Musical biopics tend to be fairly rote affairs, by and large, constrained by the facts at hand and the strikingly similar paths that many of their subjects follow. That’s why, while Jake Kasdan’s sublime parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story might be specifically taking shots at the Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line, its choke is open wide enough that almost every film in the subgenre is caught in the spray, even later efforts like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman.
The talent to formative tragedy to rampant success to shameful excess to redemption (or death) narrative track can be navigated blindfolded. With Elvis, director and co-writer (along with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner) Baz Luhrmann is still beholden to the broad strokes of Elvis Presley’s life, taking us from his impoverished rural childhood to his 50s stardom, 60s slide, the fabled 68 Comeback Special (a highlight), and finally his 70s decline and death. But Luhrmann is aiming for mythography rather than biography. As played by the striking Austin Butler, Elvis is not a man but an icon—an avatar of rebellion and rock ‘n’ roll, sexy, swaggering, and brilliant.