I actually liked this movie more than I expected to. This isn’t to imply that I have qualms with Elton John’s music; how could I? I just feel fatigued by the overwhelming number of by-the-numbers biopics released each year, but thankfully Rocketman (mostly) manages to transcend a tired genre.
The creative choice at the heart of Rocketman is a simple one: this is unapologetically a musical. Characters randomly break out into song during the movie’s many musical numbers which range from emotional ballads to choreographed dance numbers, and they often are an absolute blast. Theses aren’t merely renditions of Elton John’s music, as many of the numbers are visually dazzling and function as orchestral remixes of sorts. Why is this a big deal? Nearly every other musical biopic prior to Rocketman has shied away from this idea, instead opting to give us exact replications of songs that ultimately amount to little more than pandering to nostalgia. But in Rocketman, Elton John’s music is given new life and put front and center, as all the music is emotionally contextualized within whatever Elton is going through in his life, allowing the music to complement the narrative as opposed to making it come to a screeching halt. There truly is a level of synergy between the music and the story that can’t be overstated, as the most effective storytelling and character moments usually happen within a song.
Unfortunately, the movie is far more tiresome when people aren’t singing. I simply couldn’t buy into many of the relationships on screen, and as usual for any story chronicling somebody’s rise and fall, the “fall” portion of Rocketman overstays its welcome (although the “R” rating does a good job of painting the sex, drugs, and rock and roll). For the first ~90 minutes I was really on board with the movie, but this weak crossing of the finish line leaves a lasting impression that feels like a whimper compared to the energy that preceded it. None of this is to discredit the performances, though, especially that of Egerton’s. He captures the unique persona of Elton extremely well, and the fact that he did all his own vocals is nothing short of amazing. Massive props to him.
By focusing more on capturing the spirit of Elton John than trying to adhere to specific facts or events, Rocketman finds success in trying to be a movie that’s as fantastical as the star that it’s based on. This fantastical nature doesn’t necessarily amount to a movie that is fantastic, but it’s still a breath of fresh air that I’ll gladly take.