** out of ****
Surface. Surface. Surface. That's all there is to see here. What should be a sprawling examination of an icon whose life was a thundering rollercoaster of brilliance, obsession and serendipity is reduced to the cinematic equivalent of a tweet and a handful of hashtags.
Not surprisingly, the film plays out like a shallow shadow of David Fincher's infinitely superior The Social Network. In some ways, this comparison is unfair, but both Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg walked very similar life paths: both are portrayed in their respective films as anti-establishment (Zuckerberg wore hoodies to work/ Jobs, sandals); both were visionaries ahead of their time, whose ideas took hold just before their tipping points; and, both shared an obsessive drive that isolated them from friends and loved ones, placing their careers in jeopardy (Zuckerberg: lawsuits/ Jobs: ousted from the company he founded). However, where The Social Network allowed viewers to witness and emphathize with Mark's loneliness, Jobs offers only an incomplete scrapbook of its subject's psyche. His clash of the titans with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is unfounded and reduced to a 30-second violent voice message. Likewise, in the beginning of the film Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) kicks his pregnant girlfriend to the curb; later, we find him married to another woman with his abandoned daughter living with him - another scene that the audience is jolted into the middle of with no introduction, a moment that is over and done with just as quickly as it manifests.
The film is not without its occasional rays of inspiration. It's most entertaining when Jobs is in his element, brainstorming the next world-changing invention and fighting for what he believes in. However, the editor chose to make the crux of the film Jobs' battle with his board of directors. After being ousted from Apple in the '80s, we fast-forward 10 years through a directionless montage to 1996, when Jobs is invited back to be CEO again. A visit to the company art department is captivating, foreshadowing Job's great aesthetic innovations to come in the next century. However, greater weight is placed on Jobs' grudge against the remaining board members who fired him. They are swiftly eliminated, and the film ends almost abruptly there after. The creation of the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone, Jobs' founding of Pixar in his time apart from Apple, and his battle and death from pancreatic cancer in 2011 are all ignored.
All of the characters are hollow as well. During the credits, there is a scene where photographs of the original, founding members of Apple are juxtaposed against images of the actors who play them - the resemblance is uncanny. It's a shame the film does not develop these characters beyond mere cardboard cutouts. Punk'd may look like Steve Jobs invented an iClone prior to his passing, but his dramatic skills are slight. He occasionally harnesses Jobs' charisma and intensity during confrontations and monologues, but for most of the film he is a caricature at best and a mannequin at worst.
Ultimately, Jobs greatest flaw is that it does not deliver on the promises it makes early on. For its first half, we are given a glimpse of the Steve we all loved - the innovator, the artist, the pied piper who could inspire any and all to embrace his cause. At its end, we get a film about a spiteful narcissist who gets revenge. Perhaps this is a side of who Steve Jobs was. However, this is likely not the side the audience cares about.