Cinematic Releases: Rocketman (2019) Reviewed

While picking up Bryan Singer's slack on Bohemian Rhapsody, actor-director Dexter Fletcher was simultaneously working on another biopic about rock and roll superstar Elton John- which turns out, is not a biopic so much as a musical comprising of Elton's greatest highlights that tells his career and life story. It's not as formulaic as biopics could go- and instead becomes an occasionally fantasy-infused celebration of his career, his music, and his life- one that often becomes just as flamboyant and larger-than-life as the man himself.

Honestly, this is the only way an Elton John movie could have gone. Anything less extraordinary would have been a waste of time, and its instant transitions from story to song and back again is exactly how they should be in standard musical formats. Taron Egerton quite literally disappears into Elton's persona- embracing the lavish costumes and makeup and everything that made his live performances so unforgettable. It's also surprising how well Egerton emulates Elton's singing voice- instead of lip-syncing recordings, he did all the singing himself, and while it's not perfect, he does a marvelous job at delivering a series of phenomenal vocal performances, both on and off the stage.

As someone unfamiliar with Elton John's life and work, I can't verify the authenticity of some key choices in the story put on screen for Rocketman, but one thing was for certain: it does not hold back on his lifestyle. Whereas the safe PG-13 choices of Bohemian Rhapsody frankly had often poor and even borderline offensive handling of Freddie Mercury's life story, Rocketman had direct input from its source, with Elton serving as executive producer, you can be certain that it mostly follows what happened in his life- but you have to remember that, first and foremost, this is not a biopic. It's exactly the unabashed, no-holds-barred depiction of his darkest and brightest moments, from his humble start to his chart-topping best, from his love gained and lost to his addictions driving to near overdosing. It's a miracle the man is still alive, honestly. He lived such a hedonistic lifestyle in his career's formative years and yet still remains one of the greatest rock and roll soloists in history.

It's a welcome relief that Fletcher chose to throw the standard biopic formula out the window- a blueprint so tiredly retread over the years that so desperately needed revitalization. It says "Oh, you want to know about this particular moment in Elton's life? Here's the answer in the form of song and dance!" which, to me, is the perfect rebuttal for displaying the key moments in his childhood and beyond. Nothing feels pandered to or rushed as it did in Bohemian, things aren't buried away for the sake of a family-friendly rating or to save face for others. It's raw, rollicking rock-and-roll, just as the genre should be- I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

-Wes Ball