‘Rocketman’ review: The glamorous and heartbreaking life of Elton John

With its highly imaginative direction and Taron Egerton’s magnetic performance, ‘Rocketman’ finishes on a high note.

It’s impossible not to think of Bohemian Rhapsody while watching Rocketman. Not to mention the fact that Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher himself assumed directing duties after Bryan Singer’s untimely exit while shooting Bohemian Rhapsody, both musical biopics feature flamboyant, gay pop-rock icons who reinvented themselves amidst adversity.

Rocketman, however, has a surefire edge over the other as Taron Egerton here does his own singing. We first heard him spectacularly perform an Elton John classic in Dreamworks’ Sing, and that credential alone suggests that he might have the vocal chops to do the rest of his jukebox. And he does not disappoint. Egerton may not exactly look or sound like Elton, but he channels the superstar’s flair and vibe with such authenticity that goes beyond an impersonation. Donned with signature over-the-top costumes, he successfully puts on a fearless and electrifying show. If Rami Malek can win an Academy Award for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s only righteous to start the Oscar hype as early as now for Taron Egerton.

“…how wonderful life is when you’re in the world.”
Taron Egerton as Elton John performs ‘Your Song.’

Both movies pretty much follow a standard template for musical biopics – a calculated yet effective retelling of the rise, the fall and the rebirth of an icon, accompanied by a wheelhouse of greatest hits. In Rocketman, piano prodigy Reginald Kenneth Dwight (Elton’s birth name) meets an aspiring lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and together, they produce a number of hits that skyrockets Elton’s hollywood career to superstardom. The costs of fame soon catches up and he falls into an abyss of depression and various addictions – shopping, alcohol, painkillers and even sex. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody is on a disadvantage for being confined to a PG-13 setting, Rocketman greatly benefits from its R-rating as it avoids sugarcoating the edgy chapters in Elton’s extravagant and promiscuous lifestyle.

But what makes Rocketman truly soar is Fletcher’s assured and adventurous direction that deftly weaves fantasy elements into Elton’s trajectory. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, the film disregards the chronological release of his songs and goes for a full-blown musical: the characters break out in songs and dances whenever the narrative calls for it. Given the eccentric nature of its protagonist, it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief and allow the film to take us to wherever it wants to go.

Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin) and Taron Egerton bring warmth and sincerity to their friendship in ‘Rocketman.’

Musical scorer Matthew Margeson brings new arrangements to some of Elton’s songs and in doing so, the film produces multiple music genres that bear wide range of emotions. An energetic “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” marks Elton’s rebellious transition from childhood to young adult. The “Crocodile Rock” performance – where gravity cease to exist for a moment and the crowd starts floating – represents an insurmountable joy during Elton’s music career. “Bennie and the Jets” is played with an increasingly aggressive tempo to portray his psychedelic descent to rock bottom. The highly imaginative sequence of “Rocketman” is presented as an accompaniment to Elton’s suicide attempt and desire to leave the spotlight.

The film also shines with its slow ballads like the iconic “Tiny Dancer” being reinterpreted as a song about longing and unrequited love; an intimate “Your Song” that brings earnestness to the film’s core friendship; and an emotional duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that reflects Elton and Bernie’s anger and disappointment at each other. It’s an epic celebration of the superstar’s enduring legacy and Elton’s spirit is very much alive throughout.

A rising star. Elton John performs “The Crocodile” in Troubadour, London.

At times, Rocketman feels like a Broadway production, where its pompous musical numbers occasionally outweigh the introspective drama involved. But thankfully, Fletcher takes us back to a third act where film’s cliché narrative setup – a frustrated Elton recounts his life during a therapy session – finally pays off as he confronts his inner demons. It’s in this moment when the pieces fall together and we understand the complexities of the character. Here is a son who poses a peculiar persona in a subconscious attempt to gain the affections of his uncaring father (Steven Mackintosh) and promiscuous mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). A performer who took risks in the music industry because his dashing yet devious manager/lover (Richard Madden) urges him to leave a mark in the world. A gay man whose told to be choosing a life of loneliness because of his decision to embrace his sexuality. A star who succumbs to self-destruction after failing to earn the validation of the people who mattered to him. And finally, a flawed human who decides to turn his life around with the help of his loyal best friend.

Livin’ the high life? Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila) and Richard Madden (John Reid) in ‘Rocketman.’

With all the entertainment that Rocketman offers in its great performances and splendid production design, there lies an incredibly relatable tale of unconditional friendship, atonement, freedom and self-actualization. It’s only fitting that the film ends with the song “I’m Still Standing” to cap off Elton John’s moment of redemption. This can be your song too, and you can tell everybody.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, ‘Rocketman’ stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Jason Pennycooke, Kit Connor, Matthew Illesley, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh, and Tom Bennett. 121 minutes. R-13.

Taron Egerton transforms into Elton John in ‘Rocketman’

Where do you even begin when you’re enlisted to play Elton John, one of the most famous people on the planet? Not just that, but one who the planet itself already has an acutely ingrained idea of? How, in other words, do you find the real man underneath all those spectacles, sequins, tantrums and tiaras?

“That was a question I absolutely asked myself,” says Taron Egerton, the actor tasked to portray the music superstar in Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman. “So, in the end, I just asked him.”

“There was nothing off limits,” says Elton John of the process the pair went through to bring his story to life on the big screen. “That’s part of sobriety and learning to be open. There’s nothing you can’t talk about and communication is everything. I knew that if Taron was going to play me, he had to know everything. And he was so thirsty for knowledge. We just talked, like mates. It wasn’t like an investigative process. I think that’s why Taron has been so brilliant in this role, because a lovely friendship has developed because of this.”

For Egerton, these talks had a dual benefit. “One, there was nothing I felt I couldn’t ask him,” he says. “And, two, I felt very quickly that he wanted to get to know me and wanted to be a part of my life. So, the whole experience of playing him felt very personal, very quickly. And there are some similarities between us. What strikes me most is that he can simultaneously be this huge personality and command the room, but, at times, he is also the most vulnerable person I’ve ever met, and I feel that way about me. I feel that I’m someone who can be quite vulnerable and feel things very acutely. I think I share the same strength of character, but also the same emotional extremes and the same frailties.”

Put simply, Egerton doesn’t play Elton John in Rocketman; he transforms into him. “Taron’s great strength as an actor is that his vulnerability is something you can just sense; he doesn’t have to play it,” says director Dexter Fletcher. “And that’s essential when you’re playing someone who has this perceived veneer of toughness. What I mean by that is that Taron can play tough and difficult situations and characters and still maintain a sense of loneliness, a sense of needing somebody or something. When Taron does scenes like that, they don’t feel venal and self-centered or just plain nasty. It always feels like it comes from a place of need. And when you allow your audience to understand that this person, no matter what their behaviour is, is behaving this way because they need someone or something, it’s a massive bonus. Oh, and beyond that, he can sing like an angel…”

Egerton’s ability to sing Elton John songs has been proven before, his belting out of ‘I’m Still Standing’ in the animated smash, Sing, having not gone unnoticed on the global stage. But nothing will prepare people for his performances in Rocketman. Given free reign by John himself, to not just do an impersonation but to make these classic tracks his own, Egerton brings entirely new life to songs that have been beloved for generations, often recording his own versions of them before sending the vocals to John for his seal of approval. A seal that was happily and readily given.

Egerton was, says Fletcher, not just the right man but the only man for the job. “He has this incredible instrument, this voice, that he loves to use,” the director says. “But I can’t imagine anybody else who would have done such a physical transformation. It’s a very scary place to be for an actor, to step out onto the ledge, to face your fears and deliver. And Taron has done that beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.”

“It’s hard to put into words what this whole thing has meant to me,” Egerton says. “The experience of playing Elton has genuinely been nourishing to my life. Going hand in hand with that, there was just getting to know him. I feel so lucky. He gave me no advice how to play him and as a support, he has been very present, but he has not been someone who lent on me or guided me. He knows, because of what he’s been through in his life, that you have to give someone space to get the best out of them. He gave me real license and I am so grateful for that. I’m proud to say that through this, Elton John has become a friend.”

In Philippine cinemas June 19, Rocketman is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #RocketmanMovie

About “Rocketman”

Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

Controversial Elton John biopic ‘Rocketman’ rated R-13 without cuts

Filipino audiences have the rare privilege of getting inside the real-life story of music legend Elton John in its full, controversial splendor as Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman has been rated R-13 without cuts by the Movie and Television Review & Classification Board (MTRCB).

The Board has deemed Rocketman suitable only to viewers thirteen (13) years old and above as the film contains depiction of drugs, sexual activity, violence, suffering and foul language.

This is a very encouraging development for the Filipino audience and film industry as it signals our institution’s commitment to artistic freedom, inclusion and liberalism.  

One of the most acclaimed films of the year — with a Certified Fresh rating of 90% at Rotten Tomatoes — Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

In his film review in Variety, critic Peter Debruge writes, “Egerton effectively plays the pop star as that rarest of movie archetypes: a gay sex symbol. As such, can its much-touted love scene truly be considered gratuitous when an entire community has been so underrepresented in the arena of studio-sanctioned snogging?”

Meanwhile, Time Magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek applauds, “‘Rocketman’ is magnificent and ridiculous, a feathered melanage of clichés and originality, of respectful homage and unrepentant nostalgia. Sometimes it’s comfortingly conventional; other times it’s gloriously off the charts. Even when it doesn’t quite work, it’s just so damn alive, meeting right at the intersection of the human heartbeat and the also-human love for shiny things.”

In Philippine cinemas June 19, Rocketman is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #RocketmanMovie  

Taron Egerton as Elton John, photographed by David Lachapelle for the ‘Rocketman’ poster

Photographer David LaChapelle has photographed Taron Egerton as Elton John for the first official poster for “Rocketman.”

Visionary David LaChapelle has created some of the most iconic imagery in Elton John’s career, and now turns his lens on the “Rocketman” film poster,  with Taron Egerton as Elton John.

This image captures the originality and cinematic scope of “Rocketman” as well as the spirit of the icon that is Elton John.

“Elton said I don’t think I have heard anyone sing my songs better than Taron,” Martin shared. “Taron is actually singing in the film and he’s so convincing.  His voice is incredible,” Fletcher said.

Paramount Pictures’ “Rocketman” is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. The film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. “Rocketman” also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

Opening on June 19 in Philippine cinemas, “Rocketman” will be distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

About David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle was born in the United States in 1963 and attended high school at North Carolina School of The Arts.

At age 15, he moved to New York City, was discovered by Andy Warhol and began working at Interview Magazine.  

LaChapelle’s vision and approach to image making quickly gained international interest as the artist began to expand the genre of photography.   By 1991, The New York Timespredicted, “LaChapelle is certain to influence the work of a new generation…in the same way that Mr. Avedon pioneered so much of what is familiar today.”

In the decades ahead, LaChapelle’s body of work established him as an icon of contemporary art. His portrait, stage,  music video and film works have become “iconic archetypes of America in the 21st Century”.   His photography has been Exhibited at theTel Aviv Museum of Art, Palazzo Reale (Milanese dx), MOCA Taipei, Monnaie de Paris, Victoria and Albert (London), Ara Modern Art (Seoul), and Casa dei Tre Oci (Venice) to name a few.

In 2018, LaChapelle created visuals for Travis Scott’s AstroWorld campaign as well as Elton John’s farewell tour.  In the spring, toured Europe and visited LA, New York and Miami celebrating the release of the most comprehensive book project of his career.   Lost & Found and Good News For Modern Man are the final volumes of a five-book anthology, the first being  LaChapelle Land (1996), then Hotel LaChapelle (1999) and Heaven to Hell(2006).

Presently, LaChapelle’s photography is exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London), Groninger Museum (The Netherlands), Pearl Lam Galleries (Singapore), Geuer X Geuer Art(Dusseldorf), Galerie Templon (Paris) and Stary Browar (Poland).

WATCH: New ‘Rocketman’ trailer teases cinematic spectacle

The only way to tell Elton John’s story is to live his fantasy.  Paramount Pictures has just launched the new trailer of “Rocketman” which gives fans a real taste of the cinematic spectacle that they can anticipate.

Check out the trailer below and watch “Rocketman” in Philippine cinemas June 19.

“Rocketman” is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

About “Rocketman”

Paramount Pictures’ “Rocketman” is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. “Rocketman” also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.