There have been plenty of big Hollywood films based on the lives of popular musicians. Some of them take the dramatic route, focusing on the trials and tribulations that particular person may have faced over the course of their career, others mix fiction in with the reality to tell the story, possibly mixing together various takes from different people involved to create a Frankenstein version of the truth that’s most entertaining, while some do a bit of both. Right out of the gate it’s clear that Rocketman is going to be as big a spectacle as any Elton John performance before it, telling his story while also using his most famous songs as transitional storytelling elements throughout, and I almost couldn’t see it any other way for a biopic focused on the legendary singer.
Rocketman is that special sort of film that is able to touch on a whole range of emotions while never slowing itself down in cliché fashion to bash you over the head with any particular one. It sells itself as a film that’s “Based on a True Fantasy,” and that’s exactly how it feels. The story begins with Elton John (Taron Egerton) barging into a meeting inside a rehab facility and listing his addictions to the group. He’s then asked about his childhood by the woman running the meeting that he’s so boldly interrupted in full stage attire, to which Elton responds to by singing “The Bitch is Back” right on the spot. But he does so just as though the lyrics are how he’s explaining his childhood, and he’s doing so to his younger self who has just appeared on a tricycle in the room. Nobody else can see Young Elton (Matthew Illesley,) nor is Elton actually singing in this meeting, but that’s the fantastical nature of the film.
Elton gets up to follow his younger self, and everyone in the meeting does the same, and just then we’re transported back to 1950s Britain and Elton’s childhood home where Young Elton (though at this point in his life his name is Reggie) continues singing “The Bitch is Back” while his neighbours all dance around him. The entire song isn’t sung, and Reggie is soon cut off by his mother, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), angrily telling him to get in the house. This is where Young Reggie’s story begins, focusing on his childhood relationship with his parents – or lack thereof, especially when it comes to his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh.) In fact, the only true support that Reggie has comes from his grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) who helps push Reggie towards furthering his natural musical talents.
One thing Rocketman doesn’t do is linger on any particular aspect of Elton’s life too long. It moves at a beautiful pace, which is helped along using Elton’s music to weave together sometimes years of his life. This is done almost like a stage play, where a song begins and various lyrics help touch on parts of Elton’s life at that particular time. The parts that we as the viewer need to know about, but don’t need to spend a lot of time on to get the idea of where things are headed. This does sometimes lead to a lack of depth for certain characters or can leave you wanting to know more about a time that was quickly swept by in a verse; however, that’s not the goal of the film. This is a biopic that is definitely part fantasy, but not in the sense that it’s not true, but more in the way that the story is being told.
Basically, if you want to get a deeper version of the events that helped sculpt Elton John into the man he is today, your best bet is to read his autobiography. However, if you want a joyous Coles Notes version of how he became one of the most famous singers of all time, then you won’t find a much better rendition than Rocketman. Scriptwriter Lee Hall keeps the story tight and moving along, while Director Dexter Fletcher has a clear understanding of what he’s going for visually and his crew are clearly all on the same page as everyone delivers on all accounts. A big nod must go to choreographer Adam Murray, whose work with the vital musical numbers is a joy to watch unfold, as the simple movements by all involved help propel the story forward through dance and song.
While praise must be given to those above, I’m sure they’d all agree that this is Taron Egerton’s show. Egerton is absolutely phenomenal as Elton, embodying him perfectly in almost every aspect. Egerton also sings every song used in the film and does so spectacularly. While Rocketman is a musical machine with many, many moving parts, the portrayal of Elton John is the cog that makes or breaks the entire thing, and Egerton is superb. While I’m not sure if Rocketman will make the cut come awards season (though I personally think it should definitely be in the conversation at this point) there’s no doubt that Egerton should be easy to find in many Leading Actor categories.
If you’re a fan of musicals, then Rocketman is a no-brainer. If you can go either way, then I’d recommend giving it a shot! Even if you’re not a big Elton John fan, or know some of his songs but don’t really have an opinion one way or another, Rocketman is such a wonderfully crafted film that uses music in delightfully creative ways to move the story along in such a way that you really can’t help but enjoy yourself on this rock and roll journey that is Elton’s life.
This movie is beautiful, both visually and from a sound perspective and while both are equally important in making a film leave a lasting impression, it seems like it’s a tad more important when the film is a musical. But as mentioned, the picture is gorgeous, vibrant, full of colour and sparkling pizzazz when the film calls for it, and more dramatic, normal tones when required, but they both work together as harmoniously as the film’s soundtrack. Speaking of, the audio transfers of the dialogue, score, soundrack and musical numbers are all magnificently handled. The music comes crashing in like the wondrously impactful tunes that they are and they seamlessly trade places back and forth with the dialogue throughout. Great job on all fronts here, and definitely a film best listened to with surround sound cranked to eleven!
Extended Musical Numbers – There are just under 15-minutes worth of extended musical numbers here, including the opening track, “The Bitch is Back,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting,” “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache” and “Honky Cat.” Unfortunately no “Rocketman,” which I thought was the best handled song in the film, so I’ll have to simply enjoy what we were given there.
Deleted Scenes – Just under 20-minutes of deleted scenes for fans of those who want to see what didn’t make the cut.
It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision – This is a seven minute featurette that talks about the idea of how to tell the story in fantastical fashion, with both Elton John and Taron on hand for a few brief comments.
Becoming Elton: Taron’s Transformation – This feature is just under 8-minutes in length and sees Elton talking about Taron playing the part, what it was like seeing the rough cut for the first time, and Egerton’s overall undertaking of such an iconic persona.
Larger Than Life: Production Design and Costuming – This feature is just under 9-minutes in length and talks about the film’s style and how they went the route of a stage play of sorts when passing time over the course of a single song, while also telling portions of Elton’s life along the way. They also talk about recreating Elton’s most memorable outfits and how wonderfully they worked on Egerton.
Full Tilt: Staging the Musical Numbers – This is a 10-minute feature that sees choreographer Adam Murray as well as other cast and crew talking about setting up these numbers, and how important it was that every movement helped tell a part of the story instead of simply having movement for the sake of movement.
Music Reimagined: The Studio Sessions – This is a feature that’s just under 12-minutes in length and talks about the recording sessions for the music found in the film. Here we get to see Egerton in studio quite a bit, as well as hear about other actors attempting to sing when needed.
Rocketman Lyric Companion: Sing Along with Select Songs – This is an almost 36-minute feature that’s basically a karaoke add-on for select songs in the film.
Rocketman Juke Box – And here we have a 53-minute feature that takes you directly to each of the film’s musical sequences for those who just want to relive those moments again and again without having to search through the film in its entirety!
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Rocketman. Directed by: Dexter Fletcher. Written by: Lee Hall. Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor. Running time: 120 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Aug. 27, 2019.
Tags: Elton John, Rocketman, Taron Egerton