ROCKETMAN review by Mark Walters – Taron Egerton is Sir Elton John in this musical biopic

ROCKETMAN review by Mark Walters – Taron Egerton is Sir Elton John in this musical biopic

In the sequel KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, one of the most unusual aspects was the inclusion of Sir Elton John, playing himself and even participating in an action scene or two. The star of the KINGSMAN movies is of course Taron Egerton, who also provided one of the lead voices in the animated movie SING!, in which he does his own rendition of… wait for it… Elton John! So it should come as no surprise (we guess) that Egerton was tapped to portray Elton in the new biopic ROCKETMAN. Paramount Pictures is releasing the highly-anticipated film this weekend, which comes on the heels of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY being an award show favorite, and its lead actor Rami Malik winning a Best Actor Academy Award. Why do I bring that up? Well, a few reasons. Firstly, Dexter Fletcher directed ROCKETMAN, and also finished and ultimately edited BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. The other reason is there will undoubtedly be comparisons made between films, as the story structure is oddly enough very similar, with the one big exception being that one story is more about the band as a whole than just the lead singer… uh, wait a sec, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY actually was more about Freddie Mercury than the band Queen, and Freddie was gay and making a name for himself in the 70s and early 80s… oh boy, this is gonna be ripe with comparisons.

ROCKETMAN opens with Elton John (Egerton) in a devil costume with giant wings bursting into a support group and confessing all of his problems – being an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex addict, the works. As the group leader asks how this all started, we flashback to a very young Reggie (Elton’s real first name) in front of his home, with everyone around singing and dancing in full on Broadway musical form. This sets the tone for what the rest of the film will be. You’ll be rocking out to Elton John classics, and there are more than a few dramatic sequences, but this is very much a musical instead of being a traditional biopic. As we watch young Reggie finding his calling, he begins to play piano like a pro, while his unhappy parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) are anything but supportive, and split up suddenly which adds to his sadness. As Reggie ages, he hones his talents by playing back up music for American bands in the UK, and eventually finds a music agency willing to take a chance on him by giving him some lyrics to put music to. The lyrics come from Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who eventually meets Reggie, now calling himself the stage name of “Elton John” …and the two form a strong brotherly-like bond.

As Elton composes hit after hit using Bernie’s lyrics, he finds worldwide fame after playing at The Troubodour, a historic L.A. home for breakout musical acts. He also finds a lover in musical manager John Reid (Richard Madden), who takes over his career while they’re together. The bigger Elton becomes in the eyes of the fans, the more tortured he is as a person, filled with regret over his distant parents and own self-loathing, and soon realizing that many around him are only interested in his fame. He turns to a variety of vices for comfort, but the depression only worsens, making him wonder if anything will ever make him content.

The parallels between the story of Freddie Mercury and Elton John are actually quite similar. Both came from the homes of unsupportive parents (worse in the case of Elton), both finding quick fame in the 70s by working with other talented people in the realm of music (Freddie with the Queen band members, Elton with Taupin), both being gay at a time when it was more controversial, and both finding a controlling lover who hijacked their career more than they should have. There’s also the quick rise to fame, and fall from grace, only to find the strength to bounce back. Granted, a lot of Hollywood biopics follow similar story structures, but in this case the similarities will very likely draw unnecessary criticism. That said, ROCKETMAN is actually a better movie than BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, and more factually accurate… I’m sure I’ll get some heated letters for saying that, but it’s true. There’s also the added very impressive fact that Taron Egerton is actually singing those classic Elton John songs in the film, something even Rami Malek didn’t do in his performance. That’s not to say Malek didn’t earn his award, but Egerton really takes things to the next level here. This is also an R-rated film and doesn’t hold back the way BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY did in its PG-13 presentation. And while Malek made his performance of Freddie Mercury endearing, he never quite looked all that similar to Mercury in the film. In ROCKETMAN, there are moments where Egerton looks eerily similar to Elton’s younger self, which again is enhanced even more by the fact he’s really signing and playing piano quite frequently on screen.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin and Richard Madden as John Reid. Both men make their characters incredibly endearing and effectively villainous, respectively. The relationship between Elton and Bernie is powerful and heartwarming, and the film never glosses over the importance of Taupin’s contribution to John’s legacy. I did find the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard a little odd at first, but she’s quite good in her role, playing the disconnected mother who doesn’t seem to recognize just how special her own son really is. And Steven Mackintosh as Elton’s father becomes one of the most incredibly frustrating father figures in the history of cinema. His lack of respect for his own son in this story makes you want to reach through the screen and hug Elton, it’s such a sad and devastating relationship, and helps us understand how someone so very successful could turn to so many vices for comfort.

Dexter Fletcher has once again proven himself to be an amazing director who knows how to balance humor and drama, and has elevated his own abilities even further by handing the sometimes complex musical scenes with perfection. There are sequences that probably shouldn’t work, like Reggie as a young boy signing alongside 1980s Elton John, and yet somehow it’s acceptable and endearing. There’s even a few sequences where characters are singing during really dark and serious moments, and while in the hands of another director it might have seemed silly, Fletcher finds a way to make it seem just right. Watching ROCKETMAN feels like discovering a perfect Broadway musical before anyone else knows about it, and I have no doubt that within the next five years, this will become an actual musical. As Elton John retires from touring, that might just be the next best logical step for his legacy.

The film doesn’t focus on Elton’s later years, like his musical dedication to Princess Diana after her tragic death, or his contributions to Disney’s THE LION KING. It doesn’t even get into his time with his husband David, who is a huge part of his life now. But the film is supposed to be about Elton’s rise to fame, his downfall from his vices, and his very personal decision to get clean and stay clean. Everything after that isn’t necessary to get into, so in many ways the film stops exactly where it needs to. As a child of the MTV generation, I remember seeing and hearing the Elton John depicted in this movie quite well, and I even remember his “getting clean” stage. I hope this film educates younger generations on just how important a figure he was (and still is) in the world of music. Another thing that stands out is how iconic and memorable his musical compositions were. Every song that plays in the film is recognizable and beloved. Just hearing the first few notes of each tune will warn your heart with nostalgia. Prepare yourself for the inevitable BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY comparisons, but just know that while the two films definitely feel similar, ROCKETMAN is far superior as a whole. My only hope is that it coming out this time of year doesn’t mean it will be forgotten as we get closer to award season. Heck, just give Egerton the Oscar now.

ROCKETMAN is launching into theaters May 31 2019

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.