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Taron Egerton has arrived. Make no mistake about this point. Following his work as Elton John in the explosive, propulsive and ebullient Rocketman, Egerton leaps from nice actor to leading man.
“Leaps” is it the correct verb.
His work in the movie will, likely, be endlessly compared to Rami Malek’s as Freddie Mercury in last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Obviously, Malek was terrific (and took home the Best Actor Academy Award) but Egerton goes him one better. In Bohemian Rhapsody Malek provided an almost note perfect impression of Mercury. In Rocketman, Egerton makes the audience believe he is Elton John and when the movie launches into a frame-by-frame recreation of one of the singer’s most iconic music videos, Egerton owns it in a way only a performer can. He does not simply ape Elton John, he becomes him and, for the run of the movie, manages to replace him.
It is amazing work.
From its opening scene, Rocketman tells the audience that it is not a rote biopic and, for some, I suspect that will be a bit off putting. The trailers have only hinted at the extent that the tagline “Based on a True Fantasy” is an operative directive for this movie. Believe it. This movie, while concerned with telling Elton John’s amazing and often quite sad story, is not preoccupied with delivering in pseudo-documentary fashion. Rather it invites the audience into the frenzy and fashion and frenzy of Elton John’s life and it does so rather well.
Egerton is terrific and does remarkable work with Elton John’s music. In the run up to the movie, it seemed an odd choice not to use the music icon’s voice and accompaniments during the movie, but the structure of the film more than justifies this decision and Egerton holds up his end of the bargain. Supported by Jamie Bell and collaborator Bernie Taupin and Richard Madden as unscrupulous manager John Reid (along with a dark turn by an all but unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mother), Egerton explodes off the screen in musical numbers that are electric and in despair that is endless.
The movie looks amazing with a production design that befits the flamboyance of the lead character and each time period in Elton John’s life is masterfully recreated. That director Dexter Fletcher was able to mount this production while pinch hitting in the eleventh hour on the troubled Bohemian Rhapsody is something of a feat in-and-of-itself.
There are a few moments where Rocketman seems to struggle against itself, losing its momentum as it illustrates scene after scene of Elton John’s struggles with self doubt and isolation. Perhaps this is by design – as the character bogs down in his challenges, the movie does as well. That it sacrifices a bit of the excitement of the early reels in this shift is to be expected and it does regain its energy with a terrific number by the end. Rocketman ends as a wonderful if sometimes distressing love song about one of the greatest pop artists of all time and does so – seemingly – without sugar coating its subject. It is not perfect, but it is perfectly earnest and engaging. And the performance by its star alone makes it worth seeing.
ROCKETMAN receives FOUR CRIES FOR HELP out of a possible FIVE