Rocketman (2019) Review

In what seems like an eternity waiting for Rocketman to reach to our local cinemas, the Elton John biopic (or a “fantasy musical”, as Taron Egerton himself would prefer to call it instead) has finally arrived after nearly two months since its US theatrical debut. The result? A totally mixed feeling.

But before I get to that, here’s the synopsis: Rocketman chronicles the ups-and-downs of Elton John’s (Taron Egerton) career both personally and professionally. Told mostly in flashbacks, the movie traces back to his childhood era where young Reginald Dwight — Elton’s real birth name, that is — played in different stages by Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley, already proved himself to be a piano prodigy. Reginald eventually grew up and later adopted the stage name “Elton John” and from there, his musical career starts to garner widespread attention. But for all the newfound fame, Elton’s personal life is a spiralling mess of sex, drugs and substance abuse.

As a so-called “fantasy musical”, Rocketman is pretty much a by-the-numbers biopic that left no clichés unturned. Even with the fact that director Dexter Fletcher — who famously did an uncredited directing job for last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer got fired — tries hard to spice things up by making the biopic more of Elton John’s subconsciousness of drugs and alcohol-fueled journey, complete with surrealistic fantasy sequences (the levitating and pool sequences quickly come to mind). I have to admit he does have a keen eye for excellent visual flair but his direction is sadly all style but little substance.

The story also poses another problem. Sure, Lee Hall’s formulaic screenplay covers most of the things you need to know about Elton John’s rise-and-fall-and-rise-again life journey. But it’s all surface-level storytelling while Fletcher chose to go through the motions without actually digging deep about what makes Elton John more than just a legendary music icon. Which is why Rocketman feels emotionally hollow and it’s a sad, missed opportunity that Fletcher could have done better with the storyline.

As Elton John, this is no doubt Taron Egerton’s most ambitious role ever tackled in his acting career. But here’s the thing about his role: He may have captured the legendary singer’s mannerism and flamboyant on-stage charisma but his performance is mostly perfunctory, making me difficult to actually care about his character’s troubled livelihood he’s been through since childhood. Still, Egerton proves himself to be a talented singer who actually does his own singing (both live and pre-recorded) throughout the movie. Some of his memorable moments include “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, “Your Song”, “I’m Still Standing” and of course, “Rocket Man”.

The rest of the actors, particularly Richard Madden as Elton’s manager/lover John Reid and Jamie Bell as Elton’s lyricist-best friend Bernie Taupin, give adequate supports in their respective roles.

Although Rocketman does have its fair shares of good moments here, the movie deserves better big-screen treatment. Not a half-baked result of a fantasy musical/biopic of Elton John.

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