Let’s cut to the chase: With the release of the Elton John film Rocketman, there are undoubtedly going to be a lot of comparisons between this film and the uber-successful Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. That’s unavoidable since two films about two British music icons are being released less than a year apart. What’s also unavoidable is this truth: Rocketman is the far superior film, for many reasons.
For starters, Rocketman certainly isn’t your average biopic. For most of the promotional lead-up to the film’s release, Paramount Pictures has dubbed the film a “musical fantasy,” and rightfully so. Sir Elton’s music is woven throughout the film of his remarkable life story, continuity be damned, and the film features multiple actors singing those iconic songs, not just Taron Egerton, who portrays adult Elton. There are elaborate dance numbers, stunning costumes, and breathtaking musical scene transitions. The music is used to aid in telling John’s story; it’s not just there to sell a soundtrack.
Speaking of the soundtrack, Egerton does an incredible job singing John’s iconic songs, which had to have been an incredibly daunting task, all while delivering palpable energy during the film’s performance numbers. Egerton’s overall performance compared to Rami Malek‘s turn as Freddie Mercury might be where some will be tempted to give Bohemian Rhapsody the edge over Rocketman. While Malek’s performance was in a very by-the-numbers biopic, Egerton’s performance, and Rocketman as a whole, has a far looser structure which allows for a less-rigid representation of the subject. Rocketman also has a better supporting cast, notably Jamie Bell as songwriting partner Bernie Taupin and Bryce Dallas Howard as John’s mother, Sheila Eileen. Egerton and Bell had stellar chemistry in the film, which is appropriate given John and Taupin’s 50-year career as songwriting partners. Howard’s turn as Sir Elton’s mother, while definitely not the most likable character in the movie, was an outstanding performance. Between Sheila Eileen and The Help‘s Hilly Holbrook, Howard sure can play a great “villain.”
If there’s one obvious takeaway from Rocketman, it’s this: There’s a massive difference between a film whose subject is still alive and willing to allow a more raw portrayal of events than a film whose subject is dead and his two bandmates are the ones guiding the narrative.
One of the biggest criticisms of Bohemian Rhapsody was how so much was glossed over, from Mercury’s sexuality to his hard-partying ways. Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher coincidentally stepped in during the final three weeks of filming for Bohemian Rhapsody when original director Bryan Singer was fired due to his erratic behavior and multiple no-shows to the film’s set. Whether it was by design or not, Rocketman and its portrayal of John’s sexuality and drug/alcohol use almost come off as a direct response to Bohemian Rhapsody and its lack of those components. Rocketman, as a result, definitely earned its “R” rating, and in the process, showed a more honest depiction of Elton John.
Rocketman is billed as a “musical fantasy,” but it has no problem acknowledging reality, even if it’s decked head-to-toe in sequins and topped with a marvelous pair of glasses.
Erica Banas is rock/classic rock news blogger that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.