This review of the movie Elvis (2022) contains no spoilers.
Perhaps director and writer Baz Luhrmann’s latest biopic about Elvis’ life story depends so much on what you think of Elvis himself that reviewing such a film will automatically become divisive. . Add to that Luhrmann’s eclectic direction, and you have a film that will appeal to a large number of fans, but might alienate others as well.
Elvis as an iconic and influential character presented in an over the top makes this feature so over the top it’s hard to see it as anything other than a cartoon so if you come to this expecting some kind of layers a glimpse into the heart of the performer himself, you will feel disappointed and bored.
Luhrmann is as much a showman as Colonel Tom Parker, played here by Tom Hanks in full Austin Powers garb. The direction moves from style to style, embracing comic book iconography and sweeping edits punctuated with more glitter than an entire Strictly Come Dancing series, and the audience is thrown from stage to stage at a frenetic pace that is often shocking. You find yourself, especially in the first hour, wanting him to stop and let us linger on a scene.
Speaking of Hanks, this isn’t one of his best portrayals. Col Parker is our guide through the triumphs and tragedy of Elvis’ life, but he’s so one-dimensional he almost comes across as a Marvel super villain. The prosthetics used make him look more like Danny DeVito’s penguin, and his accent often makes his line delivery just plain awkward. Parker takes Elvis to what would become his audience, but we never really learn much about him as a character. He’s the villain of the room, and there’s no attempt to give him any depth or motivation, except that he wants half of everything Elvis. does and doesn’t care how he does it. The whole framing mechanism used by Luhrmann, with Parker in poor health reflecting on his time with Elvis, feels almost redundant, as he’s obviously the bad guy here, and no quarter is ever given.
Austin Butler plays the title role, and it’s an often stunning performance. Butler effortlessly channels the King and manages to capture the young Elvis in every way. It’s a performance that should see Butler’s career accelerate quite dramatically. powerful and pleasant, and yet still without nuance or depth.
Despite his performance, the writing lets him down here, with just the Elvis chips presented to us with no attempt to show us anything new. We walk through the timeline of Elvis, from his first appearances to his stardom, but it all happens so fast, Luhrmann takes us back and forth through the events that it’s often like an episode of Doctor Who. If you came to see this film hoping for new insights or revelations, you’ll find there’s nothing to see here. Actually, there’s something to be seen, but of course it’s all the fireworks and glitz of a Baz Luhrmann movie about Elvis.
Leaving this movie, you are left with mixed feelings. The main performance is stunning, but everything else is so tasteless and one-dimensional that the whole thing feels like a magic trick. Your eyes are drawn to the spectacle and the glitter, but underneath there’s really nothing of substance to latch onto.
It looks like this script has been whitewashed to present the beats you’d expect from such a movie, and for a movie over two and a half hours, there are moments from Elvis lore that seem glossed over and usually just omitted.
It’s a classic example of style over substance that will appeal to some fans and alienate others. It’s worth watching for the lead, but once you get past that there’s very little here that’s new or innovative and it’s such a shame when there’s so much talent available.
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