There is something special when a movie is confident in its traits and eccentricities. The ability to strive for greatness and shoot for the moon with a certain vision can lift a film over the bar of mediocrity. Rocketman is a perfect example of this. The musical biopic of Elton John’s life soars to heights and achieves genuine fantastic entertainment while staging beautiful looking set pieces and spotlighting wonderful acting performances.
Centering around the world of Elton John, Rocketman takes little time delving into the fantastical story telling through his breakthrough years. Starting at Elton’s childhood and evolving through his teenage years, the story culminates with his massive quick success and the hardships that ensued in the years following the mountainous peak.
Rocketman kicks it into high gear when “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” starts blaring. At that moment, that’s when we know director Dexter Fletcher is at the helm and he is going to take this movie in whatever way he wants. His vision with writer Lee Hall’s script makes this more than just a normal biopic. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is the cue for Taron Egerton to grab the mic. And folks, he never lets it go.
Egerton truly goes for broke in the lead role, breaking free from his suave Kingsman persona and delving into a comprehensive performance. There is not a lot of pretty in the part and credit to the handsome man for not being afraid to muddy the water and get down and dirty. Egerton trained for this part and performed all the songs, which has to be a daunting task trying to emulate Elton John.
It is remarkable to see his portrayal of the two-faced life that the rock star had to live; there is a pivotal scene involving arguably John’s most iconic song where this ability truly sticks out. This song is one the audience would assume to be a giant climatic moment, but Hall and Fletcher flip expectations and instead put the tune in a different tone.
Rocketman hits some of the standard biopic tent poles, but it is a vision all onto itself. The movie plays out like a Broadway play in the best way possible. The costumes are absurd in the best way so don’t be surprised to see costume designed Julian Day nominated for an Academy Award. The symbolic moments weaved into the story don’t go too overboard. Whether it be levitating feeling above the cloud, taking off into the stars, or quasi-orgy scene of self-indulgence; Rocketman doesn’t hide in the shadows, it is confident in what it is.
Fletcher’s success with Rocketman may have come from learning during his short time working with last year’s breakout hit, Bohemian Rhapsody. After Bryan Singer just left the project hanging by a thread, Song brought Fletcher in to pick up the strings and safe to say he made a success out of a mess. Say what you want about the quality of the film, there is not denying that Bohemian Rhapsody was successful.
It turns out that Fletcher was in the mix to be the initial director of Queen’s and Freddy Mercury’s story, but he and the production company differed on the rating. Fletcher wanted a “R” rating but the studio went the “PG-13” direction. There is no confusion about Rocketman, it is rated “R” and it’s better for it.
While Fletcher and Egerton really do steal the show, other stars do rise to the task as well. Richard Madden is wonderful in his over-the-top evilness as John Reid. It’s really hard to imagine a person as manipulative as Reid in real life, but if it’s close to what’s depicted in Rocketman, then sheesh. Tate Donovan is also great in his short bit as Doug Weston.
Special shout out to Jamie Bell, who plays Elton John’s best friend and writer, Bernie Taupin. Trying to balance a true bromance in a movie centered around a gay character cannot be an easy thing, but the screenplay and Bell’s acting with Egerton carries the burden well. The way the two get put together is serendipity, but the act of fate isn’t treated as a romantic spark. That idea is nipped in the buddy in a touching scene fairly early on, and forward it’s strictly about their friendship.
One final thing. Let’s nip this in the bud right now. Rocketman is a far better movie than Bohemian Rhapsody. The way it looks, the integration of the songs, the story development and the acting are all elevated. Rocketman is one of the best movies of 2019 I’ve personally seen thus far, and it should garner proper attention come awards season on multiple fronts in 2020.
Stanko Rating: B+