Less than two years after the Father of the Digital Revolution passed away, we have a shiny new biopic commemorating his life and achievements.
Less of the breakthrough that was the first Macintosh computer, more in-keeping with the most recent iPhone models – the fact of which perhaps suggest Steve Job’s importance to the company – Jobs is a bit… meh.
From the opening tracking shot that follows the familiar, grey-haired Jobs onto the stage, presenting the first iPod to rapturous applause, to its close, after flashbacks, with Jobs’ recitation of the iconic Think Different (“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels”) after his triumphant return to the company in 1996, Jobs feels like the story of its subjects’ life put on shuffle.
From his days as a university dropout to the foundation of Apple, Jobs‘ primary obsession is with its protagonist’s ostensible genius: it takes Jobs to show Josh Gads’ beardy, heavyset Steve Wozniak the potential of the personal computer, to talk Dermot Mulroney’s self-interested Mike Markkula into giving them the extra money they need to make it happen.
Occasionally Jobs will drop acid and get weepy about his birth parents or the film will silently usher his adoptive parents onto stage when it needs to make him sympathetic, but, for the most part Jobs, as played by Ashton Kutcher, is self-righteous asshole. Unlike The Social Network, for instance, Jobs clearly wants you to root for its protagonist; to support him regardless of his obnoxiousness.
Kutcher’s performance captures Steve Jobs’ mercurial nature, but it’s not enough to elevate was is, for the most part, a straight-up hagiography. In this reality, everyone who opposes Jobs, like J.K. Simmons’ money-minded Arthur Rock, are feckless corporate jobsworths who lack vision and will, in time, be proven wrong – even as Jobs outstrips his peers and abandons his friend – while Bill Gates, who remains unseen, is simply a pragmatic plagiarist.
A sequence where Jobs directs a montage of the next years of his life from amidst cornrows, set to J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, pretty much sums it up the film’s approach to Jobs as a mortal god among men. A shame considering the last-minute humanization Jobs‘ brings to its protagonist.
Skipping over the actual matter of how its subject went from smelly hippy and infant terrible to inspirational market leader, Jobs becomes a misty-eyed, self-satisfied swansong. For a film about a guy who supposedly thought that technology should cater to the individual, this film is strangely by-the-numbers.
There’s no insight here, just recreation of an on-the-face unlikeable human being. It says something that the iconic 1984 ad that features heavily in one scene has more blue-sky creativity in it than the whole film that surrounds it. Perhaps it should have stuck to its portrayal of geeks assembling motherboards in ‘70s Palo Alto to a great period soundtrack (from Cat Stevens to Bob Dylan): at least that was something we can all get behind.
Most damningly, Jobs feels like it’s making an attempt to validate its subject’s existence in the public eye, as if the existence of the machine on which I’m currently typing wasn’t enough to do that of itself.