It’s rather interesting that within a few months of each other, we get two biographical films about two of the most influential British musicians. In November 2018, Queen took the world by storm with Bohemian Rhapsody, which despite having a divisive reaction, was a MASSIVE box office success and won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Attached to Bohemian Rhapsody was director Dexter Fletcher, who took over the project after the original director was fired. In the most coincidental way possible, he was making Rocketman, based on the life of Elton John. Now that it’s out, can it be compared to the success of Queen?
Before he became one of the biggest icons in the music industry, Reg Dwight (Taron Egerton) was a child musical prodigy, being able to pick a tune by ear and play the piano without needing sheet music. Despite growing up in a complicated environment with his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), he attends the Royal Academy of Music at a young age and slowly finds his way into the industry. With the help of lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and adopting a wild stage persona, he becomes known as Elton Hercules John. The rock star life has its ups and downs as he deals with being a public presence while also struggling with his sexuality and substance control.
While Rocketman may sound very similar to most “Rise to fame, then descent into slums” stories that most music biopics fall into (Bohemian Rhapsody was certainly at fault of this), but Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall manage to take that formula and take in a completely fresh direction. Rather than being repetitive and showing a famous song’s creation, people doubting the artists, then it becomes a surprise hit, Rocketman presents Elton John’s life as a dreamlike musical. This rather fitting retelling of his career and life allows the audience to experience the internal struggles while also hearing his classic songs.
But at the centre of the story is a genuinely powerful friendship between Elton and Bernie. Not only does Taron Egerton sing Elton John’s songs terrifically, but he also manages to bring a complex performance that doesn’t just feel like an impersonation of the real-life icon. Egerton and Bell share excellent chemistry as they endeavor a music career during the 1970s.
Overall, Rocketman is a wonderfully made recreation of a musical icon’s life that shows the highest highs but doesn’t shy away from some confronting aspects of being a rock star. If you are a big fan of musicals or Elton’s work (and don’t have the coin to see his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in December), I would absolutely recommend seeing Rocketman.
Rating: ★★★★(1/2) out of 5
Rocketman is in cinemas May 30th.