The long awaited Elvis Presley film has openened on screens. Years after some of the biggest blockbusters have revisited the likes of Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and more, Elvis gets his own Hollywood treatment thanks to Baz Lurhmann’s frenetic and bombastic view of his life. Fusing together music and drama to capture the life of the King of Rock and Roll from the perspective of his manager Colonel Tom Parker, this epic film is filled with plenty of style and, unfortunately, half-and-half substance.
Elvis (Austin Butler) is a young new talent initially spotted by Parker who decides to become his manager and experiences the whirlwind adventure of his life, from his hit songs, to his acting career and his stagnant final years in Las Vegas, manipulating the young man along the way.
The opening scenes alone encompass everything one could expect of Lurhmann, with fast camera movements, over-the-top visuals, unusual transitions and inclusions of remixed songs and sounds. Much like The Great Gatsby in which Lurhmann tried to modernize and compare with 21st-century hip hop and spectacle, Elvis is infused with visuals and audio that appeal to young audiences and retain their attention. Ultimately this results in some intense attacks on the senses and leaves the audience feeling blown away, rather than truly invested in the story at times.
Bringing a real life icon to life is no easy feat but Butler does a truly phenomenal job in every way. Everything from his accent to his movements delivers more than the usual biopic depiction of lore, with his electric energy vibrating across all elements of the film. His presence is also larger than life, much like Elvis was, and he takes viewers on a journey that brings the legend down to earth in a relatable way. Sure, he doesn’t look a whole lot like him, but he makes the role his own and deserves an Oscar nomination for his embodiment of Presley.
Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker is more so-so. Finally taking on the role of the “mean guy”, Parker’s treatment of Elvis and ultimate entrapment of him is at the heart of the story. His prosthetics are distracting, as is his accent that feels more caricature than real. Though likely the fault of the script, Parker seems hammy and overblown. The relationship between the two characters could have been better explored and it could have told a better story about the exploitation of celebrities or the industry that Elvis worked in, but at near 3 hours long, it already feels packed.
Unfortunately, the rest of Presley’s life isn’t covered well, sacrificing the tales of his relationship with Priscilla, his family and even his community, for the biggest musical numbers and wider themes including racism. Therefore it feels like we don’t get a comprehensive view of Elvis’ life but rather one element that is part of a bigger story that the film is begging to tell.
Elvis is best when Luhrmann takes us to that beautiful musical place with Butler capturing the spirit of Presley. The rushed parts feel worth it when scenes of Elvis performing electrify the screen and the music and art direction come together in perfect harmony. Lurhmann’s direction is never 100%, but with Butler’s inclusion, Elvis will leave you feeling sad to have lost such a talent and lead you to his discography for the days following, which proves the success of any biopic.