An epic musical fantasy about the uncensored human story of Sir Elton John’s breakthrough years.
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Lee Hall
Last year Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was a runaway success that raked in at the box office and was very successful during award season. With that film’s uncredited director Dexter Fletcher, who took over after Bryan Singer was removed from the project, directing this Elton John biopic it is difficult not to see similarities and compare these two films. The one clear difference between the films is that while Bohemian Rhapsody is a film about musicians, Rocketman is a musical about a musician and that makes a big difference.
The film opens with Elton John (Taron Egerton) sitting down in a rehab meeting and being asked about his life and what led him to being in that room, all in a big flamboyant orange devil suit i might add. This framework not only allows Elton to retell his life story from his childhood as Reggie Dwight through to his days as a struggling musician who meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) then to super stardom, it also allows it to be retold in a fantastical and not always factual way. Elton very early on sets himself up as a not entirely truthful storyteller by telling the rehab group his dad (Steven Mackintosh) loved him (His dad did not).
Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall have done an amazing job not only telling an engaging version of Elton John’s life but weaving his catalogue of songs throughout the film in a way that helps to tell the story. There is a beautiful mixture of songs coming from performances and others from characters bursting into song with all of them serving a purpose and not included as pure fan service. The film masterfully and quickly sets up Elton’s prodigious musical talent, with the performance of “Your Song” a great showcase of that talent. The film does run out of a little bit of steam during the third act and the inclusion of his marriage to Renate Blauel feels incredibly out place and tacked on.
Taron Egerton is simply stunning as Elton John and this performance is sure to make him a household name rather than just being the guy from The Kingsmen films. It is a real treat to watch him explore the many aspects of Elton John, from the shy kid to the superstar to the self-destructive man struggling with his demons. While it's great to watch him perform the big musical numbers (and actually sing them himself), it is the moments of him dealing with his family and their issues or his friendship with Bernie Taupin that really elevate this film and got me emotionally invested.
The supporting cast is all fantastic as well with Jamie Bell doing a great job as Elton’s writing partner and long time friend. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton’s distant and resentful mother Sheila Eileen perfectly while Richard Madden is good as a terribly manipulative and heartless John Reid (who coincidentally was played by fellow Game of Thrones alum Aidan Gillen in Bohemian Rhapsody) who does comes across a bit too villainous at times. Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor are also really impressive as Young and Teen Reggie respectively, with Illesley’s delivery of the line “When are you going to hug me?” hitting me right in the feels.
Rocketman takes full advantage of its fantastical story telling with a number of visually impressive musical numbers with “Rocketman”, “Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting” and "Pinball Wizard" some of my favourites. There are also some great arrangements of Elton’s songs and a few cheeky teases of some tracks in his catalogue that don’t feature in the film.
The costuming adds another level of visual spectacle to the film, with a number of Elton John’s costumes recreated for the film and showcased in the credits. The hair and makeup team must also be applauded for making Egerton look so much like Elton John, so much so I could have sworn they had snuck some old footage into some of the musical numbers.
Rocketman is a beautiful tribute to Elton John with possibly the best use of an artist’s catalogue of music in their biopic to date. With all the success that Bohemian Rhapsody received, we can only hope that Rocketman receives the same. It certainly deserves it.