Reginald Kenneth Dwight is widely regarded as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation. Of course, that isn’t his stage name; his stage name is Elton Hercules John, and ‘Rocketman’ tells the troubled life that he had before and during his fame. After Bohemian Rhapsody broke box office records while remaining a mediocre film, it seems a shame that Rocketman will likely only do modest business, considering it is a stunningly confident biopic that is far superior to the former.
The tagline for Rocketman is “Based on a True Fantasy”, and from the off this tells you everything you need to know about the film. It is a biopic, but a truly original biopic. Director Dexter Fletcher describes it as more of a memory than a history, and this is a beautifully poetic way of explaining the film. It is a full blown musical, with song and dance numbers galore. While the film plays fast and loose with historical events and chronology, it doesn’t matter because all of it is being done simply to serve the emotional narrative of the story.
Taron Egerton as Elton John is one of the standout performances of the year so far. After building himself up as a charismatic leading man in the likes of Kingsman, Eddie the Eagle and Robin Hood, Taron Egerton has suddenly become a full-blown actor. His characterisation is raw and fearless, he is brilliant at soft emotion as well as Elton’s famous tantrums, and his singing voice is stunning. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody had the actors mime along with Queen’s recordings, every note of Rocketman is sung by Taron himself, and this makes for a far more compelling watch.
The rest of the cast are equally fantastic, with Jamie Bell portraying Elton’s longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin; Richard Madden as Elton’s manager and abusive boyfriend John Reid; Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s Mother; Steven Mackintosh as Elton’s father; Gemma Jones as Elton’s Grandmother and a scene-stealing Stephen Graham as music publisher Dick James. Graham gets, for my money, one of the best lines of the film: “Don’t break your neck sucking on your own dick”.
The songs and musical sequences in this film are stunning, and really show off Dexter Fletchers magical flair for direction. It’s a visual feast for the eyes, with bright colours, big dance numbers and Baz Luhrmann levels of cinematic metaphors. When Elton John feels like he is floating during his first gig, he actually begins to fly with a euphoric sense of triumph.
What makes this such a better film to Bohemian Rhapsody is that it admits it will play fast and loose with the truth, rather that trying to claim it’s all true. More than that, it isn’t hero worshiping, it isn’t whitewashed or censored. It shows off the car-crash of a life Elton John had for much of his career, and isn’t afraid to shed a terrible light upon him. He was an addict of food, drugs, drink and sex, he had a horrible temper, and was depressed and suicidal for much of his career. The films acceptance of the past, as well as Taron’s stunning portrayal, makes for gripping viewing, and though he is pretty unlikable as a character for a lot of the movie, you can’t help pity him.
Overall, Rocketman is a gorgeously directed and stunningly acted film. The soundtrack will be on repeat for months to come, and after BoRap’s Oscar wins this year, I will be very surprised if this film doesn’t receive the exact same treatment, with Taron earning his first Oscar nomination.