For millennials and Gen Z, music biopics like Elvis, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman create a new generation of listeners, which means great artists like Elvis and Queen continue to transcend time.
Director Baz Luhrmann uses Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) to narrate the story of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler). Eventually, The Colonel, who in all actuality was not a colonel, exclusively represents the up-and-coming artist when he first discovers the attraction and appeal of Elvis. From there, Luhrman takes us through various influential moments in Presley’s lifetime: his friendship and influence from other rhythm and blues artists like B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr), which politicians, at that time, were frustrated by since because of segregation laws and the concern Black artists would have; when he meets his wife, Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge); loses his mother (Helen Thomson) who he was close to and even his venture into the film industry in the 1960s. Although the film is narrated through The Colonel’s lens, we see that he takes much of Elvis’s earnings to which he gambles away and eventually, Elvis is stuck performing in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I am impressed by actor Austin Butler’s transformation of Elvis. Butler, an Anaheim, California, native got his start in 2005 as Zippy Brewster on Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. Since then, he has amassed several film and television roles from George on Wizards of Waverly Place to Hunter Calloway in Yoga Hosers. Although filming for Elvis began on Jan. 28, 2020 and was delayed because of Covid-19, Butler spent nearly a year and a half preparing for the role of a lifetime. Prior to January 2020 and in the time that the cast could not film, Butler examined nearly every single footage of the rock-and-roll star, even listening to and falling asleep to tapes of Elvis Presley.
Among standouts is Butler’s performance as Elvis about 50 minutes into the film when The Colonel reminds Elvis, “No wiggling!” As Elvis, the actor is visibly torn between what to do, although by the time he takes the stage, it is clear what he will do. In front of Elvis and the band stands police officers separating them from frenzy of young women who cannot get enough of the young rock-and-roller. Elvis looks out at the crowd and excites fans as he remarks, “There’s a lot people saying a lot of things. Of course you gotta listen to the people that you love, but in the end you gotta listen to yourself, so I want you to know those New York people ain’t gonna change me none.” Then before breaking out into a performance of his ever-popular “Trouble,” he warns the crowd, “I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.” Butler mimics Elvis’s gyrations quite well. Particularly the moment that stands out is when Butler begins twisting those long legs of his, gyrating and landing on the tips of his toes.
Director Baz Luhrman fuses elements of hip-hop and modernity in the film, which helps attract millennial and Gen Z viewers. The director took a similar approach to the remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 film, The Great Gatsby. Although the soundtrack doesn’t include the OG–Big Momma Thornton, who first recorded the song in 1952. Big Momma (Shonka Dukureh) even makes an appearance in Elvis, singing her popular hit, and the actor makes a strong impression as Elvis adapted “Hound Dog” himself—although Presley cultural appropriated such songs by Black artists. Doja Cat’s version is popular among fans too as it reached No. 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Given Butler’s transformation as Elvis, his performance in the film and the modernity of the music, this is a fantastic portrayal of the king of rock-and-roll, giving it five out of five Lanterns. Elvis was released to theaters on June 24, 2022, although viewers can find it on Amazon Prime and HBO Max.