Jun 6, 2019

Completely satisfying, brilliant biopic of a a rock icon.


Grade: A

Director: Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle)

Screenplay: Lee Hall (Victoria and Abdul)

Cast: Taron Egerton ( Kingsman: The Golden Circle), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 1 min

By: John DeSando

“And I think it's gonna be a long, long time. Till touch down brings me round again to find, I'm not the man they think I am at home. Oh no no no, I'm a rocketman!” Elton John (Taron Egerton)

Elton John’s remarkable removal from reality while he really defines a new rock performance style in the late ‘60’s expresses in “Rocketman” the tension between performance dynamism and the formulaic loneliness fame and success bring to a legend. Taron Egerton’s Elton is every bit as good as, if not better than, Remi Malik’s Freddie in Bohemian Rhapsody. Egerton sings with his own voice, not imitating Elton but recalling his genius while retaining Egerton’s own distinctive sound—recollection not ompersonation.

Besides a career-defining role for Egerton, the biopic approaches the subject matter not so much historically as impressionistically, where each scene illuminates a character trait or moment that comments more on the human condition than the showbiz at hand. Elton’s struggle with his sexual identity and a legion of typical 70’s drugs like alcohol and cocaine highlight the difficulty any artist might have overcoming a culture of excess. So 70’s, so rock ‘n roll.  

Director Dexter Fletcher brilliantly finished Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer’s departure, and in so doing prepared to one-up himself with an Elton John more nuanced than Malik’s Freddie. Fletcher and writer Lee Hall also make the standard Elton John repertoire express the moment rather than just provide a delightful chronological feast. The montage-like presentation, with the resonating emotion and psychological exposure, evokes the best of Baz Luhrmann, who never found a song that didn’t fit a true emotion as in the memorable Moulin Rouge.

Rocketman is an impressionistic fantasy about the growth of Elton with an outstanding central performance, iconic songs, and a formulaic but not any less profound arc from glory to debasement and back again. Come to think of it, the ancient Greeks had that dramatic formula down so well that their drama is fresh even today.

Rocketman shows that Elton’s signature flamboyance becomes a natural part of his genius: “Don't you want to just sing without this ridiculous paraphernalia?” Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Thank goodness John knew it wasn’t “ridiculous.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at