "Super Bowl selfies!"
Then the show was over.
Anyone who admires the skill required to get moving parts to move together could see something in this presentation to commend. But this was music, not civil engineering.
And there was simply nothing to enjoy about Timberlake's show beyond its careful planning. The performance lacked soul, meaning, humor; it had no message, nor was it taking any stand -- soft, hard or otherwise.