Taron Egerton Is Electrifying as Elton John in ‘Rocketman’

Today, music legend Elton John is a respected figure in the world of entertainment, a man known not only for his impressive catalog of timeless hits, but also his humanitarian efforts and the swanky charity events he hosts. However, once upon a time he lived a very different lifestyle, and the musical drama “Rocketman” sets out to tell the origin story of the icon, from his days a gifted child pianist to the self-destructive lifestyle he lead at the height of his stardom in the seventies and eighties. Taron Egerton performance is a tour de force in this biopic that is both dizzy and dazzling.

Like so many great artists, John, who was born Reginald Dwight, had a less-than-idyllic childhood. Young Reggie (Matthew Illesley) has a mother, Sheila (a terrific Bryce Dallas Howard), who comes across as one of those woman who would have forgone motherhood if she lived in another era. His father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), is emotionally distance, and her abandons his family altogether after catching Sheila with another man. Later, in what might be the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, a successful Elton visits his dad and witnesses him show his little half-brothers the love and affection that he was denied. One bright spot in his childhood is his grandmother, Ivy (Gemma Jones), the first to recognize her grandson’s musical gifts.

“Rocketman” is a true musical, as the world created here is one in which people break out in song and dance whenever inspiration strikes Elton. But what starts off as kitschy and wholesome turns to more dark and electrifying as the years go on. The singer-pianist’s career really takes off after he teams up with songwriter partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and their relationship is the emotional core of the film, a true bromance. After it is  suggested that they move in together to speed up the creative process, an intimacy arises, albeit a platonic one. Bernie is presented as the one person who truly understands Elton, and the chemistry between Egerton and Bell is off the charts. Predictably, the relationship becomes strained after they hit it big, as Bernie gets lost chasing girls and Elton gets deeper into drugs and alcohol.

“Rocketman” was helmed by Dexter Fletcher, the man who took over the reins on “Bohemian Rhapsody” following the departure of Bryan Singer, and it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two films, as they both feature gay icons who rose to prominence during roughly the same era. The biggest similarity is the inclusion of ambitious manager John Reid (Richard Madden), and the portrayal here is even less flattering, if one can imagine. What starts out as a passionate romantic relationship between him and Elton eventually turns toxic, and Madden gives a career-high performance as this self-serving villain.

While “Bohemian Rhapsody” was criticized for downplaying Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, Fletcher doesn’t hold back here, as “Rocketman” includes what is being called the first gay sex scene in the major studio film. While this is certainly refreshing, one cannot help but feel that they film doesn’t dig deep enough when it comes to this aspect of John’s life. Here, he is depicted as coming out as gay to those closest to him as a young man; however, the real John was reportedly much more conflicted when he came to his sexuality, and he even was married to a woman four years in the eighties. Unfortunately, this relationship with sound engineer Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) isn’t adequately explored here, it’s a mere footnote.

While it is Egerton and the music that makes the movie, there’s no denying that “Rocketman” is a visually stunning film. Not only is the production design lush and vibrant—even when Elton’s at his lowest points, in a haze of drugs and booze, his surroundings are beautiful—but also the costumes are something to behold, as the designers painstakingly recreated Elton’s looks from his iconic performances.

Rocketman” opens May 31 nationwide.