STARRING: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Jason Pennycooke, Charlie Rowe, Gemma Jones, Kit Connor, Kamil Lemieszewski, Steven Mackintosh, Jimmy Vee, Rachel Muldoon, Celinde Schoenmaker, Sharon D. Clarke and Tate Donovan
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.
Rocketman is a musical fantasy, set to Elton John’s most beloved songs, telling the universally relatable story of how a small-town, shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight became an international superstar and one of the most iconic figures in pop culture, Elton John.
Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton collaborate once again in this fantasy musical biopic Rocketman, telling the life story of Elton John, from his years as a shy boy, to a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music, his influential musical partnership with Bernie Taupin, as well as his struggles with substance abuse, depression and acceptance of his sexual orientation.
I went in with really no major expectations for Rocketman other than believing it will be another generic musical biopic like many that came before it, but those initial expectations were immediately squashed within five minutes into the film as the fantasy element is to be taken literally as we’re transported with Egerton back to his childhood in a musical number and there’s plenty of these elements, from Egerton singing underwater, to being turned into a rocket jetting off into the night sky and, my personal favourite, Elton performing for the first time at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. You can feel the passion and commitment pour out from the screen from Fletcher’s direction, especially in regards to the musical set pieces, to George Richmond’s cinematography that’s colourful and gorgeously shot, to the costume design department replicating the Elton John stage outfits, to the choreography for the musical numbers. It’s big, bold and evidently a Broadway/West End musical given the feature treatment. Considering that the script is written by Lee Hall, thats shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise (writer of Billy Elliott which would become a musical at the West End). For all the glamour and musical numbers, the film is a personal journey of one going through their life and reaching the point of self-destruction over their own self-loathing and insecurities, to coming accept who they are and make peace with it, and this is complimented by the fact that the musical numbers fit the mood and setup of what leads to or from. The material wouldn’t work without its cast and Taron Egerton is absolutely electrifying as Elton, he absolutely commands your attention with his energy, intense stage presence and ultimately his vulnerability. It’s without a doubt his best performance to date and if this film wasn’t out so early in the year I’d consider him an absolute lock for the Best Actor nominations come award season. Jamie Bell also, arguably, give his best performance in years as Elton’s best friend Bernie Taupin, you can feel the bond and chemistry between the two from the first screen they share till the end, it’s a brotherly bond that keeps pulling them back together. Richard Madden also gets to play against type as Elton’s lover and manager John Reid, who sees him more as a cash cow than a compatible partner. Bryce Dallas Howard also impresses as Elton’s mother Sheila, Stephen Graham is always a joy to see on screen as Dick James and Tate Donovan with long hair is a sight I thought i’d never see.
I’m not going to lie, I came in expecting a paint-by-numbers style music biopic (ala Bohemian Rhapsody) and was so taken aback by the fantasy element of the film that the first ten to fifteen minutes I found to be jarring. Maybe that’ll change upon repeated viewing, knowing now what I’m in for. Also, and this is pretty much a nitpick, while I commend the film for committing to the actors using their own voices for the music numbers, there was some that didn’t quite work for me and some of the Automated Dialog Replacement did look off in certain moments. Granted, there’s certain creative choices here that don’t quite work for me (for me it feels like it relies on the musical number to montage time passed a bit too much, then there’s that moment in the Rocketman number finale that I can see get a few eye rolls) and if you remove the fantasy musical element, some would argue that the script is just as generic as what came before. Then again, it’s the fantasy musical element that is selling the story and the films greatest strength.
On paper Rocketman will read like any generic music biopic, but on screen, it is explodes with energy, colour and passion and telling the life of Elton John in a way that’s fitting of his career. The musical set pieces are memorable, the performances from the cast are solid (particularly Jamie Bell and Richard Madden) and Taron Egerton gets to showcase his abilities as an actor and knocks it out of the park as Elton. The fantasy musical element will be a make-or-brake deal for some. If you like musicals I’m sure you’ll find no difficulty soaking in the concept straight away, but if you don’t, you might find the film off-putting. 7/10