Rocketman outlines Elton John’s career, from his start in the late 1960s to his stint in rehab in 1990, with a bit of his childhood thrown in. Its story is boilerplate biopic, showing John’s rise, his inner demons and spiral to the bottom, and his redemption. As far as that goes, Rocketman is basically unremarkable.
But it blows right through the trite plot with gusto, revealing itself to be a dazzling jukebox musical fantasy.
It might be easy to forget—or maybe to have never known—just how brash Elton John was, but Rocketman’s musical numbers do their best to remind us, combining Taron Egerton’s all-in performance as John with glittering fantasy sequences. It’s campy, for sure, but that could be the only way this was going to work.
Egerton is very good here—Elton John tells us early on that he’s had constant anger problems, for good reason, and in every scene, Egerton has an undercurrent of seething rage, even as he makes the instant switch from anger or despondency into his high-impact, all-smiles stage persona.
Rocketman is not shy about John’s massive substance abuse, or his homosexuality, which many felt was shortchanged in Bohemian Rhapsody’s depiction of Freddie Mercury. The movie’s appropriately rated R, which is to its benefit and necessary, as John himself has said he didn’t exactly lead a PG-13 life.
But the emotional center is in John’s relationship with his longtime writing partner, Bernie Taupin, played by the magnificent Jamie Bell. Theirs is a tender, brotherly friendship that rings true, even while a chaotic, fantastical world rages all around it. The rest of Rocketman did need to be so very bold to work, but grounding that relationship in reality and warmth adds an important layer to a movie that’s a lot better than it probably has a right to be.