Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Rocketman charts the reinvention of Dwight into the chart-topping entertainer and consummate showman better known as Elton Hercules John. As John (Taron Egerton) sits in group therapy, clad in an outrageous stage costume, he recounts his life, from his early childhood, to his successful career, and descent into addiction. What follows is a music filled journey, as the star’s life is conveyed by musical hits from his extensive career.
When it comes down to it, Rocketman is more Mamma Mia! than Bohemian Rhapsody, despite the fact it shares its director with the latter, Dexter Fletcher (aka Spike from Press Gang, who replaced Bryan Singer late in the piece on Bohemian Rhapsody). Caught at the crux of a dilemma, this film is unsure if it wants to be more a jukebox musical or an epic rock and roll biopic, and fails to gain a harmony between these aspects. Instead it gives us a rather safe version of both, telling of the oh-so-cliched descent into drugs and excess, while giving us a collection of safe musical numbers from John’s repertoire. Bloating out to the two hour mark, it’s too long and thematically repetitious to be as entertaining as it needs to be, but too shallow an examination of the performer’s life to grant audiences a genuine insight.
Yet at the same time, there is something special here, glimpses of true potential and showmanship worthy of Rocketman‘s central subject. Director Dexter Fletcher shows us moments of sheer cinematic magic in a number of sequences, stamping a bold theatrical style to the proceedings from the very first shots of a sequin encrusted demonic Elton John bursting through the titles. The audience is often wowed by a moment of surreal genius, cast among the otherwise pedestrian staging of the numbers. It’s an infuriating glimpse at the unachieved potential this film has, and yet still edifying to be granted those moments of musical whimsy.
Then there is Taron Egerton’s consummate performance. Having worked alongside the pop idol in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Egerton manages to capture John’s demeanor in both the large flamboyant gestures, and in the smaller more personal moments. It’s a riveting performance that almost makes up for the lack of anything interesting to say in the film.
Rocketman is ultimately more musical entertainment than genuine insight into the personality of the star, and in that regard it does deliver on its intent, belting out a stable of greatest hits for audiences to enjoy. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that with tighter pacing, and a more imaginative take on the script, Rocketman could have really aimed for the stars.