TL;DR – It is a film of great character moments, wonderful music, and an interesting story of someone going from low to high to low and then back again.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
It looks like it is going to be the decade of cinematic superheroes and also of the musical biopic. Especially a musical biopic of a seminal rock superstar from England that took the globe by storm only to discover a world full of drugs and dodgy management. Given they have been so far Oscar gold and have made bank at the box office we are sure to get a couple of these and today we look at one that is taking the standard biopic and twisting it up.
So to set the scene, we open with Elton John (Taron Egerton) exploding through a door in full orange sequined devil glory. You expect him to be doing a grand entrance into a stadium, but instead we soon find out that he is at group theory session when the first question was asked “what was your childhood like?” and we drop through the floor back to the 1950s when a young Reggie (Matthew Illesley) lived with his mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) and occasionally his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) when he comes back from the army. Elton says he had a happy childhood, but we soon find out there is a difference between what Elton says and reality.
how so much of the film is resting on his shoulders and the fact that Elton is
still around and so could call him out, Taron does a remarkable job under what
would have been extraordinary pressure. From my limited memory of Elton and
some of the stuff I have watched over the years, he does a really good job
capturing the mannerisms and energy of one of the biggest energy performers in
the musical world. However, also he can capture the slow decline into alcoholism
and drug abuse and the toll that takes on the body and mind. I think the real
surprise from this film is just how well Taron can belt out a tune because that
is not something I have seen in his previous films. Indeed all three actors (Taron
Egerton, Kit Connor, and Matthew Illesley) who play Elton at different points
in his life all bring their A-games in both the performance and vocals.
While Elton is the clear focus of the film, it also has a powerful supporting cast that helps bring the world to light. Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s writing partner of many years. Jamie is one of those actors that kind of flies under the radar, but I cannot think of him ever giving a bad performance, and it is honestly surprising that his not a bigger deal in the industry. Here he is the point of stability for Elton and he really nails it. Richard Madden is electric as the amoral just in for business John Reid who manipulates Elton for his money. Then, of course, there is Gemma Jones as Ivy, Elton’s grandmother and emotional heart of the film who radiates in every scene she is in.
of the really interesting things about this film is how very similar, on the
surface, it is with the story of Bohemian
Rhapsody. In Rocketman we see
the life of Elton as he grows up in a less than ideal family situation in
England, starts playing gigs, reinvents himself into a more loud persona, falls
victim to drugs and alcohol, becomes manipulated by a manager that uses
sex/drugs to control him before he escapes rock bottom. This is almost a plot
by plot similarity with Bohemian Rhapsody,
there are even similarities with the creative staff (same director) and because
they are both set in the same time, place, and industry there are even the same
real people that show up in both. Ironically in Bohemian Rhapsody John Reid is presented as the music manager that
is outmanoeuvred by the star’s lover, while in this film he is the one outmanoeuvring
the original management using his relationship with the star.
However, while on the surface the stories might seem similar, where the two films differ greatly is in style and execution. To begin with, Rocketman is not just a straight retelling of Elton’s life, though it is indeed that. In many respects, it is a film that is not just happy to have those musical moments just be them recording the songs. Instead, it incorporated the music in these musical-fantasy sequences that have more in common with a musical than a biopic. This allows the film to be creative with their storytelling, but also highlight how Elton’s life is changing and often not for the best. I really liked how the used the alcoholics meeting as a structural framing device to tie the film together. It allows you a creative way of jumping through time, to introduce some of the more fantastical elements in the film, but also it incorporated visual storytelling like how as Elton continues to bare his soul slowly the trappings of his life (the sequined orange devil costume) slowly fall away revealing who is really inside.
is also a film that really shows the raw life of Elton in all its details, the
sex, the drugs, the booze. There is a reason this is a pretty hard MA15 film,
and that is because they don’t shy away from the things that make up his life.
So if you are someone who is not a fan of frank depictions of sex, drugs, language,
then you should know that before going in. Though it should not be surprising in
any way given the mantra of ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.’
In the end, do we recommend Rocketman? Yes, yes we do. If you are a fan of Elton John, I assume you have already booked a ticket. If you are just interested in music and the people who make it then I still think you will enjoy this, though it does go to a really dark place at times. It is a film of great character moments, wonderful music, and an interesting story of someone going from low to high to low and then back again. Though if anything, I think it will have people looking at Kingsman: The Golden Circle in a slightly more positive light.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Rocketman
Directed by – Dexter Fletcher
Written by – Lee Hall
Music by – Matthew Margeson
Cinematography by – George Richmond
Edited by – Chris Dickens
Production/Distribution Companies – Rocket Pictures, Marv Films, New Republic Pictures & Paramount Pictures
Starring – Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Jason Pennycooke, Gemma Jones, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Kamil Lemieszewski, Steven Mackintosh, Jimmy Vee, Rachel Muldoon, Celinde Schoenmaker, Sharon D. Clarke & Tate Donovan
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R