Elvis (2022) Review
Not the best musical biopic, but also not the worst
Quick Thoughts - While I had high hopes for Elvis, the reality is that this is the kind of film that you will watch clips of on Youtube in five years, but never actually sit down and watch the whole thing again. It has some fantastic moments where Austin Butler shines, but when you put the whole thing together it doesn’t make for a cohesive story.
The Bad - The main problem with the film is the lens through which the story is told. That lens of course being from the perspective of Colonel Parker. From the opening moments of the film, hearing Hank’s narration and explanation for why we should care about the Colonel just feels odd. No one that goes to see a film about the life of Elvis cares one iota about Colonel Parker and the film spending so much time on the character and his perspective is a major mistake. Throughout the film there are moments when we spend 15-20 minutes with only Elvis and you start to get excited and think the film is finally finding itself, then every single time you think that, Tom hanks narration comes back and acts as a buzzsaw that kills the whole momentum of the movie. Every time the story cuts from Elvis back to the Colonel, the audience got understandably frustrated. In fact, at times it feels more like a movie about the Colonel than it does about Elvis. It always feels like you are peering into the life of Elvis from the outside, not that you are in his head and understanding the ins and outs of his life. An outside perspective on Elvis is something that you can get anywhere, I would expect more from a movie titled, “Elvis”.
Another noticeable flaw in the film is that it tried to cover too much ground. Often times when a movie is made about an influential historical figure, a filmmaker backs himself into a corner by trying to give the person at the center the cradle to grave treatment. Elvis is no exception. You are never going to be able to fit all of Elvis into 2 hours and 40 minutes, but this film tries and tries really hard. The results is that the movie feels chaotic and at times feels like a chunk of segments patched together instead of one cohesive story. Too much time is spent on small mundane moments that don’t matter and not enough time is spent on a few key narratives and moments.
The best example of this is his romance with Priscilla happens entirely in one 2 minute scene in her bedroom. It helps that this scene is one of the most captivating moments in the whole film, but it leaves the audience wanting more. Flash forward 20 minutes later and we are supposed to be deeply hurt by the fact that they are having marriage trouble, but how can we do that when we have only seen them together for a few minutes? Then at the end of the film there is an attempt to make a scene at the airport some grand goodbye between he and Priscilla when the moment doesn’t work at all because once again, we haven’t spent enough time with them as a couple to feel the pain of their goodbye. In an attempt to cover lots of ground, Luhrmann took the flyover approach with this film, he tried to fit everything into the film, but we only briefly saw everything and didn’t get anything of substance or depth. In Elvis, it felt like not mentioning a big part of his life would have been a better approach than only teasing an idea that we know played a massive role in his life (like Priscilla, his Hollywood career, or drugs). I would have much preferred Luhrmann chose one period of his life and spend the whole film diving into that time. This would have given us depth to his character while still highlighting all of the qualities that the movie portrayed of Elvis.
Additionally, it is worth noting that throughout the entirety of the film Baz Luhrmann gets in his own way (which is actually sort of becoming his signature). Whether it is the weird comic book strips, the multiple montage moments, Doja Cat playing as Elvis walks down Beale Street in the 1950s , or the bizarre moments where we see the ghost of colonel Parker at the blackjack table, it all just feels so childish. The first trailer for Elvis conveyed a seriousness and gravity to the tone in which this story was going to be told, which is what I was expecting when I walked into the theater. In reality, less than 20% of the movie felt that way while the rest felt like Luhrmann pulling tricks and gags out from his toolbox.
The final thing that has to be said and said very loud is that Tom Hanks is just simply not good in this film. The accent that he does throughout the film sounds so perplexing that you often wonder if he is attempting to portray a human on this planet or an alien from another galaxy. It is unfortunate that he narrates a large chunk of the movie because each time you hear that voice, you can’t help but tense up and cringe. If you think I am being a bit harsh, take a listen to what the real Colonel Parker’s voice sounded like (see below) and you will quickly learn just how ridiculous Hanks accent is. He wasn’t trying to recreate the Colonel’s accent, he literally made the accent up out of thin air and decided to run with it. I would go so far to say that if Hanks talked in his normal voice, he would have sounded more like the Colonel than he did with his fake accent.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop with the accent, Hanks genuinely seems disinterested in the character multiple times throughout the film and in other. This lack of consistency and oscillation back and forth is exhausting for the audience. Some will get defensive of Hanks and say the reason for the uproar about his performance is because he is playing such a villain, which I disagree with completely. The choice to play a villain wasn’t a bad one, but the choice to play this one was. Quite frankly, I am beyond baffled at why he even chose to play this role. If someone talked him into doing it then he should cut them off immediately.
The Good - As is the case in most good music biopics, the best thing about this film is a handful of the musical performance scenes. There are three specific scenes in this movie (the county fair performance where the girls are wowed, the performance in Mississippi where the “real” Elvis is revealed, and the 1968 comeback special) that are beyond remarkable. In fact, I would go so far to say that the film is worth seeing just for these three scenes alone. When I referenced above that this is a movie where you will go back and watch clips, these are exactly the scenes I was referencing. The sound design is flawless, the amount of movement that Luhrmann does with the camera is a spectacle, and the large number of cuts make you feel the energy of each performance. While these scenes are a true accomplishment, it makes the rest of the film dwindle in comparison when they are shown in sequence. These scenes are a perfect example of what this movie could have been and should have been from start to finish.
Austin Butler is a star in the making. Stepping into the shoes of the King is a tall task and Butler was clearly up for the challenge. The first flash of brilliance we get from Butler is in the opening musical scene at the county fair. As the audience you feel first hand the captivation and excitement that the young girls in the audience did as Elvis reveals himself and his movements to the world. However, where Butler really shines is in the range that he shows as the film goes on. It is expected that anyone cast as Elvis me able to shake their hips and move around the stage, but the moments where Butler really won me over were the emotional moments when he was crying and pouring his heart out. He will no doubt be in the running for an Oscar nomination for this performance.
The final thing that this film really nailed was the production design. This has come to be expected from a Baz Luhrmann film and Elvis is no exception. You can certainly argue that the film falls apart narratively as it wears on, but it is never dull to look at. From the costume design, to the set design, it was a spectacle. In fact the design is so good, that it embodies and captures the tone of the time not only in music, but also in the nation.
Rating - 65/100
Best Performance - Austin Butler as Elvis - see above for
Honorable Mention - Olivia DeJonge is FANTASTIC as Priscilla. The only reason that she can’t be put on the best performance line with Butler is because she was barely in the film. The second she comes on screen, she injects life into the film when it needs it most. You want the bedroom scene of her falling in love with Elvis to last forever as they look into each others eyes. It is a shame we didn’t get more moments like that in the film.
Will I watch again - Possibly. Certainly will watch clips of the musical performances again, but I am not eager to sit down and watch the whole thing again anytime soon
Would I recommend - If you like Elvis even slightly or enjoy music in any way shape or form, it is certainly worth seeing for the music scenes alone
Final Takeaways - Making a film about the most influential man in music history is no doubt a tall task, so I don’t blame Luhrmann for falling a tad short. There aren’t many films that are 2 hours and 40 minutes, yet feel rushed like Elvis does. There is supposedly a four hour cut of this movie and knowing that it exists makes sense given the obvious flaws of the film. I think all we can do is give Luhrmann the benefit of the doubt and assume that his intentions were pure and Hollywood made him trim it down. I actually think this film would have been better as a 6 part mini series if Luhrmann was dead set on covering Elvis’s life from cradle to grave. It certainly won’t go down as one of the best movie biopics, but it also won’t go down as one of the worst.