“The life of American music icon Elvis Presley, from his childhood to becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.”

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pierce, Jeremy Doner
Staring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, David Wenham
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: June 24, 2022

Elvis (2022) was a surprise box office it. It grossed $151 million in the United States and $286 million world wide. With a budget around $85 million, it makes Elvis a summer hit despite having to go up certain juggernauts like Top Gun: Maverick (2022). Baz Luhrmann has been hit or miss in terms of critical and box office sense throughout his career, but this latest biopic hurdles over expectations and delivers…something. Elvis is flashy, over-the-top, long and most of all, confident. It has climactic moments that stir the audience’s emotional tenors, but also lulls that last longer than necessary.

The one thing that is undeniable about Elvis is that Austin Butler is the focal point, and highlight, of the entire show.

Butler is the reason to watch Elvis. He has magnetism necessary for an actor when they are in nearly every single scene of the movie. Butler gives his all into Elvis, making you believe the sweat the character is pouring out is actually the effort tears of Butler swinging his legs and gyrating his thighs. Butler gets the chance to play Elvis through different stages of his life so we get to see Butler wear a different aesthetic as the storyline progresses. We meet him wild eyed and bunny tailed. We see him get a set of balls and stick it to the man, followed by some groveling to the masses after a series of mishaps. Butler plays the rise and fall well, allowing for the climatic comeback (the best moment of the movie) to reach its highest potential.

One of the biggest anchors to Butler’s performative ceiling is…dare I say it…Tom Hanks. Playing the role of untrustworthy narrator Colonel Tom Parker, Hanks sports a new voice and a bloated look to bring Elvis’s gambling addicted personal manager and agent. Parker weaves his way into Elvis’s mind and psyche when the star is at a young age and then uses his leverage to keep himself firmly entrenched in his camp.

When I saw the trailer for Elvis first pop-up, I thought that Hanks would be setting himself up for an awards run. A immediately recognizable actor playing a true-to-life character and changing his physical appearance is usually a formula for at least online praise. The issue is that…Hanks isn’t very good. He is overacting. Yes, I am saying that Hanks overacts in a Baz Luhrmann movie. It was thought impossible, but leave it to Hanks to make the impossible plausible.

The best part of Elvis comes at the start of the final act when Colonel Tom Parker is embarrassed with Elvis’s choice to go with a different producer. Parker has his own idea for what the King’s Christmas special should look like, but when Elvis embraces new input and sings his heart out in a nationally broadcast…that is a titular moment when Parker turns into the villain. He gets jealous that he is no longer the puppet master pulling on the strings. Parker makes it his aim to cut everyone else’s access to Elvis, and then goes even deeper down the well of devilry holding guilt over Elvis’s head like a guillotine blade.

Butler highlight of Elvis comes when the stage flips and the spotlight is shown on him, literally. This scene works fantastic because it is Baz Luhrmann taking a step back from his pizzazz and instead of visual shock and awe, he lets his star suck up the attention. Credit needs to be paid for everyone who set up this real Elvis 1968 comeback special because they had the star, and made him look like one. A black background with only red letters and a man performing in pure white. In Elvis, Butler knocks the build up and the presentation out of the park. He rocks the white suit even better than Rick Pitino.

This is the opposite of Elvis’s first rebuttal scene of the movie. When he was young, television wanted to mute him and part of American society wanted to arrest him. At that time he wanted to tell television and community standards to go screw themselves. He stepped onto the stage at Russwood Park and performed “Trouble” dressed in all black ready to be the bad guy. The movie shows his journey to this point when he is performing “If I Can Dream” on television, unifying society, dressed in white.

It so happens that Elvis is at its best in the middle portion of the movie. The start of Elvis is edited like it is a Tik Tok video. The pacing is frantic and Baz’s filmmaking style is disorienting. The amount of storytelling with the camera takes away from the storytelling that Butler could have done. When Elvis slows down and lets the actors act, the story becomes so much better. The end of the movie after Colonel Parker hammers down his final nail sprints up on you and leaves you coughing from the dust. Reaching nearly three hours of run time, one could say it is nuts that the ending feels a tad rushed and a tad underwhelming. But I am here to say that Elvis ends with the same disorientation that it started. If you turn on the movie at the start of “Trouble” and end it with “If I Can Dream” then you will give it a greater grade than I.

In terms of awards consideration, Elvis has a lock on one category and will potentially dabble in others. Austin Butler will be campaigning for Best Actor. Baz Luhrmann is getting nominated for best director in various award associations, including the Golden Globes. Whether or not the movie reaches Best Picture levels is yet to be determined. Best Film Editing will be interesting because it is absolutely unique. It is a Baz experience, brought to light by Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond. Will Hair and Makeup make a cameo? Elvis has an iconic look and Butler does wear it well.

Elvis is streaming on HBO Max.

STANKO RATING: B (3.0/5 Stars)

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