The likes of Freddie Mercury and Elton John have always been frontrunners in the conversation for Britain’s greatest ever musical personalities and talents, so it seems fitting that their biopics should come out so soon one after the other. Whilst pretty much the only thing that impressed me about last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody was Rami Malek’s Oscar winning performance as the Queen frontman, I went in to Rocketman with the sneaking suspicion and optimistic hope that the film might give me something more than plain old Wikipedia surface story telling.
And boy, was my hope realised. Rocketman tells the story of young Reginald Dwight, the shy boy with prodigal piano playing skills that grew up to become Elton John (Taron Egerton). From childhood through to the 1980s, the film takes the audience on the usual rise and substance based fall that seems to be the trajectory for many of the world’s biggest stars, but it does so in such a fresh feeling way that it’s difficult to compare it to anything I’ve seen in recent memory.
Whilst Bohemian Rhapsody stuck very much to a grounded ‘songs in context’ type format for its musical interludes, Rocketman experiments with the entire range of narrative choices to pack in more Elton John songs than I ever thought I knew and loved. From stage performances to dream sequences to full blown in universe musical style numbers, the entire picture is a wild celebration of Elton’s music, intricately and expertly built around a life story that is as dramatic and engaging as the songs that came out of it. Rocketman manages to be a gritty and completely raw thematic drama whilst at the same time not being afraid to present itself as full blown musical, and I bloody love it for that.
Of Rocketman’s R rating, Elton John himself remarked that he “didn’t live a PG-13 life”, and the film gains so much depth by making the brave decision to cut out the ‘family friendly’ movie going crowd from the box office equation. To make another Bohemian Rhapsody comparison, the Freddie Mercury story was so sanitised and scared to offend that it ended up feeling entirely disposable, but there is something about the honesty and grit of Rocketman that makes it feel much more substantial. The whole thing is rock and roll, so give us rock and roll!
As Elton John, Taron Egerton does a really rather remarkable job. The performances feels like less an impersonation and more of an embodiment, you don’t mind that his singing voice isn’t pitch for pitch identical to the real life singer because there isn’t a second when you don’t believe that you are watching Elton John on the screen. The physical resemblance is striking enough to be instantly recognisable, and the choice to have Egerton sing himself rather lip syncing means that the film stays really effectively within its own universe. I have a sinking feeling that this performance is going to go without half of the praise that Rami Malek got last year, but in my mind Egerton is just as transformative and arguably showcases even more skill.
Completing the tapestry of the story are Jamie Bell as songwriter Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as manager and lover John Reid and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Eileen. Everyone involved gives really high quality performances, with Jamie Bell and Richard Madden adopting almost respective angel and demon positions on the protagonist’s shoulders. Richard Madden is particularly smarmy and unlikable in his role, a fun piece of trivia for Game Of Thrones fans, the exact same character was portrayed by Aiden Gillen in Bohemian Rhapsody!
Bryce Dallas Howard is really great as Elton’s problematic mother, a seemingly selfish woman who deep down does have some love for her son, but is too consumed with her own life and circumstances to show as much care and compassion as she should. The overall standard of the cast is really high, with any member at any given time able to switch from a lighter tone to a darker tone whenever the plot called for it. There is absolutely no doubting that Taron Egerton is the shining star of the show, but it also can’t be overlooked just how big of a character the music itself is within the picture. There are only a handful of bands and artists across history who could fill a twenty plus song soundtrack with banger after banger after banger, and Elton John is certainly one of them.
Overall, Rocketman is an absolute delight. It’s camp, it’s gritty, it’s joyous, it’s sad, it’s pretty much everything you need in a rise and fall story about one of the most enigmatic and interesting musicians of our time. I don’t have any reservations about the constant comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody, because in many ways they feel very much like a deliberate double bill. Allow me one final statement; if Bohemian Rhapsody is Prince William, then Rocketman is Prince fucking Harry.