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Criticism: ‘Elvis’ review

Arts+criticism+writer+Austin+C.+Nguyen+reviews+the+musical+biopic+Elvis.
via IMdB

Arts criticism writer Austin C. Nguyen reviews the musical biopic “Elvis.”

Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

Editor’s Note: This review contains mild spoilers for the film.

“Elvis” is a crowd-pleaser that is very well-executed and enjoyable, but its scope is too broad and fails to differentiate itself from other recent musical biopics. It follows the life of Elvis Presley, played by Austin Butler, from his humble youth in Memphis, Tenn., to a final triumphant concert in Las Vegas, touching on major historical events, racism and everything in between. In spite of its nearly three-hour runtime, “Elvis” has a fun but frenetic pace that keeps it engaging throughout.

The biopic suffers from one major, baffling creative decision: it is told from the perspective and narration of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manipulative and antagonistic manager. Played by a miscast Tom Hanks with a ridiculous fat suit and accent, Col. Parker is a caricature that is difficult to take seriously. This unfortunate judgment effectively hampers the film by shifting unneeded focus from Elvis to Parker. Though an interesting and unique choice that sheds light on a lesser-known issue in Elvis’ life, a narrative driven by his eccentric manager is inherently flawed. This character does not deserve to tell this story.

Writer-director Baz Luhrmann is known for his maximalist and stylized visuals in films such as “The Great Gatsby” and “Romeo + Juliet,” and his over-the-top direction is a great fit for “Elvis.” Adding to Butler’s solid singing and mostly believable portrayal of Elvis, various trap artists, Tame Impala and Kacey Musgraves also contribute to the score. The slight modernization of familiar songs work well in the numerous musical scenes and allows a modern audience to understand and contextualize the “Elvis craze” during his heyday. These changes might sound divisive to some, but they mesh with the original works. Technically, audibly and visually, the production values are shiny and expensive.

In addition to being a legendary artist and performer, Elvis is depicted as a progressive activist that brought Black jazz and gospel music to the masses. Most problematic topics and rumors are avoided, and the ones shown, like his drug use and marital issues, are mainly a result of the music industry chewing him up. Improving Elvis’ legacy in 2022 is an important goal of the film.

The film should have touched more on both the incredible highs and lows of Elvis’ turbulent life story instead of a slightly overstuffed film that fails to cut  deep. “Elvis” needed more intimacy and focus to be truly great. The most interesting parts of the film were the initial 30 minutes and the last portion in Las Vegas. Each of these respective parts could have easily been expanded into full-length films that allow an in-depth look into each specific time and the mindset of the troubled star. If you skim through Elvis’ Wikipedia entry, or even have a passing knowledge of his life, there won’t be many revelations found in this film. 

Final thoughts: “Elvis” is a beautiful and well-executed biopic that is slightly sterile. Watch it for the excellent visuals, performances and music, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking or unique.
Austin Nguyen is a business major and writer for The Battalion.

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