I, like everyone else born after 1959, knew who Elvis was as a child. He seemed to have existed forever. As an adult, I learned what a tragedy his life was — modern society’s first account of someone drowning in fame and excess. I also learned what an incredible artist and gifted singer he was.
I didn’t see this when it came out in June. I didn’t care to, the trailers didn’t sell it for me. It being a weak summer for movies and some Tiktok advertising made me reconsider.
Tom Hanks’s Dutch accent is somehow spot on and terrible at the same time. I had no idea the Colonel was actually this much of a fraud. To his credit, I rarely saw “Tom Hanks” in the role, but the whole thing just didn’t click for me. Didn’t feel good. Austin Butler strikes me as every pretty boy actor I’ve ever met — a black hole of ego barely concealing an infinite fear of never being Seen or Known — but I gotta admit, the guy carries the movie and his Elvis voice is spot on for both singing and speaking. I see why he beat out so many others for the role. Rest of cast I didn’t recognize, Kodi-Smit McPhee is there for a second, as is David Wenham. Richard Roxburgh is Elvis’s father who’s portrayed as stammering and spineless. A 22 year old Australian actress I’d never heard of plays Priscilla and she’s total wallpaper, as are most of the supporting characters.
The actors aren’t to blame — other than Butler and Hanks, no one is given much to work with. We’re now fifteen years past Walk Hard, the parody that should’ve killed off all hamfisted musical biopics, but here we are. It’s paper-thin cinematic cliches glossed over with an onslought of orgasmic Baz Luhrmann-brand spectacle. Luhrmann’s name should be next to “ostentatious” in the dictionary. I mean, Jesus Christ Almighty.
The music is one area where the movie actually comes close to achieving its aims— Butler sings very well and very accurately for the King and there’s a Little Richard concert that was probably my favorite part of the movie— but it’s jarring to hear Doja Cat and Denzel Curry pop up in random spots. The movie should’ve committed to one era or the other.
Ultimately, I’d say Elvis is watchable, but just barely. It seems to alternate between lengthy sequences of the above-mentioned kaleidoscopic Vegas glitz-jizz and quiet conversations where Elvis has an epiphany about his emotional life after a conversation with his mother or BB King or the Colonel. But the rest of it is such a fucking DMT trip for your eyes. How…