Helluva spectacle, wrapped around a standard rock biopic.
Rocketman is a musical. Rocketman leans hard into being a musical: instead of the standard, contrived “This is our first hit!” songwriting scenes (in real life, songwriting never works the way it’s usually portrayed in movies), here the songs are used to punctuate the emotion of the life story it tells. It’s a clever choice, and one which allows Rocketman to be far more expressive – and more gleefully surreal – than its counterpart, Bohemian Rhapsody (also directed, at least in part, by Dexter Fletcher).
Rocketman, much like her mercurial subject Elton John, wears her artifice on her sleeve. It goes big, and in a variety of ways: setpieces such as ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ and ‘Benny & The Jets’ range from, respectively, hand-wavy song-and-dance to beautiful, sensual imagery. The costumes, lighting, colours, setpieces, performers and performances are all beautiful, and at times transcendent.
The only thing grounding this otherwise lofty, dreamy, free-floating whirlwind of a cinematic experience, is that Rocketman is fundamentally a biopic: it adheres very obediently to that standard structure, and it makes sure to go through every single rock star movie image, scene and beat you expect to see. And whether the catharsis finale – the moment, perhaps, which felt to me to be the most stage-play-ish – actually works for you will, I suspect, depend on how theatrical your drama tastes go.
Julian Day‘s amazing costumes, the spectacular lighting, an outstanding Taron Edgerton, and even the man-tastic specimen that is Richard Madden (looking divine when he isn’t being assassinated at his own Red Wedding) all couldn’t distract me from the fact that it was Elton John’s voice I wanted to hear singing those incredible songs. But it is testament to the power, craft and substance of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songs that they stand up to – nay, thoroughly lend themselves to – such dramatic, theatrical rearrangement and re-purposing.
Sidenote: how does this movie have Jamie Bell, the original cinematic Billy Elliott, which was turned into a stage musical for which Elton John composed the music, and not have Jamie Bell playing Elton John?
Speaking of Elton John’s voice: his piece in the Guardian about Rocketman and his life is an interesting read.
It’s a real joy listening to star Taron Edgerton discuss getting the role, playing the role, and Rocketman‘s particular conceits and goals:
I’m pretty convinced the amazing ‘I’m Still Standing’ music video sequence at the film’s end wasn’t so much a recreation as simply pasting Taron Edgerton in Elton John’s place… This side-by-side comparison seems to suggest otherwise:
Am I the only one who kept waiting for him to sing the line, “And this one’s for Apu”?