Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Though dealing with familiar issues, "Rocketman" takes off with more intense energy than most movies about popular music stars. Addiction and excess practically define the genre, whether for jazz players like Ray Charles, country kings like Johnny Cash or rock stars like Freddie Mercury. Elton John fits right in that pattern, but the movie about him puts his songs front and center, with everyone in his life joining the chorus. This makes sense given the flashy nature of John's performance persona and the storytelling quality of his many hits.
Song lyrics by John's partner Bernie Taupin suit much of the action and words as the singer reflects on his past, trying to come to terms with the black hole of emptiness he feels despite achievements that might send others dancing in the stars. And while Lee Hall's script uses the biopic trope of starting with a key moment and flashing back, the whole piece feels inventive through choreographed musical numbers full of bright colors, glitter and too many rhinestones to ever count.
Director Dexter Fletcher lets eye-catching staging and costumes flood throughout scenes, fending off visual boredom with the sweep of a magician's wand. Fitting into enough outrageous costumes and oversized eyeglasses to fill a warehouse, actor Taron Egerton looks the part while putting his own spin on vocals and projecting physical expression of emotions tormenting the singer.
Like all musical biopics, "Rocketman" would crash without a dynamic lead performance, and Egerton goes full throttle, handling his own singing and dancing. A strong cast backs him. Jamie Bell, who first made his mark dancing as the title character of Billy Elliott, puts his vocal chords to use as lyricist Taupin, projecting warmth and genuine concern for his artistic partner. Richard Madden from Game of Thrones generates a viper quality, looking good and singing well in a suit with no armor.
The whole mix fosters flights of fancy rather than factual detail, an approach that succeeds in catching John's appeal. With theatrical flair, "Rocketman" both reflects and generates the elements that put Elton John into entertainment stratosphere.
This review was originally aired on 6/5/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/rocketman#stream/0