Taron Egerton’s soaring performance in Rocketman is the must-see of 2019

After the phenomenal success of last years Bohemian Rhapsody we know there’s an appetite for nostalgic British rock heroes. In the Elton John biopic Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher, who stepped in on Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired, takes control of a different kind of movie for the genre. It truly breaks the mould while showcasing the immense talent and true stardom of lead Taron Egerton.

Rocketman opens with Egerton’s Elton strutting into rehab dressed in an orange, devil-horned Elivis-esq jumpsuit. After confessing to being an alcoholic and cocaine addict, he proceeds to tells us his life story and what’s led him to this pivotal moment in his life.

This story-telling tool allows for fun, abstract and often extremely complicated sequences to unfold while taking us through Elton’s stratospheric rise to fame. The many epic musical montages are all seamlessly presented and performed. From ensemble street dancing, floating audiences and a flying Elton, down to a tumble into the dirty depths of sex and drugs – all are delivered with entertaining energy and accompanied by eye-popping sets and costumes.

Elton John has really hit the jackpot with Taron Egerton of The Kingsman, Eddie the Eagle and Sing fame. His performance is absolute genius. From the shy reserved teenage Elton to the ostentatious, tantrum throwing addict he later becomes – Egerton nails it all. It’s not a hammed up delivery either but his interpretation of the megastar without being a caricature. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t also hit the mark with Elton’s mannerisms, eccentricities and trademark stage performances too. He just goes that one step further, not just succeeding as providing a great ‘impersonation’ but a fully-formed, authentic and complex personality.

As with any real-life story, you can expect highs and lows and there’s plenty of lows to draw from. These are delivered with as much power and honesty as any of the upbeat singing and dancing numbers. Fletcher makes good use of Egerton’s excellent subtly in his performance with many a full-screen facial close-up lingering on the pain and sorrow of a damaged man.

As well as the emotional heft that Egerton brings to his portrayal is his excellent vocal performance. Where Rami Malek won an Oscar for his performance as Freddie Mercury despite not actually singing a note, Egerton delivers his vocals with gusto and heart and he obviously has felt the responsibility on his shoulders and delivered. We can only assume Mr John is delighted with this performance of a lifetime from this young and uber talented actor. It’s a dedicated and flawless delivery that is unmatched elsewhere.

The supporting cast also brings some real notable performances. Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila and Steven Mackintosh as his estranged father Stanley help set the scene of how Reggie Dwight became Elton John. Though their screen time drops away, their influence and the raw emotions they evoked never leave Egerton’s performance.

Richard Madden (The Bodyguard) plays the irresistible but villainous manager John Reid. Bringing with him lust and betrayal and sharing some of the sexiest and the most destructive onscreen scenes of Elton’s life. What more could you want?

Stephen Graham is the straight talking and sweary cockney record exec Dick James. He certainly steals the limelight when he’s on screen and gives us a few good laughs along the way.

Jamie Bell is the perfect co-star for Egerton’s Elton as his beloved Bernie Taupin. Depicting a heartwarming life long friendship and working relationship that’s produced some of the world’s favourite pop songs. They have great onscreen chemistry and Bell shines just the right amount to keep the flame of Elton’s stardom burning.

The music obviously deserves equal billing to the film’s stars. Featuring all the big hits you love but they’re not necessarily presented in the way you might expect as per a standard rock biopic. This adds yet another layer of magic to the film and to the famous music and lyrics from John and Taupin.

I simply have to mention the costumes again too, how can you not! Fabulous, ridiculous, OTT and camp all come to mind and you wouldn’t want it any other way. They light up the screen and give brilliant vehicles for Egerton to really get stuck in.

Rocketman is a hugely enjoyable, colourful, emotional rollercoaster of a film with a soaring performance from it’s leading man. Not one to be missed on the big screen.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

5 stars

Rocketman is out in NZ cinemas from 30 May.

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