“Rocketman” Movie Review

     Director Dexter Fletcher was given the daunting task of saving last year’s Queen biopic  “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he was brought in to replace Bryan Singer after the director’s  very public dismissal by the studio.  In most cases, this would mean, at minimum, a struggle with tonal issues as the final cut would be comprised of footage shot by two different directors.  Look no further than the issues surrounding “Justice League” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” as evidence of the uphill climb both Joss Whedon and Ron Howard faced after taking the reigns for Zack Snyder and Phil Lord and Chris Miller respectively.  Neither film was well received in terms of comparable previous installments, but “Bohemian Rhapsody”, somehow, proved to be an exception, going on to win four Academy Awards and generating over $900 million in worldwide box office.  Audiences clearly loved it. 

     Fletcher is back, this time with a film he was hired to direct from the start, giving the life story of Elton John similar treatment, but injecting an altogether different creative vibe into the proceedings.  “Rocketman” exudes a completely different style and take on what is ironically very similar material, given John and Freddie Mercury began as British hit makers at virtually the same time, with both going to become musical icons known for their flamboyant lifestyles and toe tapping tunes that have transcended many generations.  And while the PG-13 “Rhapsody” glossed over Mercury’s alternative lifestyle, the R-rated “Rocketman” embraces John’s and the many struggles he had with his sexuality at a time when his fame catapulted him to becoming a huge star in America and all over the world.  

     Whereas “Rhapsody” chose to chronicle Mercury and Queen’s rise from a local British band to their eventual superstardom by following a strict timeline and injecting their music by way of  their performances and their experimentation with different sounds and styles, “Rocketman” takes a completely different path.  In similar fashion to musicals such as “Mamma Mia”, “Rocketman” meshes John’s music into the scene, beginning with lyrical dialogue that suddenly breaks out into a choreographed musical number.  Even when we see the legendary performer in concert, the sequence quickly becomes fantastical and dreamlike, with both John and the audience watching him float on air, as these scenes are enhanced with special effects to help communicate the feeling and emotion of the song and the performance.

     Playing John in what has to be considered a star making role is Taron Egerton, best known previously as Eggsy in the two “Kingsman” films.  And while he has certainly held his own as an action star, Egerton owns “Rocketman”, portraying John in a manner that doesn’t necessarily make you think you’re looking at the performer himself, but rather an actual character with heart and charisma all his own.  With all due respect to Rami Malek’s Oscar winning portrayal of Mercury, Egerton has truly embodied a character in a way that takes the musical biopic to the next level, even singing the songs himself without the digital backing of John’s voice.  It certainly helps that Lee Hall’s script makes a conscious effort to dig deeper into the whirlwind of emotion John consistently endured during his rise to the top, but Egerton, completely decked out in John’s larger than life costumes and accessories, brings those words to life in a way that for two hours really makes you believe he was born to play this role.

     That’s not say the film is without its flaws.  Beyond the musical numbers, there are a few moments that feel obligatory.  I mentioned “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, and you may recall  the checkboxes that were systematically filled where we learn the origins of his name, his association with Chewy, and how he came into possession of the Millennium Falcon.  “Rocketman”, at times, plays in much the same way as we also learn how he came up with his stage name (his real name is Reginald Dwight), how he met Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the man responsible for the lyrics of John’s extensive library of hits, and his eventual breakdown at the hands of an overabundance of drugs and alcohol.  

     We know these things about John and that’s what makes them expected in a film like this, but a truly marvelous film will find a way to avoid playing out common knowledge on screen and treat the audience to the unexpected.  For the most part, that’s exactly what Fletcher accomplishes, particularly when things become less grounded in reality and more dreamy if you will.  The best bits are when we can almost see the fantasies swirling within John’s head mind and witnessing how he brings them to vivid and colorful life.

     We are meant to believe the burden of unsupportive divorced parents shrunk John’s self worth down to the point where all that was left was his additions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and shopping.  The film immediately tells us this by way of framing the entire story around his sudden appearance directly from the stage into an AA meeting where he lays out the demons which have nearly crumbled him, but he also announces he is there to get better.  And today, we know this is the case, if for no other reason he wrote the catchy tune “I’m Still Standing” to tell the world he conquered the bad and is finally living a life where he feels loved, but more importantly, also loves himself.  Perhaps no better song title evokes what this film seeks to accomplish. GRADE: B+