Rocketman (2019) Review
BASED ON A TRUE FANTASY
Elton John….the man, the myth, the musical legend. The fascination and wonder of Elton John (both him and his music) has captured the attention of millions of people and spanning decades through several generations. His numerous #1 hit songs have become timeless as well, with their releases been something that almost everyone knows and know the song’s lyrics (or even just the mainframe part). Given his popularity of his music or his involvement in musical projects, Elton John has received five Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards, an academy award, a golden globe award, a Tony Award, a Disney Legends Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. Looking beyond his music, Elton has been involved in the longstanding fight against AIDS, with the music icon setting up his own foundation (Elton John AIDS Foundation). Of course, Hollywood has utilized Elton John’s popular song or help collaborate with the artist to create new ones through various means and mediums in several feature films, including The Lion King, Almost Famous, 27 Dresses, Sing, Elizabethtown, Ella Enchanted, Gnomeo & Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes, Moulin Rouge!, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and many others. Now, Paramount Pictures and director Dexter Fletcher present the theatrical motion picture biopic of Elton John’s life in the movie Rocketman. Does the find the truth to Elton’s musical fantasy or does it all showmanship and not enough reality substance?
Growing up as a young child in England Reginald “Reggie” Dwight (Taron Egerton) struggled to find a harmonious happy medium with his family life, often coldly dismissed by his mother, Shelia (Bryce Dallas Howard), and abandoned by his disinterested father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). Finding a talent for the piano, Reginald works through a prestigious musical education, but exposure to Elvis’s rock and roll music fuels his desire to be a rock star. Honing his skills and gifts for music and songs, Reginald eventually becomes Elton John, soon paired with lyrist songwriter, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), commencing a partnership that soon catches fire with public. Within time, Elton’s rise to fame and stardom, producing (with Taupin’s help) numerous hit songs, along with adulation and fortune for his success. However, while Elton is enjoying the luxurious lifestyle of a rock star, he’s constantly battling doubts that consume him, with recently hired manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), adding more woes to John’s lack of self-worth. Soon drowning his sadness and frustration in alcohol, drugs, and lust, Elton fights to find true self while confronting those who have abused him and those who want to see save him.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like I said above…. the man, the myth, the musical legend. It really goes without saying that Elton John’s music has definitely been something quite unique, special, and truly unforgettable, especially since his popular hit songs are mesmerizingly iconic even from today’s current music landscape. There’s just something about his music and vocal performance that are offer up some that seems quite powerful and palpable. Plus, Elton himself has become quite the super star in his own right (beyond his music) and definitely has made the mark on industry. As I also mentioned, Elton’s music has been featured in several feature films throughout the years. My personal favorite Elton John song would have to be “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from Disney’s 1994 animated classic The Lion King. There’s just something about that song that I’ve always found to be quite enchanting and Elton’s vocals definitely deliver that song’s powerful lyrics. In the end, Elton John’s music has definitely left his mark on the music industry and his hits songs have left a powerful stamp on individuals from various generations.
This brings me back to talking about Rocketman, a 2019 biopic feature that explores a cinematic representation of the life of musical sensation of Elton John. I can’t exactly remember when it was, but I do remember hearing about a biopic movie endeavor on Elton John’s life coming out a few years back. However, the truth of it is that Elton John and his husband David Furnish have been wanting to make a feature film about Elton’s life for nearly two decades; dating all the way back to 2001. Heck, there were even rumors that circling around musician / actor Justin Timberlake to play John and then actor Tom Hardy was even set to play Elton John when the project was revisited in 2013. However, due to creative differences between the then director Michael Gracey (who was set to direct the film) and the studio (Focus Features), the project was soon abandoned. A few years later (and a change of directors), the project was soon revived once again and seemed to be on the right path to getting a theatrical release with the movie Rocketman. Of course, I do remember hearing about the movie, especially when I learned that actor Taron Egerton was gonna play the role of Elton John. This made me very curious to see the movie because of hearing Egerton’s singing voice in the 2016 animated film Sing, where Egerton’s character (i.e. Johnny) sang John’s “I’m Still Standing” …… and it sounded great! Thus, my interest peaked in seeing how Egerton would take on the role on the silver screen. Of course, after seeing 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody (and seeing how actor Rami Malek gave an amazing performance on Freddie Mercury), I had a great feeling that this particular movie (and Egerton) is gonna follow in its footsteps (in a good way). In addition, the film’s movie trailers and promotional marketing campaign definitely promised a musical feature film on John’s life and rise to stardom. So, I went to go see Rocketman during it’s opening weekend with my parents (my mom is a fan of Elton John’s music). What did I think of it? Well, I really liked it. Despite some classic problems in presenting a biopic, Rocketman succeeds in being a musical jukebox showcase of Elton’s John as well as being an intimate portrayal of his personal journey into fame and fortune. It’s definitely a worth seeing, especially in Egerton terrific performance as the legendary musician and a touching cinematic tribute to the music industries most talented artist.
Rocketman is directed by Dexter Fletcher, whose previous directorial works include Eddie the Eagle, Wild Bill, and Sunshine on Lieth as well as his acting roles in Band of Brothers and Hotel Babylon. However, many will know that Fletcher worked on Bohemian Rhapsody as a director (finishing up the film when director Bryan Singer was fired from the project). Singer was still considered the film’s sole director, but Fletcher did get the title as “producer” for Bohemian. Anyway, probably got Fletcher this director’s job for Rocketman was probably his involvement in that particular film. I mean…. it’s definitely something of a similar project…. a cinematic biopic that shows the rises and falls of an extremely talented and flamboyant musician and how he progresses through various trails and tribulations (both in his professional career and in his personal life). However, while the similarities are there, Fletcher definitely makes Rocketman his own creation and putting his own spin on the project. While Fletcher used Singer’s already utilized material as a blue print for the 2018 biopic film on the music band Queen, he gets to fully developed Rocketman from start to finish, shaping the feature more towards his vision. The end result…is quite profound and certainly does make the movie feel truly special and entertaining throughout its runtime. The big difference between Bohemian and Rocketman is how Fletcher presents the various song selections from Elton John’s music catalog. How so? Well, rather than the standard sequence of showing the musical process of creating the song and performing it on stage, Fletcher makes Rocketman present Elton John’s songs in a sort of various musical numbers, with some being full-blown musical sequences in the reminiscent style of Broadway musicals (i.e. choregraphed singing and dancing). It may be a “bold” move to make, but Fletcher makes these sequences gel with the feature’s narrative presentation; carefully selecting the John’s songs to reflect upon the theatrical moments that the movie is displaying. Thus, hearing Elton’s music and feeling what he’s going through visual imagery and through the song’s lyrics is great juxtaposition that Fletcher embraces fully in helming Rocketman, which definitely works. Plus, rather than “dubbing” the voices with singing talents, Fletcher makes the film’s cast singing their respective parts whenever on-screen, which is a smart idea and definitely works, especially in Egerton’s role (more on that below).
In addition, the film’s script, which was penned by Lee Hall, offers up a very human portrayal of Elton John’s life. Of course, the movie (most likely) has taken certain poetic license liberties, but the core representation of everything is still there and the emotional aspects (be it good or bad) are on full display in Rocketman. Even more interesting, the film’s script does shy away from the more darker side elements of Elton John’s life and times of his career, showing his alcohol / drug abuse and his queer homosexuality as well as his harsh childhood with his parents (i.e. an aloof mother and cold-hearted father). Naturally, Fletcher doesn’t “beat around the bush” when it comes to displaying John’s sexual desires on-screen as Rocketman marks the first major Hollywood production to show a gay male sex screen on-screen. Of course, the movie simply can’t ignore that particular aspect as it was something important piece into Elton John, so I think it was a good idea to showcase it (one of the problems that many criticized about Bohemian Rhapsody). In truth, Fletcher seems also to care a certain devoted time to presenting Elton’s personal life in Rocketman, revealing the man behind the iconic songs and flashy attire to shows a flawed man that’s looking for some self-worth and love from those around him. This, of course, is a very “human” condition and thematically touching theme, which makes Elton’s journey throughout the film to be quite compelling as we (the viewers) see all of his trials and tribulations. In short, Fletcher direction and Hall’s script really do make Rocketman a wholesome and intriguing look into the musical sensation’s journey.
The film’s visual appeal is how a true highlight of the movie; making Rocketman’s technical presentation to be quite compelling within its cinematic showmanship. Of course, what’s most apparent throughout the movie (and something that I was expecting) is all the various costumes outfits that Elton John wears throughout the film. Of course, the many flashy outfits by Elton John is something that has quietly become iconic in his career and are such on full display in the movie. Thus, the costume designs by Julian Day are top notch and definitely something of a visual flair in the film’s presentation. In a similar fashion, Rocketman’s musical numbers are also visual treat to see and the choreography efforts by Adam Murray should be praised as well. In addition, the cinematography work by George Richmond also lends a hand to the feature’s fanciful cinematics with creative usage of camera angles and lighting effects. All other areas, including the art direction team, production designs (Peter Francis and Marcus Rowland), and set decorations (Kimberley Fahey and Judy Farr) are well-represented background aspects that make Rocketman’s various settings nuances pleasant to look at. Lastly, while Elton John’s hit song are front and center throughout the feature (plenty of fan favorites from “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, to “Rocketman”, to “Your Song”, to “Pinball Wizard” and several others), the movie’s score by Matthew Margeson is pretty good and definitely has the right amount of melodic cues and pieces that makes the film’ story come alive on-screen.
There are a few problems that do arise within Rocketman’s presentation that do hold the movie back from reaching its full potential. Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie does have several pacing issues throughout the feature, which cause the movie to feel sluggish in certain areas as well as making the film’s runtime of 121 minutes (i.e. two hours and one minute) a bit slow. Naturally, there’s plenty to visually see in the movie (again, the film’s presentation is top-notch), but there are parts in the story that simply just drag and don’t offer much in the way of telling Elton John’s tale. In addition, despite how the musical numbers of Elton’s songs are sprinkled throughout the film, Rocketman does fall prey to the classic narrative structure of a biopic. That’s not to say that the feature is entertaining, but Fletcher’s shaping of the film (as well as the movie’s script) does fit the mold of a commonplace framework of a standard biopic, including the movie mostly being a flashback and building to a certain climatic point. In addition, while the movie leads up to end Rocketman on a particular part of Elton John’s life (and it is a good point to end on), there is more to the tale of the musical icon’s life. Thus, some fans who were expecting to see the latter half of Elton’s John life (roughly 30 years to where the movie ends) are gonna be disappointed. Plus, with Elton John being a very prominent figure of the music industry, a lot of what’s presented in the movie has been well-documented in his career. Thus, certain scenes that are suppose to come off as “shock and awe” aren’t really that big of importance. Still, Elton John is icon and deserves much praise as his given and the movie definitely shows that.
Another criticism I found with the movie is in how it presents a lot of its secondary supporting characters. Of course, the film centers around Elton John on how he transforms himself from Reginald Dwight to the flashy superstar musician (and that’s a good thing). However, certain supporting characters coming in and out of Elton’s life and are presented in the movie with some sense of importance to his life, but aren’t completely well-rounded, with some being quite vague. This is most apparent in his scene where Elton John meets Renate Blauel, a German Recording engineer, with the pair meeting, getting married, and falling out within such a brief time sequence in Rocketman’s presentation. The same can be partly said with the character of Bernie Taupin, but I’ll mention that one below. In truth, Rocketman’s timeline in the movie is a bit ambiguous and its hard to discern the years of sequences of when it everything falls into place throughout the movie. Heck, I had to look up certain dates ok Wikipedia of actually “when” certain things happen in the movie. In Bohemian Rhapsody, I criticized the film for “rushing” the first act as certain scenes and events are quickly glossed over. That same problem does occur in Rocketman, but more so in the second act…. when Elton’s rise to fame happens. Everything starts to move fast its hard to keep up with it all (this is where certain characters start to fade in and out of the feature). In addition, the movie leaves some question unanswered that kind of wished that Fletcher delve into more (even if it was a bit a few text sentences during the film’s ending). Again, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what happened after the movie ended with certain characters. Thus, like a lot of biopic movies out there, Rocketman is so heavily invested in its central lead that certain side characters get shortchanged.
The cast in Rocketman is a solid one, with a fine selection of actors and actresses that play the film’s characters (who are all real people in real life) who played a part in Elton John’s journey. Of course, at the head of the feature (and truly headlining the movie) is actor Taron Egerton, who plays the role od Reginald Dwight / Elton John. Egerton, known for his roles in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Eddie the Eagle, and Robin Hood, does an amazing job in the role, showcasing his acting talents throughout the future in giving a cinematic representation to Elton John. Much like how actor Rami Malek carried the dramatic weight in presenting Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Egerton certainly does exactly the same; fully embodying the character of Reginald Dwight / Elton John throughout the narrative’s highs and lows. It’s truly a test to the actor to really “throw himself” into his role and I think that Egerton display it all on-screen beautiful by capturing (theatrically speaking) all the raw emotions (i.e. joy, sadness, elation, anger, etc.) that Elton John goes through in Rocketman. Plus, as I mentioned above, Rocketman’s authenticity also rest on Egerton’s vocal talents as he sings all the featured songs selections in the movie. In that regard, Egerton truly shines in the movie, masterfully handling all of Elton John’s classic songs with such tremendous precision and precise lyrical notes. All in all, Egerton truly does do fantastic job Rocketman and is probably one of his best performances of his career. Only time will tell if he gets an “Oscar nod” at this upcoming award season…. I certainly hope he does. Heck, even the real-life Elton John thinks that Egerton’s performance in the movie is great. Now that’s same thing about his (Egerton) performance in Rocketman. As a side-note, young actors Matthew Illesley (making his theatrical debut) and Kit Connor (Slaughterhouse Rulez and The Mercy), though limited in the movie, give great performances as younger iteration of Reggie Dwight.
In side supporting characters, the movie features two very distinct individuals that come into Elton’s professional and personal life and have drastic effects on the musician’s prospects and desires. Of course, I’m talking about lyrics songwriter Bernie Taupin and business manager John Reid, who are played by actors Jamie Bell and Richard Madden. Bell, known for his roles in Billy Elliot, Fantastic Four, and TURN: Washington’s Spies, does a good job in playing Taupin, presenting the young man as an equal to Elton John’s profession for music and songs as well as been a kind-hearted person towards the superstar musician. The only problem is that the movie tends to drop Taupin in and out of the feature, resulting in a very “missed opportunity” to present the wholesome characters (at least in Rocketman’s narrative). Of course, Bernie Taupin (as many know) plays a vital role and Elton John’s music career as the pair finds a special friendship amongst themselves that have stained the two throughout these many years. Rocketman certainly shows that platonic friendship between John and Taupin (as well as Egerton and Bell’s on-screen chemistry with each other), but I just wish that the character (Taupin) could’ve played a bigger role in the film rather than him just coming in and out of the picture (one of my biggest pet peeves of the movie).
On the hand, Madden, known for his roles in Game of Thrones, Cinderella, and Bodyguard, definitely showcases the right amount cool and suave persona and paints a very dubious role in his portrayal of John Reid. To me, he’s a perfect fit and present Elton’s lust, desire, and ultimate abuse with his character, showcasing how easily John was persuaded by him and how he (unfortunately) used him. Naturally, he’s one of the “villains” that Fletcher makes in Rocketman and certainly show the conflicted duality with Elton John’s personal struggles. As a side-note, I think it’s quite amusing to see that both cinematic representation of John Reid played by Game of Thrones alums (I.e. Madden in Rocketman and actor Aidian Gillen in Bohemian Rhapsody).
Other additional supporting characters are found in those who shaped Elton John’s life (or rather his Reginald Dwight’s life) during his formative years, including his shrewd mother (Shelia Eileen), his cruel / distant father (Stanley Dwight), and his caring grandmother (Ivy), who are played by actress Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Help), actor Steven Mackintosh (Memphis Belle and Gold), and Gemma Jones (Gentleman Jack and Sense and Sensibility) respectfully. Collectively, all of these characters are well-represented in the movie by the acting talents that play them and do play an instrumental part in Rocketman’s narrative; showcasing the parental figures in Reggie’s upbringing and how the shaped him to be the man he grows up to be; facing conflicted ideas / struggles and unresolved past issues. Plus, I have to say that Howard’s performance is pretty good and she’s literally quite unrecognizable in the role (I didn’t even know that was her until I did this review).
Rounding out the cast are several other supporting characters, including actor Tate Donovan (Hercules and The Upside) as Doug Weston, actress Celinde Schoenmaker (Bernstein’s On the Town: BBC Proms) as Renate Blauel, actor Stephan Graham (Boardwalk Empire and Snatch) as Dick James, and Charlie Rowe (Vanity Fair and Red Band Society) as Ray Williams. Some of these characters could’ve been easily fleshed out, but they definitely serve the parts in Rocketman’s story. Plus, each of these characters are well-presented by the acting talents who portray them.
The musical journey of Elton John gets a flashy and lyrical cinematic treatment in the movie Rocketman. Director Dexter Fletcher latest feature captures the colorful and palpable story of Elton John’s life in way that feels quite compelling and impressively entertaining as both a biopic and a musical. While the movie does stumble in its undertaking in certain areas (mostly narrative structure and fleshing out certain side characters), Rocketman finds its stride and stands firmly on its own footing, especially thanks to phenomenal soundtrack, Fletcher’s direction, visual presentation, and a solid cast, including Egerton’s performance (both in acting and in singing). Personally, I really liked this movie. Some aspect could’ve been better and fleshed out a bite more, but it definitely showcased the life (highs and lows) of Elton John’s career with a very cinematic and musical tale. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one and would put it up in the same category as Bohemian Rhapsody (some things I felt that Bohemian Rhapsody did better and the same can be said with Rocketman). Plus, if you ever been a fan of Elton John’s music (regardless age or gender), this movie is definitely worth checking out. Heck, even casual moviegoers will enjoy this theatrical presentation of the illustrious musical icon’s rise to stardom. In the end, Rocketman deserves all the praise and adulation that it’s been receiving; providing moviegoers with a visually appealing motion picture that’s takes a more intimate portrayal (as well musical portrayal) of Elton John’s life. Like the movie’s tagline states “the only way to tell his story is to live his fantasy” ….and that’s what Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman does.
4.1 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: May 31st, 2019
Reviewed On: June 8th, 2019
Rocketman is 121 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content