Godzilla: King of the Monsters has opened. It has lots of monster action but about a quarter of the film seemed to be people staring at screens and the human side of the story was nothing special. So let's focus on Rocketman, the "musical fantasy" about pop star Elton John's rise to fame.
As Rocketman has been released not long after Bohemian Rhapsody, comparisons are inevitable, especially since Rocketman's director, Dexter Fletcher, took over the Queen film from Bryan Singer late in production.
The best thing about Bohemian Rhapsody was Rami Malek's performance as Freddy Mercury; he was the main focus but the story was a predictable, and mostly scrubbed-clean, saga of a band forming, rising, quarrelling and reconciling
With Rocketman, Fletcher's directed the whole film and it's a much more imaginative look at the early life and career of the artist born Reginald Dwight. It's not altogether accurate - one glaring change is John getting married in Britain rather than Australia - but, unlike Bo Rhap, it's less coy about the singer-songwriter's sexuality, his less attractive side and his copious consumption of alcohol and drugs before he was able to become sober.
Taron Egerton (Kingsman) - who, we're told, sang as well as acted - captures John's charisma, talent and onstage flamboyance as well as his tantrums and self-indulgence. His long songwriting partnership with lyricist and friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is touching and his relationship with manager and lover Richard Madden (John Reid) is a vivid reminder of the dangers of mixing the personal and the professional.
Biopics of real-life singers have been popular for decades and it's not hard to see why. Even if the life events are not terribly exciting - though they usually have something usable - they can be and usually are embellished and the filmmakers can capitalise on an already famous name and use their well-known songs.
In older films, the actors often mimed to recordings by the original artist or a voice-in; the trend in recent years has been for actors to do their own singing. Exceptions include Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en rose (2007) and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray (2004), but that didn't stop either one winning multiple awards including an Oscar. Malek as Mercury had his vocals mixed with those of others and also won an Oscar.
Names from earlier eras who got the biopic treatment include Al Jolson, who made new recordings for actor Larry Parks to mime to in two movies (The Jolson Story in 1946 and Jolson Sings Again in 1949) and Enrico Caruso in 1951's The Great Caruso (in which Mario Lanza acted and sang as the opera star) .
Sissy Spacek - who did her own singing - won an Oscar as country singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter (1980). And there are many more.
But let's return to Rocketman. Fletcher has made a musical before, the enjoyable Sunshine on Leith, and this movie (written by Lee Hall) covers John's childhood as a gifted pianist whose parents' unhappy marriage eventually disintegrates. Just about everyone with a prominent part gets to sing at least one song - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I'm Still Standing, Crocodile Rock, and more.
While it might not be entirely accurate, this is, after all, a "musical fantasy" not a biopic. And Fletcher is one director who knows how to make musicals.