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'Rocketman': A Bigger Blast Than 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Taron Egerton propels this inspiring Elton John biopic to meteoric heights

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Stars: Jamie Bell, Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden, 

Director: Dexter Fletcher

It's tempting to compare Rocketman with last year's flawed but phenomenally successful, $900-million-grossing Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody — and not just because they were both directed (for the most part) by Dexter Fletcher.

Taron Egerton, in a dazzling star turn as Elton John, doing his own singing, is as powerfully charismatic as Rami Malek, who won the Oscar for his portrayal of the mega-talented Queen frontman.

Both actors blow the roof off the theaters, but there are some big differences between the two rock operas. Unlike Mercury, who died at 45 from AIDS-related complications, Elton John at 72 is very much alive — he was in the audience at the world premiere at Cannes and executive produced the film. He performed “Rocketman” in an emotional duet with Egerton at the movie after-party, easily one of the highlights of the world's most prestigious film festival.

Mercury, had he lived, would be just one year older than Elton John, the eighth best-selling music act of all time (Queen is No. 47).

The real Elton's vibrant presence underscores the main framing device of the film, which begins with him in a typically flamboyant red devil costume with horns striding into a 12-step meeting in rehab.

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While Egerton-as-Elton explains to the group how he became such a drug and sex-addled wreck, Rocketman takes off in a series of flashbacks that tell the story of the “fat boy from nowhere” (the London suburb that also produced W.S. Gilbert, Simon Le Bon, and Benedict Cumberbatch).

His indifferent parents (Bryce Dallas Howard excels as Elton's mom, who once told him no one would ever love him), his prodigious talent for music and self-destruction, feathered costumes, soaring showmanship and anger issues become fabulously melodramatic plot points set to the soundtrack, literally, of his life.

What gives Rocketman the kick, inspiration and hope that Bohemian Rhapsody sadly lacked, given Mercury's untimely death, are Elton's improbable Cinderella-like rise, kicked off by his legendary performance of “Crocodile Rock” at L.A.'s Troubadour nightclub at age 23 — the movie's highlight, his Shakespearean fall, and his hard-won climb back to the top as a 30-years sober husband and father of two sons. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, which shied away from suggesting the bisexual Mercury was gay, Rocketman includes several unapologetic scenes of steamy gay sex, the first major studio film to do so. Richard Madden plays John Reid, Elton's opportunistic manager and his first gay lover.

Though Elton's legendary tendencies toward melancholy and self-pity are touched upon, the star has famously never let the sun go down on him yet. He even interrupted what is allegedly his farewell tour to hit the Croisette and join in the standing ovation the film got at Cannes.

"The Bitch is Back” is just one of the great songs that makes it hard to stay seated while watching the movie. But the truth is, Elton John never went away. In a pop landscape littered with tragic early deaths, Egerton captures the spirit behind the still-standing star, and leaves you with an optimism that lingers a long, long time.

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