I didn’t get the chance to see Elvis in theaters despite being a longtime fan of Elvis Presley’s music and a recent fan of his acting career. Elvis has officially come to streaming giving access to the masses. The buzz about Elvis since its promotion and release has been about star Austin Butler’s uncanny and exceptional depiction of the King. But is there anything more to the film? Or did Butler break his back carrying the whole thing?
The Conservative Critic will ask: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And Is it liberal propaganda?
Conservative Critic Meter Check: Elvis
Overall Rating: If not for Austin Butler, a catastrophe
They said it was high class, but that was just a lie. While Elvis holds an inexplicable 78% critical average on Rotten Tomatoes and 94% for audiences it was actually borderline trash. In reviewing the critical analysis almost all of the “high” reviews were actually very tepid in words but strangely high in star rating (pay for play?) and all the top critics panned the film. Audiences just really liked Austin Butler and that’s fair.
The film presents itself like the dark underbelly of the Elvis Presley story (of which, there is significant material to draw from) but instead presents a completely sanitized version of events which is heavy on a hammy and cartoonish Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) as Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker and light on Elvis’s world changing music. The film opens on a carnival and gives sort of creepy carnie vibes but does it very poorly never achieving the level of creep of successful films like Nightmare Alley – it then fills the movie with a very boring, white washed story which lightly brushes over the demons which plagued one of the world’s greatest entertainers. But it also doesn’t give us much of the good parts of his life, so we’re left with something not even emotional enough to be truly depressing.
Tom Hanks’s performance as the narrator and star of the movie (somehow…despite the film being called Elvis) is so bad it should stand alone in its own category of catastrophic review – and it shall.
Austin Butler is sensational and is the only reason this film is not off the charts into the red of “Bad.” Unlike his colleague, Hanks, Butler does not lean on prosthetics and camp to create his version of Elvis. Butler is nuanced and quiet and deeply human. I wish he was in a different film which gave him more opportunity to explore Elvis as a man, as a husband and as an exceptional performer. It was a movie saving performance which makes Elvis worth seeing at all. And it might even be an award winning performance.
Is it entertaining: Not up to the King’s standard
The very top of the film had a wonderful and dramatic reveal of Elvis performing and from there it was just less and less interesting to watch. The narration of Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker is tedious at best and seems to go on forever. Every time Butler’s Elvis comes on screen you get a little excited that you might get to see a big Elvis style musical number or see more of Butler’s amazing performance but are often met with even more Tom Hanks playing a cartoon Bridge Troll version of his character.
The sanitation of the storyline also contributes to its snore factor (where are the girls? Where are the drugs? Where is the rock and roll?) where It’s borderline fully boring but the few musical numbers included to save it from being a waste of time.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value: Only Austin Butler
Baz Luhrmann is known for being extremely hit and miss. Where films like Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet demonstrate the levels achievable by his genius, others like The Great Gatsby (though I did love Isla Fisher in that) and Elvis really fall short. Elvis, in my opinion, is his worst film to date. It felt extremely derivative of Nightmare Alley in style and in frame but not executed with nearly as much artfulness. It made the absolutely baffling decision to take the first high budget biopic about one of the most important pop culture icons in history and make another character as narrator and focus. Not only that but it rushes through Elvis’s life and career creating a sense that the King was kind of a flash in the pan which is absolutely incorrect. The movie does not lean heavily enough on Elvis’s music or give us enough flavor of his relatively extensive acting career. It spends an inordinate and painful amount of time on his weird relationship with his weird manager.
The film also really presents itself like it’s going to be dark and it’s going to show the Elvis behind the Elvis. It doesn’t not even make that attempt. The film does not address Elvis’s well documented womanizing, drug use or alcoholism. It did not address that Pricilla was only 14 when she got together with Elvis including a pretty well reported sexual relationship. It makes the film seem weirdly shallow and when Pricilla leaves him in the third act it’s actually a little confusing.
I cannot stress enough how bad Tom Hanks was in this movie. It was by far his worst performance in his career history. His turn into this caricature form of acting is a career mistake and it truly stinks. It was cartoonish, hammy, floundering, totally lacking in credibility, depth or motivation. Hanks had no empathy for his own character and it read like a middle school student playing an evil witch. Awful. And he’s the actual star of the movie and most of the movie centers on his character.
The one shining star of an otherwise dreadful film is Austin Butler. Butler humanized Elvis for generations who didn’t have the opportunity to know him as a celebrity in his lifetime. He provided heart and history and conflict combined with raw ambition and superhuman talent to take a person that was so larger than life and make him a man. It was a performance well beyond what the film deserved and my only wish is that it could be plucked out of Elvis and dropped into a more deserving version.
Is it liberal propaganda: Yeah
This movie thought it was so woke, making sure to contextualize the civil rights movement with Elvis’s meteoric rise. It was so tediously careful to make sure we know that it knows Elvis’s influences came from black musicians of the time who were inventing the style known as “R and B” or Rhythm and Blues. It was so nauseatingly self congratulatory making sure the audience knows that it knows that Elvis’s signature hip shaking and dancing was commonplace in black performers and in black dance halls. We get it, we know, you’re not getting canceled for crediting the musical origins to the wrong person.
And yet, like all liberals who think they’re oh so woke, the film had a real white savior complex going on. Elvis is portrayed as a hero of the black community like he was SO GREAT to sing some activist song at a Christmas special instead of Jingle Bells or whatever. I’m sure Elvis was a great guy and an ally or whatever. I just think it’s hilarious the movie really needed us to make sure we all understood that Elvis was a “good white.” It’s so embarrassing and quintessentially leftist.
It also was hard on Las Vegas and Casinos which always reeks of anti-capitalism to me.