Rocketman: Taron Egerton doesn’t get as naked as we’d like.

I’m still standing. Photo courtesy of New Republic Pictures

Freddy Mercury was all dead and gone when Rami Malek came along and gnawed his way into Freddy’s legacy with his studied mimicry in Bohemian Rhapsody. You could see this as a bit unfair. Malek was in a way too good, supplanting Freddy with a new version – buoyed by the film around it – that’s now hard to shake.

Well, Sir Elton John is still standing, and the makers of Rocketman made sure he got something he’d love – a glittery production starring the adorable Taron Egerton. Do we ever feel we’re seeing the ‘real’ Elton John? Of course not, and who cares! Certainly not the real Elton John.

We open on Egerton in a tight sequined jumpsuit with huge red-feathered wings. So far, sooo good. What’s this, though…he’s not headed to the stage but to a group session in rehab. We like this device as a narrative structure, mostly because every time we return to the session, Taron will have removed another article of clothing. It’s a metaphor for Elton stripping down emotionally, but we all know why it’s really happening.

We don’t get to enjoy Taron’s pecs for long before we have to flashback, and for god’s sake like every other Hollywood biopic ever, the scenes of our star as a child are a long walk for a ham sandwich. Some of our favorite Elton John songs are ruined by the screechy 8-year-old Elton actor, and Bryce Dallas Howard, who never met a poodle skirt she didn’t like, puts another couple nails in the Americans-playing-Brits coffin. She and the father overplay cold parents like they’re out to besmirch the entire British race.

When we’re back to Taron’s Elton, we meet Bernie Taupin, played by Jamie Bell, who is the best supporting actor in pretty much every movie he does. We want these two to hook up as much as Elton does, but Bernie prefers the ladies. In the most touching scene in the film, Elton finds music to Bernie’s beautiful Your Song lyrics, and they sing to each other. The movie teases that it might focus on this unrequited love, and in doing so actually step out of the clichés of these kind of biopics. But alas, the costume designer made all this great stuff, and hot Richard Madden is here to get naked with Taron, so on we go into exactly what we expect.

What’s nice, at least, is that from the start the movie lets us know this Elton saga is going to be as advantageously staged as the musician’s concerts. Even when he’s snorting coke or being a little testy, John never comes off as unlikeable (VH1’s Behind the Music celebrity exposes were more hard-hitting than this movie). Egerton, who uses his own singing voice, is pure charm, so it’s hard to say if a grittier script would have made the film more incisive, but you don’t go to The Red Piano to hear Elton talk about that time he touched Kiki Dee’s nipples and knew he was gay, so just enjoy the show. 

We really don’t need to see what makes Elton John tick, anyway. It’s always been there – all of his ups and downs and pain and joy – in his music. Rocketman simply puts another flashy costume on a beloved legend who’s forever entertaining. 

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