REVIEW: Rocketman

I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, if I put down in words… how wonderful life is when you’re in cinemas.

Held up at a stint in rehab, the notorious Elton John recounts the fantastical and troubling events that led him to his place on top of the world.

In a post-Bohemian Rhapsody cinema landscape where the music biopic formula has been unmasked for its truly repetitive and bland structure, a Rocketman shall take flight. Although still upholding most of the music biopic clichés and falling into the evident trappings of the genre, this burst of musical energy perfectly encapsulated its central figure in a wild cinematic ride that honestly left me stunned.

I really had no anticipation or reservations going into Rocketman; in fact, I was considering skipping the movie altogether. Why? Because, to tell you the truth, I am pig sick of the music biopic. These type of movies, perfectly summarised in Bohemian Rhapsody, follow the same tiresome formula over and over again. I am going to describe to you a film and give you three options of what it may be; I want you to then guess what of the three movie options I was describing. Here are your options: Bohemian Rhapsody, Walk the Line or Straight Outta Compton. Here’s the description: a kid, whom nobody believes in, is a music prodigy and eventually joins a band, starts playing little gigs, gets recognised by a record label, writes a hit song after a series of setbacks, becomes a massive rock star (usually through montage), starts touring and becomes an addict to either drugs, alcohol, sex or all three, breaks up their various relationships but eventually realises their wrongs and attempts to make amends before attending the biggest show of their life… oh yeah and the end credits usually start with an info dump of what happened to said rock star after the events of the movie. Now, which one was it: Bohemian Rhapsody, Walk the Line or Straight Outta Compton. I’ll give you a second…

The answer is all three.

So yeah, from that little game, I guess you can recognise my position now and why I furtherly distrust music biopics. And true, that formula is used constantly because the sad truth is, that that formula is quite literally the sadly repetitive, simplified lives of almost every rock star. So I guess, what I am looking for when I see a music biopic is a film that either does one of two things. Either it abandons the formula altogether and, instead of focusing on a person’s entire life, instead chooses to follow a more slice-of-life story about a significant, singular moment in that person’s life. The other option is for the movie to follow the formula, but attempt to fill it with some character – a bit of oomph that perfectly aligns with the rock star at its centre. Rocketman achieved the latter option.

Despite still falling slave to the recognisable ingredients of the formula, Rocketman was able to attain an energetic, rambunctious tone that upheld a suitable cheesiness that worked perfectly with the character of Elton John. To my surprise, Rocketman doubled as a jukebox musical where Elton’s harmonies were used in literal musical numbers for the film. These musical sequences perfectly captured the fantastical and magical appeal of Elton John as a person and the craziness of his long, zany life in the spotlight. Along with also helping the film feel distinctive and inventive, paying homage to John’s endless library of classics and fitting them with pivotal moments in his life, Rocketman was offered moments of surrealism and spectacular visuals through the musical numbers. These surreal moments enabled the film to tell its otherwise predictable story in a true filmmaker’s light – an attempt at visual storytelling. Rocketman went above and beyond in terms of music biopics to tell its formulaic story in what felt like a fresh and exciting way that new exactly how to paint an image of John as a celebrity, an artist and a human being.

And carrying this whole film to its outstanding success was Taron Edgerton in his greatest role yet. A performance to rival Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury, Edgerton was incredible in the shoes of Elton John. When requested by John that Edgerton perform Elton’s music as himself in the film, Edgerton clearly went out of his way to faithfully fulfill the requests of the music legend. Proving himself not only as an actor but also a competent singer and general performer, Edgerton really gave this role his all. Not only perfectly capturing Elton John as a man but also creating his own on-screen version of John that worked exclusively for this film, Edgerton’s interpretation and execution was bang-on impressive and easily one of the better performances of 2019 so far.

(David Appleby/Paramount Pictures 2019)

Fellow actors like Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard also delivered some great performances, but it was Jamie Bell who stood out as the best of the cast under Edgerton. I genuinely loved Bell in this movie and despite Edgerton delivering the MVP performance of the movie, it cannot be undermine how emotionally powerful Bell was in Rocketman. My only problem was that the audience didn’t get enough of Bell in the movie. In fact his character had a knack of featuring heavily in key scenes and then disappearing for long periods at a time. There could have been a bit more consistency in some character’s roles in the movie, but overall, great performances equalled some topnotch entertainment.

I was also very much a fan of Rocketman technically. Not only was some of the frames for this film genuinely beautiful but the way Rocketman used colour to really evoke emotions and convey certain personifications of characters and their situations was rather genius. The costuming, hair and make-up design and all that jazz were also adequetly superb… as you would hope from a film about the fabulous Elton. Though, I would take umbrage with some choppy editing choices in the movie which are kind of no major deal, but since Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Editing at the Oscars, I feel I need to bring it up as it appears to still be an issue for these types of movies.

As I said, this movie was not entirely rid of the music biopic formula, but the fact stands that it at the very least managed to be unique. It managed to be true to Elton John and that’s what’s important. Through its bombastic, large scaled musical numbers that involved the entire cast to its deeper, more intimate scenes between its characters, Rocketman delivered in ways I didn’t think it could.

Dexter Fletcher may have not had all the time in the world to save Bohemian Rhapsody entirely, but its evident that in Rocketman he was capable of doing so. Maybe there is hope for the music biopic after all… they just better not make anything generic out of the life and lies of Ziggy Stardust. That sh*t better feel like a two hour acid trip.

Rocketman is a bloody… CRUSADE!!


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