Over the weekend, I went and saw the latest musician biopic “Elvis.” Having seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” I more or less knew what to expect, but with a 94 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, I was expecting the best of these “Iconiverse” (my name for these biopics) movies yet.
To be sure, it is the best one yet, but it suffers from the same problem many of these Iconiverse movies do.
Let me start with the absolute positives.
The movie’s acting couldn’t be better. Elvis Presley is played by Austin Butler who does so well that I forgot this was an actor playing a real person from time to time. Everything from his voice, to his movements, to his facial expressions mirror Presley’s so well that if he could double for the singer in Vegas back in the 1970s then no one would have known the difference. Tom Hanks’s role as Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s lifelong manager and the man credited as being the reason Presley burned so bright that he died early, is perfect. Hanks manages to capture a devil in disguise, sweet on the exterior but manipulative and nasty underneath.
The movie’s cinematography is colorful, flashy, and in-your-face but weirdly isn’t so overbearing that it takes from the story. It weaves itself into the tale well. If it’s not up for an award during the next Oscars I’ll be surprised.
Presley’s connections to the black community and its effect on him from childhood are highlighted here well. The film doesn’t get racial in the modern sense but it does highlight the shifting landscape in race relations and how it affected the backdrop of the times and Presely personally. Presley’s primary inspirations, and even his friendships, are well rooted in the black community. The film almost spits in the face of claims that Presley “stole” from black culture, and makes it clear that he was actually part of it having been raised in poor black neighborhoods himself and spending quite a bit of time with friends of his who were black artists.
That said, there’s a glaring flaw in the movie that both works for and against it.
The movie feels like a roller coaster ride without a slow creep up a steep track first. The safety harness comes down and you rocket off immediately. There’s almost no buildup at all, just a cryptic voice-over from Hanks’s Parker telling you he’s not the bad guy in this story about the King of Rock n’ Roll.
From there it feels like you get a series of flashes about Elvis Presley’s life. Sure, it starts at the beginning, intertwining Presley’s discovery of black music as a child and being hypnotized by it and his first arrival on a stage where he began hypnotizing women, but it doesn’t let these humble beginnings cook. You get the info, the motivations, and then it’s go-time.
Time is split between Presley and Parker. Without allowing you to breathe, the duo immediately set off on a whirlwind journey of success and wealth, all to the backdrop of screaming women, rock n’ roll, and flash. Soon, you’re thrust into the controversy surrounding Elvis’s dancing on stage and his defiance of those who would force him to become more family-friendly.
Then he’s off to the military, then he’s trying to recover his flagging career after his Hollywood failures, then he’s a Vegas icon, then he’s in trouble due to the machinations of Parker, then he’s here, then he’s there, and then he’s back, and then he’s gone. It all happens so quickly that by the time the credits roll you’re just as exhausted as Presley felt in the later parts of his career.
Despite the pace, the movie isn’t short, coming in at a whopping 2 hours and 39 minutes, but the scenes jump so quickly that you feel like you’re speeding through it all despite the lengthy runtime. Some scenes even begin before the first one is even over, almost like a DJ spinning in a new song to intermingle with what he’s currently playing to keep the crowd’s energy up.
This is both a detriment to “Elvis” but it might also be its superpower. The pace of the movie matches the life of the icon. It’s loud, fast, and intense. Even its slower moments of peace have a backdrop of urgency. The pressure is always on Presley, a man who lived a non-stop life and it’s reflected in this movie so well that you feel the pressure too. It’s almost a brilliant move by director Baz Luhrmann as it allows you to connect to the King in a way.
But you do feel robbed of a real and solid connection to “Elvis” by the end. The best comparison that I can draw about a film that does a life story very well is 1994’s Forrest Gump by the legendary Robert Zemeckis. This movie takes you to so many places in the life of Gump and even has a similar runtime, yet the film is satisfyingly whole. If “Forrest Gump” is a four-course meal, “Elvis” is an over-indulgence on a sampler platter.
For instance, the emotional connection Presley has to anyone hardly gets to set in. Parker, Presley’s mother and father, and his wife Priscilla all have important roles in the life of the star, but only Parker is really given real importance in the film. It makes the emotions in the film seem 2D. You can name almost every character Gump had an emotional connection to in his movie, but I can’t remember the names of 90 percent of the people in “Elvis.”
You want a little more conversation, a little less action, please.
These emotional connections are important to a character-driven film. It allows the audience to be in it, to connect with the characters, and makes them feel like they’re in that moment as well. “Gump” did this masterfully whereas “Elvis” fell short.
To be clear, “Elvis” isn’t a bad movie, it just feels like a movie that was made for an audience that’s grown used to instant gratification and swipe-and-forget expectations on entertainment. It is the “TikTok Movie” of Elvis Presley’s life. It’s chock-full of content that’ll get you all shook up, but don’t expect to leave the theater feeling much. At least nothing that’ll stay with you hours afterward.
I definitely recommend you go see it. It’s an experience worth having and it does relay the tragedy that is Elvis Presley pretty well, but the “TikTok movie” trend isn’t one that I hope catches on to other films outside of the Iconiverse movies.
I give this film the score of a caught rabbit out of a crying hound dog.