Say Hello to the King – Elvis (2022)

The final release weekendin June was loaded with good stuff. Among them was a project that was basically 45-years in the making. Historically accurate or not, filled with color and light, and shot in glorious anamorphic Panavision, Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS biopic is absolutely dazzling across the board. 

This film is as much about the “King of Rock & Roll”, from his childhood in the Evangelical South to the heights of his fame, as it is about the tumultuous relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. 

There are documentaries, parodies, and films that feature him as a character, and a TV movie (starring Kurt Russell), but there is a reason that a true biopic hadn’t been done before. “Expectation” isn’t the right word but, when making the first cinematic representation of the life of Elvis, there’s an enormous amount of pressure to properly honor the icon and represent him with authenticity but also find a way to capture and relay all the things that were so special about him to a new audience. 

For all those reasons, when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I saw a trainwreck waiting to happen. However, because I go to the movies a lot, I kept seeing the trailer and, over time, it made me more curious than apprehensive. My faith in Baz Luhrmann’s bold and unapologetic style ultimately gave me enough faith to take the leap.

Tom Hanks (left) and the real Colonel Tom Parker (right)

It’s a much different starting place than you would imagine but, right out of the gates, we are knee-deep in a kaleidoscopic visual adventure. Yes, the film is about Elvis, but we are first introduced to his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who is on his death bed. It is his reminiscence of Elvis that serves as the base for the film and you learn right away that he’s attempting to paint himself as a hero of the story. The unreliable narrator is a classic literary technique employed by Baz, Sam Bromell, and Craig Pearce, and it’s an interesting decision when the subject is one of the most famous people in human existence, but it does keep the audience on its toes. Another major benefit of that approach is that it gave Luhrmann much more creative leeway without having to adhere so strictly to the purely factual elements of the story. As a result, we get a much more colorful experience that’s able to embody the spirit of Elvis without the rigidity.

Austin Buttler

Lurhmann having creative freedom was always going to be the upside, but the biggest question mark was always going to be Austin Butler playing the legend. Those are some massive capes to fill but, fortunately, Baz understood this very well. When we are first introduced to Butler on-screen as Elvis, he was still a nervous young performer who hadn’t broken out yet. That gave space for the audience and the former Nickelodeon star to grow into the idea of him as Elvis, together. There was a cool featurette that showed the work Butler put into the music side of the equation and, through doing that work, he earns his spot on Elvis through the arc of the film. For me, that moment comes during the performance of “If I Can Dream” for the NBC comeback special. It’s such a physically demanding role at times, when you watch the performance you can’t help but feel the level of dedication and the energy Butler gave to the role. 

Tom Hanks still gets top billing because…well…he’s Tom Hanks and he is the narrator as Colonel Parker. Lending his name, his gravitas, and his considerable skill to the project elevated it to the kind of marquee event that it turned out to be. He’s so incredibly charismatic, even behind the excellent work from the prosthetics and makeup teams, you always know you’re in good hands. Bringing Hanks on board and having him do a lot of the heavy lifting also allowed Butler to just focus on the nearly impossible task of becoming Elvis Presley. The duo spends a large portion of the runtime together and it’s in those moments where the real character comes to the surface. 

This wasn’t the most elaborate costume, but it shows the thoughtfulness that went into the production design

The production value of this film is amazing from top to bottom. Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy’s production design is larger than life and parallels the superhero trajectory that we see in the references to Elvis’s prominently featured Captain Marvel Jr. comics. The legend was known for his flashy outfits and Martin must have had a blast making those because they are amazing and very accurate. Mandy Walker’s cinematography captures the impactful visual presence of this film beautifully and Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa did a wonderful job with the editing especially as the pace intensifies down the stretch.

Obviously, the music is a MASSIVE part of the film and the soundtrack boasts tracks from both the real Elvis Presley and renditions for Austin Butler, but it also features contemporary artists like Doja Cat, Eminem, and Kacey Musgraves which helps the overall thumbprint of the sound feel less dated. Gary Clarke Jr. even has a small cameo as Arthur Crudup.

It’s in these moments that Butler really transforms

I was worried that it may flounder in its 2h 39m runtime, but it’s paced well and is entertaining from start to finish. It actually left a lot on the table. One thing I would have liked to see was more of Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King. He’s a fantastic young actor and he was underutilized, especially considering the role he plays as a prominent link to the Black community that Elvis was so fond of. 

I wasn’t expecting to, but I really loved this movie.

Recommendation: See if for it’s glorious cinematic style. Fans of Elvis will enjoy reminiscing and seeing the larger than life icon brought to the silver screen, and newcomers will be able to find an appreciation for the legacy of the King.