I’ve been sitting on this one for a few days now. Originally, my review of this simply read: “Well, Tom Hanks was quite good.” and that was it. A one line review for a one-note film. This really isn’t very good. But that one line review, while justified, felt lacking… just like the film. I thought I’d better explain my disdain for this film.
So yeah, I really didn’t enjoy this at all, except for Tom Hanks, a performance that is really dividing people. Music biopics are all the rage recently, a trend that seemingly kicked off with Bohemian Rhapsody a few years back. Yeah, I know that these kinds of flicks predate the Queen biopic, but the recent trend seems to have really kicked off because of it. A few weeks back, I actually reviewed the Kurt Russell starring TV Elvis movie. A film I hadn’t seen for quite a few years. Despite its low budget and age, it has held up pretty well and Russell is a really good Elvis too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not great or anything but it does have one major saving grace… it’s not this film.
Rap music, rap music in an Elvis biopic! ‘Cos you know, Elvis and the 50s – 70s didn’t have much in the way of music to use eh? It was just so out of place and jarring. I don’t mind when films make artistic music choices. Quentin Tarantino using a mashup of James Brown’s The Payback and 2Pac’s Untouchable during the Candyland shootout in Django Unchained was awesome. But that was a fictional film set in a fictional universe with fictional characters. Let me bring this comparison closer to home with Rocketman, the Elton John biopic had songs being sung at times decades before they had been recorded. The Bollywood dance scene during the Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting scene was completely erroneous but wonderful. However, Rocketman was billed as being a ‘musical fantasy’ and it worked.
This Elvis biopic is neither of those things, it’s not a fictional film telling the story of fictional characters. Nor is it a fantasy using a well-known musical artist’s life as its backdrop. It’s supposed to be a genuine and direct attempt at telling the story of Elvis… and it really is not.
There are several major events of Elvis’ life that are skipped over. Sun Records and Sam Phillips? Nope, aside from a very brief mention. Elvis’ long-standing friendship with Red West? Nope. Elvis’ close relationship with his mom? Nope, Gladys Presley is in this, but their close mother/son relationship is pretty much glossed over and when she does die (spoilers) it lacks any character or stroy depth. His time in the Army and being stationed in Germany? Blink and you’ll miss it. Even his marriage to Priscilla is glossed over and feels like a footnote. There are more instances of Elvis’ life that apparently didn’t happen, according to this film. Now, someone said that’s because this is told from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker and if he wasn’t there to witness events then they can’t really be part of his narrative. Okay, fine I accept that… so why are there so many scenes shown that Colonel Tom was not a part of? We see Elvis as a young boy years before Colonel Tom was even involved. Just one of many examples. If this film wants to use the narrative of this being told through Colonel Tom’s eyes, then stick with it and stop cherry-picking moments to tell a disjointed narrative.
This film just skips over major events of Elvis’ life… in a biopic about Elvis. You know, I actually really liked the idea of the story being told from the point of view of Colonel Tom Parker. It’s unique and hasn’t been done before. Tom Hanks was amazing in the role too (some say otherwise) and it’s very unusual to see Hanks playing the bad guy and he really is portrayed as being a bad guy too. But this is an Elvis biopic, it’s called Elvis and is centralised on Elvis. If they want to make a Colonel Tom film… then make a Colonel Tom film… and don’t call it Elvis.
Austin Butler as Elvis is both great and terrible. In the early years, showing his and Colonel Tom’s relationship, Butler was atrocious as young Elvis. I kept thinking he was going to stop and marry a couple in Vegas he was that bad. However, as older Elvis in the 1970s, Butler was fucking amazing. In fact, this film really doesn’t get even slightly interesting or good until the last 30-40 minutes with Elvis doing his Vegas thing. The film actually feels like a disjointed mess of scenes that is just bulldozing its way to the finale. I’m pretty sure the only research done for this film was reading a few paragraphs of Elvis’ Wikipedia page.
The main issue is that this is a Baz Luhrmann film. Stroy by, screenplay by, produced and directed by Luhrmann and he’s crap. He’s wearing so many different hats for this film that I’m amazed he didn’t do the catering. He lets his ego get in the way of his art and everything has to be ‘Luhrmannised’ to the point where his films become the epitome of style over substance. That is exactly what this flick is style on top of style, on top of more style… and a tiny bit of substance at the end. It tried to be Rocketman with its glitz and failed. Because unlike the Elton John flick, there’s no real story here, just scenes. A film with a 2-hour and 39-minute runtime and only the later 39 minutes feel anything like a watchable film.
This flick is just an over-bloated mess that doesn’t do anything particularly well (until the end) and what it does do, it does really badly… in style. Elvis is a film that straight up pisses on an icon, it is the cinematic version of someone doing a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa… with glitter paint and not following the numbers/colour coding…. while painting over the lines. Don’t bother watching this at the cinema, wait until it is on streaming services (which should take a few weeks going by recent trends) because you can just fast forward to the last 40 minutes when it finally gets good then and save yourself a couple of hours.
Oh well, at least Tom Hanks was quite good.