Who would have thought that two hours of Rami Malek lip-syncing and a choreographed glitz-rock musical would revive 70’s rock? The film industry has singlehandedly resurrected an iconic era in music history with its latest film releases. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is back on the radio and heart-shaped sunglasses are an up-and-coming trend.
Since the 2018 release of Oscar-winning biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen has once again stolen the world’s heart. The masses have fallen back in love with their smash-hits and iconic performances, as well as their bell-bottom jeans. But it seems as though they are now passing the baton to fellow artist and friend, Elton John, who is now in the spotlight for his own biopic.
Rocketman arrived May 31st and has already sparked comparison. Besides the artists being from the same era and glam-rock genre, the excessive glitter, feathers and leather featured in both films might also be influencing factors.
With this recent influx of rockstar biopics, comparison is inevitable. The similarities between the two artists are seemingly endless, as front-man Mercury and John were possibly the most glamorous and flamboyant performers of their time, but they are not the same. Their life stories and the ways they are portrayed in the films are drastically different. Rather than comparing the films’ similarities, we should be recognizing the ways in which they differ.
One of the most notable and discussed differences between the films is their opening weekends. Bohemian Rhapsody had a massive opening weekend, raking in $50 million and coming in first place over other films. Rocketman did not flop whatsoever, but it had a smaller impact than the Mercury biopic, earning $27 million and coming in third. While Rocketman did not gross as much as the preceding biopic, it received critical acclaim and a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes (Bohemian Rhapsody is barely above 60%—the indication of a ‘rotten’ film). While Bohemian Rhapsody was a wildly successful film, it lacked the praise of Rocketman.
Many people also compare the style of the films but forget that the formatting of both movies is incredibly different. Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic that happens to have music in it—the original songs sung by Freddie Mercury himself—not a musical. Rocketman is a full-blown, over-the-top musical with dance numbers and all. While Rami Malek does his best dance moves, he is lip-syncing (very well, I might add) for the majority of the film. One viewer claims that the movie is just a “two-hour Tik Tok.”
bohemian rhapsody winning academy awards as if they didn’t just make a 2 hour long tiktok
— nat (@pielette) February 25, 2019
Because the movie was a musical, Rocketman star Taron Egerton sang every song featured on the soundtrack. He authentically performed every scene of Elton John’s life, filling very large shoes. One might think that they are attending a Broadway show, rather than a movie. This causes a major issue, as a critic expecting a biopic might judge a musical harshly when it does not meet their original expectations (or vice versa).
The variances of style simply stem from different creative thinking and licensing. Elton John is able to control and direct the content of his own biopic, but Freddie Mercury is tragically not able to do so. While close friends and family contributed to the film, many thought it would be disrespectful to explicitly portray the singer’s identity and struggles (specifically his sexuality and drug use) without his permission. Elton was able to add his own input to the film, insisting that his addiction and struggle with sexuality was plainly shown. Many compare Rocketman’s explicit display of drug use and sexual behavior to Bohemian Rhapsody’s lack thereof without realizing how inappropriate and disrespectful it would be to include such a private part of Mercury’s life.
This leads many to compare the actual content of the films. There are major discrepancies between the films, as major issues in the artists’ lives were handled differently on the screen.
For example, Mercury’s sexuality always had negative connotations when it was mentioned in the movie. His attraction towards men was rarely put in a positive light—it was mainly seen as infidelity, shame and disease. During the majority of the film, his relationship with his sexuality and other men was toxic. He only seems “truly happy” when he is pictured with his ex-girlfriend, Mary. In Rocketman, Elton’s marriage to Renata Blauel is shown to fail quickly, demonstrating clearly that he is not happy with women. There is no attempt to “straight-wash” the singer, and he accepts that he is gay. Bohemian Rhapsody is toxic, self-hating representation, unlike Rocketman. Mercury’s film is self-loathing without any development, while Elton slowly begins a road of self-acceptance.
Photo via IMDB
Rocketman never glossed over any aspect of Elton’s life, whether it was good or bad, while Bohemian Rhapsody was deemed problematic for sugarcoating and ignoring nearly every issue in Mercury’s life. Though the movie showed an emotional scene between the singer and his family, Mercury never personally revealed his sexual orientation to his conservative family. In Rocketman, it is made clear that Elton has a toxic and unaccepting relationship with his family, as he did in real life. This tragic element of his life is never fabricated into something happier.
Many other aspects of Mercury’s life were polished, as well. It is widely rumored that the singer had some unhealthy tendencies, as it is briefly nodded to in a .01 second shot of a coffee table covered in drugs in the film. Elton had severe addictions and was explicitly seen abusing substances, but also seeking help, in Rocketman. Though writers had limitations with Mercury’s story, it was sad to see such a major part of his life swept under the rug, among many others that were simply sugarcoated.
Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody are not meant to be compared, but rather enjoyed separately. They tell different artists’ stories in their own unique formatting. While Bohemian Rhapsody grossed more, Rocketman told a more authentic story that deserves its own praise—not to live in the shadow of a preceding biopic with horribly toxic themes.
Freddie Mercury and Elton John both lived lavishly in the prime of glitz-rock. Their stories are very unique, though, and should not be compared. Their sexualities and experiences were vastly different, and warrant separate creative visions. Pitting two iconic performers against one another is both offensive to them and those who worked hard on these projects. At the end of the day, they are two different movies about two different people. Whether you prefer classic rock or glamorous musicals, you can enjoy films without comparing them to others.