“Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” showcase these legends while also keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive
The phrase “long live rock ‘n’ roll” has transcended through each decade as a prominent mantra for many, taking on the forms of both a rebellious chant and nostalgic phrase. However, a certain phenomenon that seems to continually ascend in popularity has breathed new life into the phrase — musician biopics. Films that provide audiences with a candid perspective into the lives of their favorite iconic artists have certainly been a staple of our popular culture for a handful of years now — dating back to 1987’s “La Bamba,” 1991’s “The Doors,” or 1997’s “Selena” to name a few — though it appears that a newfound appetite has developed for these films amid older and younger generations alike.
Taking into consideration the immense popularity of 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and 2019’s “Rocketman”, along with the recently announced Elvis Presley and David Bowie biopics that are currently in the beginning stages of pre-production, it seems that the filmmakers behind these movies have been able to cook up recipes for success in order to carry on the remarkable legacies of notable artists and bands. In focusing on “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” glimpse into the inner-workings of Queen and “Rocketman’s” divulging into the life of Elton John, the variety of elements and particular inclusions from the musicians’ lives that were crafted into these over 2-hour-long films were carefully and cleverly chosen, and have undoubtedly paved the way for a desire of future biopics.
The casting and acting alone within each film is outstanding, with Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury and Taron Egerton as Elton John. Both Malek and Egerton completely embody the essence of their respective rock legends. Malek’s role is essentially an exact imitation of Mercury. He uncannily masters Mercury’s mannerisms, outward appearance, and elocution. Egerton, on the other hand, portrays his own take on John’s disposition (which is arguably a creative risk that ultimately worked well). While “Bohemian Rhapsody” chose to employ the majority of Queen’s original recordings for the soundtrack, Egerton uses his own voice for “Rocketman’s” musical moments — a decision that certainly contributes to the film’s authenticity and uniqueness — though he doesn’t noticeably imitate many of John’s exact mannerisms. Both Malek and Egerton clearly put a plethora of effort into bringing their artists to life — or back to life, in Malek’s case. The argument that Mercury has been dead for almost 30 years does play in favor of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” since Malek could neither actually collaborate nor bond with Mercury in the same way Egerton was able to with John. Though given the circumstances, it worked in both of their favors: Malek brought Mercury back to life through his encapsulation, and Egerton breathed new life into John in putting his own spin on his songs and legacy.
The plots themselves differ significantly, having “Bohemian Rhapsody” serve as more of a celebration of Queen’s music and “Rocketman” as a raw tale of the hidden disparities endured by John, which displays the fact that biopics can be appreciated and enjoyed all the same even if formulated differently. Queen’s music is heavily woven into the film, though it is not utilized as an integral form of the storytelling aside from continuing the band’s timeline, whereas “Rocketman” cleverly used the lyrics of John’s songs to frequently narrate the film’s plot.
Among these notable differences is the deliverance of both Mercury and John’s private lives — a key facet of both films. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been criticized numerous times for its deliverance and handling of Mercury’s sexuality, in which many believe the singer’s homosexuality was not properly effectuated. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Rocketman” doesn’t shy away from fully conveying John’s sexuality in the slightest. Thus, a similar argument rises again: John was around to determine the conveyance of these personal details of his life, while Mercury was not. Other members of Queen are still around and were involved in the making of the film, but no one can truly testify for Mercury’s feelings on the aspects of his life he did or did not want portrayed save for Mercury himself. The film played it safe in not including any intimate scenes and arguably glossing over the intricate details of Mercury’s personal life. The contradictory vulnerability and openness of “Rocketman” in this capacity is remarkably bold, but it makes sense why “Bohemian Rhapsody” treaded lightly in this area.
Needless to say, rock biopics appear to be the perfect blend of cherished nostalgia colliding with the revamping of iconic legacies that will continue to take the world by storm.