Director Dexter Fletcher makes it clear early on in Rocketman that those expecting a typical biopic about Elton John’s life best look elsewhere. His film is a musical first and foremost, one that happens to have biopic elements woven in. The result is a magical experience that is as vivacious and fearless as Elton John himself.
Picking up just as Elton John (Taron Egerton) enters an addiction rehabilitation centre, the film examines how childhood musical prodigy Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley) grew up to be the iconic rock star. Raised in a household where his mother Shelia (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Royal Air Force serving father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) did not display love for each other, or him for that matter in Stanley’s case, Reginald found solace in music at an early age.
While the Royal Academy of Music refined his natural ability on the piano, it was his time playing in a backup band for touring American soul groups that planted the seeds for Reginald’s career aspirations. Taking the moniker Elton John, his dreams starting trending towards reality when he met and befriended songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Proving to be a dynamic duo, Taupin’s words and John’s combination of vocals and melodies, their combined talents led them to the famed Troubadour night club in Los Angeles where Elton John’s legend was born after a series of memorable performance.
Despite ascending to the top of the charts, Elton John was not immune to the steep price that often comes with fame. Manipulated by his manager John Reid (Richard Madden), who took advantage of John financially and emotionally, John spiraled into a whirlpool of addiction. One that threatened to derail his career at its height.
Feeling more akin to Moulin Rouge! than Walk the Line, Rocketman is a refreshingly confident retelling of the key moment’s in Elton John’s life. While not as frantic as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, Fletcher’s film boldly rearranges John’s songs to fit the scenes as needed. At no point does Rocketman feel like a series of set ups designed to get you to the next hit song. The focus is always on delivering an entertaining story, rather than being a walking advertisement for a greatest hits album.
Though the film inadvertently drops Taupin for large chunks of the narrative, the various story arcs work thanks to performances by the ensemble cast. Taron Egerton is sensational as the rock legend. He embodies the bravado and vulnerability that makes both Elton John and his music so iconic. As energetically sings and dances on screen, Fletcher gleeful plays with the film’s colour palette and finds inventive ways to incorporate moments of surrealism into several musical sequences. Ultimately creating musical numbers that are dazzling to behold.
A wonderfully imaginative crowd-pleaser, Rocketman is a fitting tribute to a musical icon who is still standing after all this time.