Probably just what you would expect, but without any real insight depth or nuance.
This review of the film Elvis (2022) does not contain spoilers.
Perhaps the latest biopic from director and writer Baz Luhrmann on the life story of Elvis is so dependent on how you feel about Elvis himself that reviewing such a film will automatically become divisive. Couple that with the eclectic direction of Luhrmann, and you get a film that will appeal to a large demographic of fans, but could also alienate others.
Elvis as an iconic and influential character, presented in an over-the-top fashion, makes this feature so over the top that it is hard to see it as anything other than a cartoon, so if you come to this expecting some kind of layered insight into the heart of the performer himself, you will be left feeling disappointed and annoyed.
Luhrmann is as much of a carny showman as Col. Tom Parker, played here by Tom Hanks in full Austin Powers fat suit. The direction flits from style to style, embracing comic-book iconography and quick edits punctuated with more sequins than an entire series of Strictly Come Dancing, and the audience is thrown from scene to scene at a breakneck pace that is often jarring. You find yourself, particularly in the first hour, longing for him to just stop and let us linger on a scene.
Speaking of Hanks, this is not one of his best portrayals. Col Parker is our guide through the triumphs and tragedy of Elvis’ life, but he is so one-dimensional that he almost comes across as a Marvel super villain. The prosthetics used make him more like Danny DeVito’s Penguin, and his accent often makes his line delivery just awkward. Parker takes Elvis to what would become his audience, but we never really learn much about him as a character, He is the villain of the piece, and there is no attempt to give him any depth or motivation except that he wants half of everything Elvis makes and doesn’t care how he does it. The whole framing mechanism that Luhrmann uses, with Parker in ill health reflecting on his time with Elvis, seems almost redundant, as he is obviously the villain here, and no quarter is ever given.
Austin Butler plays the title role, and it is an often astonishing performance. Butler effortlessly channels The King and manages to capture the young Elvis in every way. This is a performance that should see Butler’s career upswing quite dramatically; powerful and enjoyable, and yet still without nuance or depth.
Despite his performance, the writing lets him down here, with just the bullet points of Elvis presented to us without any attempt at showing us anything new. We flit through Elvis’s timeline, from his first appearances to his superstardom, but it all happens so quickly, Luhrmann taking us back and forth through the events that it’s often like an episode of Doctor Who. If you have come to this film expecting new insights or revelations, then you will find there is nothing to see here. Actually, there is something to see, but it is of course all the fireworks and glitter of a Baz Luhrmann film dealing with Elvis.
Upon leaving this movie, you are left with mixed feelings. The lead performance is astonishing, but everything else is so insipid and one-dimensional that the whole thing looks like a magic trick. Your eyes are drawn to the spectacle and glitz, but underneath there is really nothing of substance to latch onto.,
It seems that this screenplay has been bleached back to present the beats you would expect from such a film, and for a film over two and a half hours long, there are moments from the Elvis lore that seem glossed over and generally just omitted.
This is a classic example of style over substance that will please certain fans and alienate others. Worth watching for the lead role, but once you get over that, there is very little here that is either new or innovative and that is such a shame when there is so much talent available.
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