Released just six months after Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s hard for the Elton John fantasy-biopic Rocketman to escape comparisons to the Queen biopic, and while I had mixed feelings about Bohemian Rhapsody, it is a significantly better film overall than Rocketman.
Taron Egerton, who has been connected to Elton John before by covering “I’m Still Standing” in Sing and starring alongside John in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, dazzles as John. The film opens with John wearing one of his many colorful costumes (this time a devil outfit) as he crashes into an alcoholic anonymous meeting and immediately becomes the center of attention, confessing for the first time his addiction to practically everything and tells his life story.
Egerton, who continues to impress with each film he comes out with, is able to nail the look of John down to the big glasses and prosthetic teeth to display John’s infamous front tooth gap, but more importantly, he is a talented singer who, unlike Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, sang all of his songs and did so admirably.
The most significant part of the film, however, isn’t about John’s music, but instead his relationship with manager John Reid, who becomes John’s lover, beginning with a sex scene that is something that would be par for the course in films if the couple were heterosexual. There may be some blow back from some people, but I am happy to see that Hollywood isn’t skirting around the scene and did something that is seen as daring when it really shouldn’t be. And both Egerton and Richard Madden, who portrayed Reid, who are both heterosexual, deserve praise for being able to deliver the scene so well.
Also worthy of praise is the relationship between John and sognwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). From the beginning, Taupin accepted John for who is was as a personality and who he was as a homosexual and the two have a strong friendship that still exists today.
The film fails, however, in several spots. This isn’t a traditional biopic, and was instead supposed to be a blend of fantasy/musical/biopic that should resonate with the audience, but just failed to deliver. Even worse, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies that are just unnecessary, the biggest of which is the basis for how Reginald Dwight renamed himself Elton John.
I think one thing that Bohemian Rhapsody did well that Rocketman did not was show how some of the songs were created and featured more time with the band in studio where Rocketman used John’s songs to break out the next musical number or for exposition.
In many ways John and Queen’s Freddie Mercury are similar. They’re both British artists in the same era (and both also had Reid as their managers) with the personality and charisma to light up a room while also having to hide their sexuality due to the intolerance of people in that era. But both also handled fame differently. Mercury’s ego became his downfall while John wasn’t able to accept who he was, due much in part to his cold, unloving father.
SPOILER ALERT BELOW
What stings the most with this movie, however, is the ending, there just wasn’t one. It felt like writer Lee Hall didn’t know how he was going to end it and just cut it off when he felt it was appropriate. It didn’t have the grand finale we saw in Bohemian Rhapsody or really much else, we got one final song, “I’m Still Standing,” which recreated the music video, but that wasn’t even obvious before cutting to the obligatory ending cards to show what John is doing now.
Dexter Lawrence did a stellar job directing the film and the costume designs were accurate to John in his heyday, but the film took a shot in the dark with an atypical biopic and in the end we got a film that just didn’t deliver as I had hoped.