Let’s talk about Rocketman.
But to talk about Rocketman, we need to talk about Bohemian Rhapsody. Yes, the very popular though controversial Freddie Mercury biopic. I’m not only talking about it because it shares many of the same themes as Rocketman, both Freddie Mercury and Elton John who Rocketman is based on are flamboyant LGBT rockstars from working class backgrounds, but because each movie’s genesis are linked. Bohemian Rhapsody was directed by Bryan Singer, at least that’s what the credits say. But because by many reports he was an incompetent arsehole on set, he was kicked off the project and Dexter Fletcher was brought in to salvage things. And considering Bohemian Rhapsody ended up being nominated for many awards, he did a decent job. Despite that, it was Singer who collected the Best Director nominations and it was felt across the film fan world that Fletcher was hard done by. Now though, Fletcher has directed this movie where he wants to finally get the acclaim he should have got for Bohemian Rhapsody.
As you might expect, this is the story of Elton John’s life. From playing the piano as a youth, to breaking into the business, to dealing with his sexuality and drug problems. It turns out there’s a lot of stuff in Elton John’s life that’s worthy of a movie.
If you allow me to compare Bohemian Rhapsody to Rocketman again, and for the rest of this review to be honest, it’s great to see that this movie shows Elton John was an arsehole. Ok that sounds weird, let me explain. One of the big problems with Bohemian Rhapsody was that you felt the thumbprints of the living members of Queen. They produced the movie and made sure that they came out smelling of roses. It was awful to be honest. Here, even though Elton John does have a producing credit, he is allowed to look bad. When his drug problems take hold, Elton John is a nasty human being who pushes away everyone who is close to him and becomes an egomaniac. This might sound quite basic but one of the problems on doing a biopic of still living people is that person is usually quite keen to make sure they look good. John here has stepped aside and allowed the film makers to actually tell what appears to be the real story about him.
A definite thing to know before going into this movie is that it is an out-and-out musical. No it’s not like Bohemian Rhapsody where all the songs are done in recording sessions or in concerts, in this film they get up and sing their feels because that’s what you do if you live in a musical. I sometimes feel sorry for the people who can’t sing in musical worlds, they must live a horrible life. Anyway, the song numbers are fantastic. They are full of life, very imaginative and every singer does a great job with the number and as all the songs used are Elton John songs, they are all pretty good. Especially I’m Still Standing which needs a lot more love because man we forget how awesome that song is. Oh and Pinball Wizard is in here for some reason but I’m not complaining as it’s one of my favourite songs of all time. Of course this does mean it has the problem all jukebox musicals have, the songs often fit awkwardly with the narrative because the plot and song have been forced together rather than naturally flowing like it does in a normal musical. Even so, it flows far better than the awkward way they slam ABBA songs into the Mamma Mia movies.
Just as Bohemian Rhapsody had Remi Malek, Rocketman needs a captivating lead to capture the magic of Elton John. And they found that with Taron Egerton. It feels like here Egerton has got a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove after the negative reaction to the Kingsman sequel and he was the star in that Robin Hood movie you completely forgot existed. And because of that point to prove, he does his best performance ever. He some how gets every part of Elton John’s character right. From when he was the shy Reg Dwight who wouldn’t say boo to a goose up until he is peak Elton John wearing garish outfits that even Lady Gaga would think twice about, he just nails it and sinks right into the role. If Remi Malik can earn nods for his turn as Freddie Mercury, Egerton deserves to be getting those sort of nods too.
What’s most weird about this movie is that even though it is quite honest with the fact it is very fantastical, from the fact it has the standard musical sequences and that Elton John shows up to a group counselling session in full costume, it still feels very real and grounded. That might be down to the supporting cast who do a good job of making sure everything has stakes and balancing out all the colour and extravagance that Egerton’s Elton John brings to the screen. Maybe it’s the fact that despite all of the daft costumes and big song numbers, the film knows where the emotional core is and really delves into it. One of the most painful scenes to watch is when Elton John goes to visit his estranged father and sees him give his new children the love he desperately wanted but never got from him. It’s horrific to watch and hits home in a way you won’t quite expect. There’s a willingness to get a bit ugly in this movie to expose the truth behind Elton John that makes this movie so good.
That’s why Rocketman is miles ahead of Bohemian Rhapsody. Whereas that movie felt oddly sanitised and only seemed to get away with it because of a stunning depiction of the famous Wembley concert, Rocketman is much more willing to show its star in a bad light and thus is a better movie. John’s journey from working class household to world famous rockstar to suicidal alcohol and drug addict is a tough one to watch at times, yet the outbursts of joy in the music is also great fun to watch. I know that Elton John is not everyone’s cup of tea and I suppose if you don’t like his music to begin with, you’ll struggle but this is a fantastic movie and makes me wonder how much better Bohemian Rhapsody could have been had Dexter Fletcher been in charge from the start. And if someone had told Brian May and the other one to piss off.