Miles Bronn is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood’s favorite villains: the tech bro. Looking north to Silicon Valley, the film industry has found its richest big-screen rival since Soviet-era Russia.
Great movie blockbusters don’t come along very often. “Top Gun: Maverick,” nominated for best picture, is as content to fight an unspecified national enemy head-on as ever. Why does Tom Cruise and Who’s Doing Who really pisses off international ticket buyers?
In recent years, however, the tech bro has become a Hollywood villain on the big screen. It’s a development that casts doubt on the pervasiveness of technology into our lives and the not-always-beneficial intentions of men — and men dominate today’s digital empires.
In “Jurassic World: Dominion, a franchise devoted to technological risk-taking,” we meet the villainous CEO of Bioscience Genetics (Campbell Scott). Chris Hemsworth’s biotech supervisor in “Spiderhead”; And Mark Rylance’s maybe-earth-destroying tech guru in 2021’s “Don’t Look At It. In 2016, “Batman v. In Superman” we met Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a tech bro-style. Harry Melling, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the 2020s, “the old guard”; 2021’s “Free Guy,” Taika Waititi’s Law-Breaking Video Game Mogul; Oscar Isaac’s search engine CEO in 2014’s “Ex Machina”; And in 2015, “Steve Jobs,” a critical portrait of the Apple co-founder.
Children’s movies regularly air parents’ anxieties about technology’s impact on children. In the year In 2021, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” newly launched AI will bring about a robot apocalypse. “Ron’s Mistake” (2021) also used a robot metaphor for smartphone addiction. And TV series have also been quick to show Big Tech’s failings. Recent entries include: Uber’s Travis Kalanick in Showtime’s “Super Pumped”; Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes in “The Descent”; And WeWork’s Adam and Rebecca Neumann said on Apple TV, “We’re spoiled.”
Some of these images may present Hollywood envy due to the emergence of another California creative hub. But those worlds merged long ago. Most of the companies that release these movies are themselves disruptors — none more so than Netflix, the distributor of “Glass Onion.” The stream also allowed Johnson’s sequel to be released more widely in theaters than the previous Netflix release. Estimates suggest the film grossed $15 million in its opening weekend, the old fashioned way, but Netflix executives said they intend to practice such theatrical releases.
And the mistrust runs deeper than any Hollywood-Silicon Valley rivalry. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 70% of Americans think social media companies do more harm than good. Tech leaders like meta-chief Mark Zuckerberg are sometimes viewed favorably by only 1 in 5 Americans.
As characters, the tech bros — the hooded descendants of the mad scientist — created an archetype: the geniuses of the universe whose hubris leads to destruction, the social media savages who can’t manage their personal relationships. Whether their vision of the future comes to pass or not, we end up living in their world either way. They are villains who see themselves as heroes.
“In my mind, he’s the most dangerous creature around,” Rylance said of Peter Isherwell. “He believes that we can overcome any problem that nature throws at us. I think this mentality is what got us into our current predicament, where we try to subjugate each other and control all of our lives that we are closely related to and depend on.”
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, “The Glass Onion” takes a new spin on the tech mogul’s mockery. Norton’s hard-hitting CEO, nicknamed “Bro,” is rich, powerful, and dangerous considering he’s working on a dynamic new energy source. But Bronn is an idiot, as Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc finally realizes. “A brat with vainglory,” says Blanc.
In Johnson’s film, the tech bro/emperor Bru really doesn’t have any clothes. It’s just a bunch of lies, deception, and untrue words like “predestined” and “breathing.”
Although Johnson wrote “The Glass Onion” before Elon Musk’s shambolic Twitter takeover, the film’s release seems preternaturally close to coinciding with it. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO was just one of Johnson’s real-world inspirations, with some taking Bronn as a direct Musk parody. In a widely read Twitter thread, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said Johnson was dramatizing Musk as a “bad and stupid guy,” calling it “an incredibly stupid theory because Musk is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in human history.” He added, “How many rockets has Johnson launched recently?”
Musk himself has not publicly commented on the “Glass Onion” but has previously touched on the image of men like him in Hollywood. “Hollywood refuses to write a single story about an actual company startup where the CEO isn’t the web and/or evil,” Musk tweeted last year.
Musk will get his own movie soon. Oscar-winning journalist Alex Gibney announced on Monday that he will be working on “Musk” for several months, promising that the producers will provide a “verified and unbiased investigation” of the tech entrepreneur.
At the same time as the dominance of tech’s brother supervillainy emerged, some films sought not to depict Big Tech, but to depict some of the infinite expanses of the digital world. Phil Lord, who co-produced The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with Christopher Miller, says the Internet has had a huge impact on his filmmaking.
“We old media are responding to new media, perhaps in a subtle way,” Lord says. “We are all trying to figure out how to live in the new world. It is changing people’s behavior. It changes the way we find love. It changes the way we live. Of course, the stories we tell and how we tell them will also change and reflect that. ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ definitely reflects that there is a lot of content from every era in your brain.
Best Picture’s favorite “Everything Everywhere All At Once” also reflects our multi-screen, media-obsessed lives. Writer-directors Daniel Kuhn and Daniel Scheiner say their film is close to 11 Oscar frontrunners. Tech moguls like Miles Braun help convey the confusion and heartache of living in the midst of everything.
“The reason we made the film is because this is what modern life feels like,” Kwan said.
So even if Miles Braun doesn’t go home with an Academy Award on Sunday, he’ll still win somehow. It’s his world. We all live only in it.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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