Burrows’s review published on Letterboxd:
I finally got around to watching this one. It has a lovely structure, I must say. As opposed to an unfolding biopic, ROCKETMAN has more of a memory quality--with the quick bursts ahead in time, the theatricality of the musical numbers, the steady costume & hair changes, and the staginess of the entire production. However, despite my admiration for this and my general love of John's music, I responded to ROCKETMAN with surprisingly little enthusiasm for everything it did well, it didn't necessarily do consistently well.
Director Dexter Fletcher--after apparently directing some of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY--finally has a rock legend's story all to himself and isn't running a damage-control operation. His approach is ambitious and stylish, but I just couldn't get into it. Biopics are always tricky because of their episodic nature. ROCKETMAN does a good job tightening the story and keeping it on its path--beginning with his arrival to group therapy and concluding it with a thematic intervention in his own head. The problem with this, though, even though it trimmed the storytelling fat and focused strictly on the fall and the rise of Elton John's mental health wellness--what we actually get is mostly an entirely expected tale of child talent-superstar-money-drug addiction-yelling. It's regrettably an ordinary tale. Aside from the details in John's wardrobes, there aren't a lot of compelling details to make this feel special.
So, we're left with the music. ROCKETMAN likens itself to a full-length film on-stage rock opera. Characters break into John's hit songs. Dance numbers erupt and complex art-direction and choreography emerge. Most of the numbers are visually dazzling, certainly capturing the spirit of John's showmanship. Some sequences particularly impress, incorporating more dreamlike aesthetics--Egerton sinking to the bottom of a pool while singing is one such lovely moment.
So the success of ROCKETMAN weighs on the shoulders of Egerton and his musical and dramatic performances. Egerton's good, but inconsistent. Once in a while his voice, or the Andrew-Lloyd-Weber-musical style staging jerk me out of the great musical moment--most of which already fight mightily to get me to not compare to John's originals. Every once in a while, I also get yanked out of a decent character moment because the script flails at Egerton's feet, demanding he yell about someone not loving him. It's just not the richest possible source material. All too often when something is going right in the music or melodrama, then a goofy 'fanciful' moment pushes the tone (and me with it) too far from what was working.
Jamie Bell is great as Bernie. Bryce Dallas Howard is unconvincing, frankly, as John's mom. Richard Madden slowly deteriorates into a one-note caricature despite an interesting introduction for him.
ROCKETMAN's focus is on failed relationships. But in an effort to serve history more than serve the script, we get a needless two minutes of Elton John's marriage to Renate.
Musicals and biopics are two risky ventures for my tastes, and ROCKETMAN gives a good effort--without ever producing cool choreography. However, despite finding a decent bookended narrative structure, using great songs, and displaying visual flair, I just did not feel the love tonight.