Rocketman review

ROCKETMAN

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh
Genre : Biography/Fantasy/Musical
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 13 June 2019
Rating : R21

           After Bohemian Rhapsody took home multiple Oscars, including one for Best Picture, all eyes were on the next high-profile rock star biopic on the slate, Rocketman. The film tells the story of one Sir Elton John, offering up a flight of fancy rather than a grounded documentary-style take, and is all the better for it.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley at different ages), born Reginald Dwight, was raised in suburban 1950s England by his indifferent mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his kindly grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). Reggie, as he is known, doesn’t have much of a relationship with his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), who serves in the Royal Air Force.

The film tracks young Reggie’s journey from his time as a student in the Royal Academy of Music to his gigs playing in a backing band for touring American jazz musicians. Reggie changes his name to ‘Elton John’, and is signed on to a music publishing company as a songwriter. Soon afterwards, he is introduced to lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who will go on to become a long-time collaborator. Elton attains stratospheric success after a stunning American debut, but his personal life is in shambles. He is approached by music manager John Reid (Richard Madden) who pursues a relationship with him, but Elton finds little fulfilment, eventually becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. It is up to Elton and those who care for him to turn his life around and ensure his talent doesn’t go to waste.

The rock star redemption tale told in Rocketman is a familiar one, and it hits all the beats one would expect: the initial struggle to get noticed, the breakthrough, a rocky personal life with relationship problems and substance abuse, and then a triumphant comeback. However, Rocketman turns this sense of familiarity into a strength, and benefits from its fantastical approach. Instead of being a staid biopic, the film is punctuated with fantasy sequences and musical numbers, and that’s where it’s able to become more than the sum of its parts.

While there are moments of Rocketman that are necessarily dark, director Dexter Fletcher infuses the whole movie with an unmistakable, almost childlike joy. Fletcher took over from Bryan Singer as director of Bohemian Rhapsody and being able to see the development of Rocketman from the ground up allows him to put more of his stamp on this movie. The film’s use of music and its placement of songs is impeccable. Because of the fantasy element, it’s not tied down to a strict timeline, allowing songs that were written later to appear earlier in the story. For example, “I Want Love” becomes a song about Elton’s childhood, and the yearnings of each member of his family.

Elton John is known for being outlandish and over the top, and the film embraces that while always emphasising his humanity. The film is produced by John himself and his husband David Furnish, and there was every danger that it could feel like a self-aggrandizing vanity project, but it’s clear that Elton John has a sense of humour. The film is an invitation to look at his life through his eyes, and while artistic license has been taken, there’s a moving honesty that flows through the movie.

At one point, Justin Timberlake was rumoured to be the frontrunner for the lead role, with Tom Hardy later attached to the part. Taron Egerton more than proves he was the right choice for the role. The Kingsman star showcases an impressive singing voice and inhabiting both the swagger and the secret insecurity that is key to bringing a part like this to life. In both his singing and mannerisms, Egerton doesn’t do a mere imitation of John and constantly seems dedicated to portraying all the facets of the singer, beyond the ones the public is familiar with.

Some of the film’s best moments are in its depiction of the friendship between John and Bernie Taupin. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of Taupin is sweet, earnest and withdrawn: John is the one in the limelight, with Taupin remaining behind the scenes, but there’s no denying the significance of his contribution to John’s music. The scene in which the two first meet and bond over their love of the country song “Streets of Laredo” is genuinely heart-warming, and the depiction of their major falling out is equally heart-breaking. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is reimagined as a duet between John and Taupin and is one of the film’s most effective emotional beats.

Rocketman doesn’t purport to be a balanced take on events, it purports to be John’s take on them. As such, several characters are portrayed as one-dimensionally nasty. Both of his parents come out of this looking bad, and Bryce Dallas Howard has fun with the role of John’s uncaring mother. One almost wants to reach into the screen and shake her, yelling “your son deserves your love!”

Richard Madden is supremely slimy as John Reid, who is depicted as heartless, manipulative and promiscuous. The same character also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, played in that film by Aidan Gillen. It is in the portrayal of Reid as an outright cartoon supervillain that Rocketman runs the risk of having its credibility questioned, but the movie has a built-in defence of all this being from John’s point of view.

Rocketman ends relatively early in John’s career, so events like John’s friendship with Princess Diana and his writing music for The Lion King are not shown – perhaps there might be room for a sequel. There are moments of Rocketman that are awkward and cheesy, but thanks to Fletcher’s palpable love for John’s music and Egerton’s stirring performance, its charm is irresistible. It’s a movie that tells John’s truth in the purest way, cheesiness and all.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Fantastic Four

For F*** Magazine

FANTASTIC FOUR

Director : Josh Trank
Cast : Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Tim Blake Nelson, Reg E. Cathey
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 100 mins
Opens : 6 August 2015
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Change is coming, whether we like it or not, with Marvel’s original superhero team getting a do-over in this reboot. Reed Richards (Teller) is a brilliant young misfit who has spent most of his life tinkering away on a teleportation device. Nobody really gets him, except for his best friend Ben Grimm (Bell). Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey) sees the potential in Reed and awards him a scholarship to the Baxter Institute. There, he gets to work alongside Dr. Storm’s daughter Sue (Mara) and disgruntled genius Victor Von Doom (Kebbell) on a scaled-up version of his experiment. Dr. Storm enlists his hot-headed son Johnny (Jordan) to help out. Together, they crack the code to inter-dimensional travel. A journey to the alternate dimension, code-named “Planet Zero”, alters their physical forms in unfathomable ways. Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben must learn to use their newfound abilities for good and defend the earth from Victor, who has become the monstrous villain Doom.

The first two theatrically-released Fantastic Four movies are generally regarded as goofy, disposable fluff – silly and cringe-worthy but not outright disasters. Therefore, it makes sense that director Josh Trank of Chronicle fame wanted to steer the Fantastic Four in a more credible direction. Here’s the thing: the Fantastic Four are inherently goofy – and that’s fine! They’re a dysfunctional sitcom family with superpowers and it’s right there in the title – “fantastic”. This take seems to want to be as mundane as possible. We’ve arrived at a point where comic book movies no longer need to be embarrassed of their roots, and films of this subgenre have achieved considerable success by embracing the source material and being smart with how they go about adapting the comics. Fantastic Four tries to reject the silliness but becomes all the sillier in spite of this. This is not an uneventful film, but it feels like one. It lacks the crucial element of escapism and entertainment a movie of this kind needs, the buzz-words of “serious” and “grounded” be damned.

What is even more frustrating is that the film does not fall flat on its face in abject failure. There are aspects that work and that are intriguing. The screenplay by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Trank is formulaic, but attempts to give its titular characters a fair bit of character development and have them become more than cartoon characters. Unfortunately, all the exposition makes this seem tedious rather than credible. Also, the visuals are extremely underwhelming. Following the logic that the team’s outfits are “containment suits” rather than superhero costumes, they look very dull. Reed’s suit is supposed to have a homemade feel to it, but that doesn’t make the slinkies on his arms and legs any less ridiculous. Planet Zero feels like a walk-through attraction at a theme park rather than an immersive, treacherous landscape. The Thing doesn’t wear pants. We’ve all heard the jokes, but it does seem like it would’ve been really easy for Trank to avoid the ridicule aimed at this aspect by just giving him pants. Dr. Doom probably suffers the most, looking like he’s covered in glowing gangrene and sporting a comically oversized hood. Many people have left the theatre after a superhero film thinking it would be really cool to own a collectible figure or statue of the characters as they appear in that film. It’s safe to say pretty much nobody will leave Fantastic Four thinking that.

One of the biggest aspects of this reboot that fans seized on was the cast. Nobody really resembled their comic book counterparts and on the whole, everyone just looked too young. To this reviewer’s surprise, the cast wasn’t too much of an issue. As an origin tale, perhaps it doesn’t hurt that they’re all a little younger. It may be a serious take on the whole, but there are still nice moments of levity when the team members are together. Miles Teller’s Reed is appropriately awkward and nerdy, just like Reed is in the comics. Kate Mara makes for a far more credible scientist than Jessica Alba did. The change of Johnny Storm’s ethnicity really wasn’t much of a sticking point for this reviewer, beyond feeling like an alteration merely for the sake of political correctness. Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny is impulsive and showy, but not to an annoying extent.

The casting that really doesn’t work is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm. We can’t wrap our heads around how anyone looked at Billy Elliot/Tintin and said “there’s our resident big guy”. Apparently, he was cast because he’s the physical opposite of The Thing, which is kind of missing the point of the character, but that’s not Bell’s fault. Reg E. Cathey, a younger and more affordable Morgan Freeman, is a competent Obi-Wan-style mentor figure. Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom barely makes an impact, which is a shame considering how compelling a villain he was as Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Marvel Studios has been churning out superhero blockbusters that have generally been well-received by both fans and critics and have managed to be upbeat on the whole while still packing in sufficient emotion and some depth. Fox wants to hang on to the film rights for the Fantastic Four – that’s the primary purpose this film was made and nobody is going to be fooled into thinking otherwise. We all know it – the property would be handled better at Marvel/Disney. It’s been said before but it bears repeating: The Incredibles is likely the best Fantastic Four movie we’re ever going to get. To go a little more recent, Big Hero 6 did the “science-loving pals become a superhero team” thing with more panache as well. This version is not terribly made, it has its moments and the cast does have pleasant chemistry with one another, but it’s still very much a disappointment.

Summary: This take on the Fantastic Four wants desperately to be regarded seriously, and for the most part, fails. That should’ve been a four-gone conclusion.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong