Why Elvis’ Reviews Are So Positive

Why Elvis' Reviews Are So Positive

Prior to its theatrical release, the Austin Butler-led biographical film Elvis has already received positive reviews. Elvis details the life and musical career of rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley, as narrated by his manager Colonel Tom Parker. The musical stars Austin Butler, who really sings as Elvis, alongside Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, and Luke Bracey. The movie is directed by Baz Luhrmann, best known for his works on William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) Moulin Rouge! (2001), and The Great Gatsby (2013). In this age of Hollywood retelling celebrity lives and historical moments, Elvis stands out not only with its subject but also with its overwhelmingly positive reception.

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The journey of bringing Elvis to the big screen started in 2014 when talks of Luhrmann directing the film began to circulate. However, five years passed before any casting news, and production updates were announced. In July 2019, the frontrunners for the leading role, which included Ansel Elgort, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Miles Teller, and Harry Styles, were revealed. Ultimately, Butler, who shares a sad connection with Presley, landed the role by impressing Luhrmann with an audition tape of him singing “Unchained Melody.” Filming was supposed to commence in March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed any developments for Elvis. Eventually, after shooting delays and last-minute cast replacements, filming wrapped in March 2021. These scheduling conflicts pushed Elvis’ release date from October 2021 to June 24, 2022.

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As of writing, Elvis holds an 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 86 critic reviews. The film’s Fresh rating is justified by its critics’ consensus: “The standard rock biopic formula gets all shook up in Elvis, with Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling energy and style perfectly complemented by Austin Butler’s outstanding lead performance.” Critics recognized how much Lurhmann loves Presley both as a musician and as a person, to the point of him knowing the material really well and understanding that such a life story needs to be told with grace and respect. Nevertheless, Elvis, which could fix Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby mistakes, was not entirely rooted in reality. In fact, its director incorporated anachronistic elements, including the King’s songs getting pop-inspired arrangements and modern songs playing in the background. Luhrmann’s decision to frame Presley’s story from Parker’s perspective was deemed original and refreshing. Consequently, Luhrmann managed to make a timeless tale of ambition appealing to a new generation, especially with Butler’s electric performance. The actor does not simply resort to impersonating the iconic musician, but he has adapted even the most minute of mannerisms, making him the perfect choice for the role despite not looking anything like Presley. Here are more of the positive reviews for Elvis:

TIME Magazine:

Elvis, now gone for more than 40 years, is a ghost, no matter how passionately Luhrmann and Butler have tried to reconstitute his ectoplasm. The only consolation is that when a person is no longer a person, he is at last free to become a dream. In the final moments of Elvis, Luhrmann returns his beloved subject to that world, like a fisherman freeing his catch. “Lonely rivers flow/to the sea, to the sea,” the song tells us, as the true Elvis swims back to his home of safety—he’s better off as a dream, maybe, safe from everyone who might hurt or use him. But for a few hours there, he seemed to walk among us once again, a sighting that no one would believe if we tried to tell them. But we saw him. We really did. And then he slipped away, having had enough of our claim over him, if never enough of our love.

Los Angeles Times:

“Elvis” feels like an intuitive and sometimes even ideal match of filmmaker and subject. Luhrmann doesn’t do much by halves, and here his flamboyant stylistic excesses are very much of a piece with Elvis’ own.

The Wrap:

The film is part spirited homage to a titanic force in American music, delivered with the brio and extravagance of Lurhmann riffs like “Moulin Rouge!” and “Romeo + Juliet”; part sad cautionary tale of a quick rise and a long, slow decline; and part showcase for Austin Butler, who takes an impossible role and does a terrific job even though he, like everyone else on the planet, doesn’t really look like Elvis. But at other times the film is also a late-Elvis-sized snow job that gleefully distorts an icon’s life and career.

The Telegraph:

It’s a bright and splashy jukebox epic with an irresistible central performance from Austin Butler, who until now was perhaps best known as the cult enforcer Tex in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But in that signature Luhrmann way, it veers in and out of fashion on a scene-by-scene basis: it’s the most impeccably styled and blaringly gaudy thing you’ll see all year, and all the more fun for it.

Independent (UK):

America’s pop icons aren’t merely shiny distractions. They’re a culture talking back to itself, constantly interrogating its own ideals and its desires. I don’t think who Elvis was is necessarily more important than what Elvis represents. And, while you won’t find all that much truth in Baz Luhrmann’s cradle-to-grave dramatisation of his life, the Australian filmmaker has delivered something far more compelling: an American fairytale.

Entertainment Weekly:

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, a dazzling, splatter-paint evocation of the myth and the man, does a mighty job of bringing us closer to what that revolutionary moment must have felt like. It may not be slavishly devoted to the facts (this isn’t your typical birth-to-deather), but as with Todd Haynes’s glam fantasia Velvet Goldmine, the movie achieves something trickier and more valuable, mining shocking intimacy from sweeping cultural changes.

Variety:

​​Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is a fizzy, delirious, impishly energized, compulsively watchable 2-hour-and-39-minute fever dream — a spangly pinwheel of a movie that converts the Elvis saga we all carry around in our heads into a lavishly staged biopic-as-pop-opera.

elvis austin butler plays that's all right

On the other hand, while some critics praised Luhrmann’s storytelling technique, others tagged it as the wrong approach to a biographical film. Instead of the tumultuous relationship he had with his greed-fueled manager, the focus of the drama was supposedly on Presley, who was already played by various actors in films. Also, Elvis’ use of out-of-date music suggested a lack of faith in the ability of the modern audience to relate to and understand it. Moreover, with Lurhmann’s flashy and ostentatious directing style, the musical’s substance suffered as its style and extravagance were prioritized. Here are more of the negative reviews for Elvis:

IndieWire:

Rather than carving a meaningful path to guide Elvis through history, Luhrmann simply floats him through the years on a raft of non-stop music that bumps into an endless series of biopic clichés at light speed into the next until it finally capsizes a few decades later.

Vanity Fair:

Elvis presents the spectacular, but has little to say when the lights are off and it’s just the man, grasping to find purchase in the making of his own legacy.

The Guardian:

It’s not a movie so much as a 159-minute trailer for a film called Elvis – a relentless, frantically flashy montage, epic and yet negligible at the same time, with no variation of pace.

Honoring the larger-than-life legacy of the King of Rock n’ Roll is a daunting task. With biopics becoming a regular in cinemas and streaming services recently, it is quite difficult to hit that sweet spot between reality and nostalgia. But, Luhrmann’s vision paves the way for Butler to successfully reintroduce Presley to a younger, expectant audience through Elvis.

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About The Author

Chelsea Avestruz
(209 Articles Published)

Chelsea is a freelance writer. Her deep love for everything about literature stems from a childhood filled with Marvel comic books, worn-out novels, and pop-punk songs. She has always wanted to be an astronaut, but later on realized that writing is really her passion. There are better stories to tell here on Earth, after all.

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