Although its troubled production seemed to spell out disaster, Bohemian Rhapsody wound up becoming the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time. The film managed to overcome its behind-the-scenes problems thanks to Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning performance as Freddie Mercury, as well as the Oscar-winning editing from John Ottman. Dexter Fletcher was also a true unsung hero throughout the film’s rocky trip to the silver screen. Although he took over for Bryan Singer in the midst of shooting, Fletcher was denied a directing crediting due to DGA rules. Fortunately, Fletcher can take full directing credit for Rocketman, another biopic that’s as glamorous as a Broadway musical and as glitzy as a show in Las Vegas. Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw a stage adaptation of the movie in the foreseeable future.
If you thought Mike Myers’ presence in Bohemian Rhapsody was clever casting, Rocketman stars Taron Egerton as Elton John. As you might recall, Egerton’s Eggsy rescued Elton from captivity in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Egerton also voiced an animated gorilla in Sing who performed Elton’s I’m Still Standing. Taking Egerton’s resemblance to Elton and his natural singing chops into consideration, it’s almost as if his entire career has been building to this role. Egerton doesn’t disappoint, as he masterfully captures Elton’s playful flamboyancy and the inner demons that sent the English musician spiraling into an identity crisis.
The film chronicles Elton’s life from his childhood to the day he checked into rehab, although various events are depicted out of order. Young Reginald Dwight is unwanted by his cruel father, played by Steven Mackintosh, and is generally met with disdain by his mother, played by an unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard. He receives far more affection from his grandmother (Gemma Jones), who pushes Reginald to pursue his passion for playing piano. It isn’t long until he’s receiving music scholarships, professionally playing in pubs, and formulating the catchy stage name of Elton John.
Elton finds a kindred spirit in Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who brings out the lyrics in Elton’s music. Where Bernie always seems to know the right thing to say, Elton is often at a loss for words, especially when he tries to tell his mother that he’s gay. The lyrics to Rocketman say, “I’m not the man they think I am.” More often than not, though, Elton doesn’t seem to have a grasp on who he is either, driving this tortured artist to find himself in a sea of drugs and alcohol.
Between Elton’s daddy issues, party animal lifestyle, and homosexuality, Rocketman touches upon many of the same beats in Bohemian Rhapsody. As a matter of fact, one of the main characters in both films is music manager John Reid, who’s played here by Richard Madden. What distinguishes Rocketman is that it’s a full-blown jukebox musical, a detail that’s been virtual omitted from the ad campaign. While both films fuse together the real life and the fantasy, Rocketman takes the fantasy element one step further. The songs aren’t played in chronological order, but the way they’re integrated into the story is always dramatically compelling and exceptionally choreographed.
From a visual standpoint, Rocketman is one of the most eye-popping movie musicals since Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. Everything, from the sets, to the costumes, to the at times surreal imagery, feels 100% Elton. Even when certain elements of his life story are tweaked or completely made up, the film is always in tune with Elton’s signature style and spirit. What we’re left with is a stirring musical drama that’s gonna be remembered for a long long time.