Advertisement
  1. Movies

Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' is better (by far) than last year's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Taron Egerton as Elton John in a scene from ‘Rocketman.’ [Paramount Pictures]
Published May 31

Rocketman is more like it. In relation to last year's jolly mediocrity Bohemian Rhapsody, which stumbled across the surface of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury's life and music, the new Elton John biopic arrives with a similar load of biopic cliches and set-ups. Yet it moves with confidence; it's vivid; it pulls off a riskier, full-on musical fantasy version of one pop superstar's story.

Best known as Eggsy in the Kingsman movies, Taron Egerton's as good as Rami Malek was in his Oscar-winning turn as Mercury. Better, actually. Egerton does his own singing, and the performance feels fully activated, unafraid of the rougher edges. Given a wider dynamic range to explore, Egerton conveys the insecure lost soul — lost, then found — underneath the insane frippery and moneyed indulgences. Rocketman feels plenty protective of its subject's image (Elton John executive-produced), and it's highly selective. But it's a movie that works as a movie, not a pandering trip down memory lane.

The songs John co-wrote with his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, are put to use where they're most useful, not necessarily where the historical record would place them. The director is Dexter Fletcher, who finished making Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer got the heave-ho. Rocketman screenwriter Lee Hall wrote Billy Elliot and then adapted his story for the musical stage. With this new project, Hall has solved both problems in one stroke; the movie already feels like a stage show, blessed with honest-to-God terrific titles including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honky Cat, Tiny Dancer and so many more.

Half-wrecked after too many years of chemical and sexual excess, Elton checks into rehab sporting an orange jumpsuit, headdress plumage and devil's horns. The group rehab scenes trigger a largely chronological series of flashbacks. We meet young Reggie Dwight (Matthew Illesley), a shy phenom at the piano, growing up in Northwest London with a blowsy mother (Bryce Dallas Howard, a tad campy), a stern, disapproving father (Steven Mackintosh) and a career-saving, supportive grandmother (Gemma Jones).

Soon enough Egerton takes over his own flashbacks. There's an unusually pleasing meet-cute scene for Reggie and his songwriter partner, lyricist Taupin, played earnestly and well by Jamie Bell. From there, it's the expected zigzag to the pinnacle. The early scenes include John's 1970 LA debut at the Troubadour. Here, as elsewhere, Rocketman goes a little wild, treating the scene fantastically, not realistically; the performer literally levitates, as does the entire audience, and the scene works. We feel it; we see what it must've felt like to be there.

The sexy, exploitative manager John Reid (Richard Madden), soon to be Elton's lover; the ill-advised marriage to Renate Blauel (a brief cameo by Celinde Schoenmaker); these and other chapters flip through Rocketman, illustrating on the fly the protagonist's reckless, egocentric private life, a life devoid of much in the way of peace or real love. The musical sensation only finds romantic fulfillment in the epilogue covering his marriage to David Furnish and life with their children, during the end credits.

Would the film have been more gratifying if it cast a wider net? Maybe. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody at least pulled it together for its Live Aid finale, Rocketman rushes a bit in the final lap, and shortchanges the audience musically. En route, though, it's very enjoyable. Egerton is the main attraction, but the movie underneath and all around him works, too.

REVIEW

Rocketman

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden

Screenplay: Lee Hall

Rating: R

Running time: 121 minutes

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott in "Charlie's Angels." MERIE WEISMILLER WALLACE  |  Columbia Pictures
    Screenings of ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Lionel Richie at Glastonbury’ are also in store for the week.
  2. FILE - In this April 3, 2019, file photo characters from Disney and Fox movies are displayed behind Cathleen Taff, president of distribution, franchise management, business and audience insight for Walt Disney Studios during the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures presentation at CinemaCon 2019, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Disney Plus launches its streaming service. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) CHRIS PIZZELLO  |  Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
    The Walt Disney Company’s foray into streaming services is off with a few hitches
  3. The Blair Witch Project director Dan Myrick, left, and his production company partner Kristian Krempel on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.
[OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
    The production company estimates it will spend over $1 million locally
  4. Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator: Dark Fate." KERRY BROWN  |  Paramount Pictures
    ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ and ‘Arctic Dogs’ open, too, plus screenings of ‘Jane’ with a score by the Florida Orchestra and ‘Parasite.’
  5. Former WWE wrestler turned actor John Hennigan performs stunts in the movie "Speed of Time" being made in Clearwater. Christian Cashmir
    It stars former WWE wrestler-turned-actor John Hennigan.
  6. Crewmembers from the Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater and the Coast Guard Cutter "Tornado" rescue Nick Schuyler from an overturned vessel in 2009. Coast Guard photo/Fireman Adam Campbell (2009)
    “Not Without Hope” is based on the true story of the boat accident that took the lives of three football players and left a fourth stranded at sea.
  7. Mike Sandlin, owner of Grindhouse Video in Tampa, poses for a photo at his store. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Grindhouse Video, a temple of horror flicks, B movies and cult films, proves the video store isn’t dead yet.
  8. "The Current War" stars Benedict Cumberbatch. DEAN ROGERS  |  101 Studios
    ‘Countdown,’ ‘One Piece: Stampede,’ ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ and ‘The Great Alaskan Race’ also open, plus three horror screenings.
  9. Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, shown here in the 1978 film "Grease," will make a Dec. 14 appearance in Tampa for a film sing-along and meet and greet with fans. AP
    The actors, who both have ties to the Tampa Bay area, will also do a question and answer session and meet some fans.
  10. Screenwriter Andy Warrener shows off a copy of his film "The Black String" available at a local Walmart. Andy Warrener
    Andy Warrener went from Civil War reenactor to screenwriter. ‘The Black String’ has two local screenings next week.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement