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Movie Review: Overly simplistic ‘Elvis’ biopic hits streaming services

Baz+Luhrmanns+Elvis+biopic%2C+featuring+Austin+Butler+in+the+titular+role%2C+is+now+available+on+HBO+Max.%C2%A0%28Photo+courtesy+of+IMDb%29
Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” biopic, featuring Austin Butler in the titular role, is now available on HBO Max. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

When I saw the trailers and ads for “Elvis,” I wasn’t particularly excited. I didn’t see why his story was worth telling again at this particular moment in history. However, with a strong box office performance, a positive critical reception and its recent release on HBO Max, I decided it was worth checking out. While I found some interesting elements in this biopic, I ultimately found it to be an overly positive portrayal of Elvis that missed the opportunity to explore the complexities of his legacy. 

The story is told from the perspective of Elvis’ former manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), covering key moments starting from Presley’s rise to stardom up until his death in 1977. 

The beginning of the film presents intriguing possibilities for narrative complexity by chronicling how the Colonel was drawn to the idea of capitalizing on Black music through a white artist. Though the Colonel was racist and xenophobic, he understood the popularity of Black music. When he found Elvis, a white man who was fascinated by blues and gospel, he found the perfect instrument for his pursuit of musical exploitation. I felt this aspect of the story gave the biopic more contemporary relevance and I was looking forward to a more progressive, realistic biopic on Elvis. 

The film also has elements of visual intrigue. Luhrmann retains his signature maximalist style and the film pops off the screen with dazzling colors, fast-paced editing and creative transitions. This works particularly well during the extravagant performance sequences where actor Austin Butler wonderfully captures the sound, dancing and sex appeal of Elvis. 

Unfortunately, the film paints a rosy and inauthentic representation of Elvis. It omits problematic elements of Elvis’ history such as his dating of underaged women — including his wife Priscilla, who he started dating at age 14 — and side steps facts about Elvis’ support of Nixon’s anti-communist agenda. While the film also highlights how Elvis’ career drew attention to Black artists like Little Richard, B.B. King and Big Mama Thornton, it severely underemphasizes Elvis’ appropriation of Black culture. 

While Tom Hanks is a biopic veteran, I felt he was miscast as the Colonel. Hanks constantly moves in and out of his accent which pulls the viewer out of the film’s immersion. I also did not find the Colonel as menacing as the story wanted him to be, which made his manipulation of Elvis less believable on the screen.

Eventually, the latter half of the film becomes too narratively contrived for its own good. It feels like there’s this constant tug of war between the story of the Colonel and Elvis, making the film too structurally loose. 

Ultimately, I feel there were lots of other movies I would recommend over “Elvis.” The film’s lack of complexity doesn’t match the 159 minute runtime. 

Correction 9/17/2022: A previous version of this review stated that Elvis Presley died in 1973. Presley died in 1977.

View Comments (17)
About the Contributor
Myles Wolf, Movie Columnist

Myles is a senior majoring in English and Film. He’s a former student government representative and has worked on documentaries for the Dyer Center as well as the Gladstone Whitman Fellowship. Every week, he reviews contemporary movies and shows, keeping tabs on the industry, as he pursues his dream of telling stories through cinema.

Comments (17)

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  • R

    RockySep 19, 2022 at 5:55 pm

    Just another “woke” idi*t trying to piss on a great movie with his b.s.

    Reply
  • K

    KittySep 19, 2022 at 8:38 am

    I saw the movie 14 times I thought it was Fantastic and Austin Bulter was Fantastic he should get an award for his acting in this movie he was 10 times better than Kirk Russell so shut about about this movie if you don’t have anything good to say

    Reply
  • J

    JimmySep 19, 2022 at 12:54 am

    The movie isn’t a PBS documentary..its entertainment and elvis was the man in that category…the film documents the highs and lows over 20 years with the colonel ..takes on a new generation ..some things are left out but overall I say not bad ..

    Reply
  • E

    EPSep 18, 2022 at 1:27 pm

    I absolutely loved the movie I liked Elvis music but looking at Austin Butlers Performance I cannot get enough of watching him in this movie. Not only the older generation but the new generation like my granddaughter is so in awe with this movie . I deeply feel that Austin truly captured Elvis in a way no other actor or impersonator has ever done before. And I may not be a professional critic but I have seen many ,many many movies in my life time to know that this young man deserves an Oscar BRAVO AUSTIN BUTLER !

    Reply
    • R

      RockySep 19, 2022 at 5:56 pm

      Amen.

      Reply
  • D

    DennisSep 17, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    What you really missed which I thought they brought out so well.
    That is how 1 person can destroy a person’s life for self gain.
    Same as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and the list goes on.

    Reply
  • K

    Kathy ScheerSep 17, 2022 at 5:36 pm

    I knew this was going to happen. Hearing how Priscilla & Lisa went on about the movie, I thought wow must to be wonderful. Well Austen had the moves down, but I didn’t feel his whole image. Elvis deserved better. Everyone, go back to the movie “Elvis and me”. It was so close to his life home and stage. It was made from Priscillas book Elvis and me, which I also read. Both Elivs and Priscillas characters were very believable, plus actors looked like both Elivs and Priscilla. So for me it was sad production . Looking at trailer & others short clips I wouldn’t even rent it.
    Sorry my dear Elvis, hoped for much better.

    Reply
  • L

    Lex AllenSep 17, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    Do not stress yourself over this badly written review. (Myles needs to study sentence structure.) This major in history couldn’t even bother to do quality research to give the year of Elvis’ death correctly. (Wolff states it was 1973 in this article when, in fact, Elvis died in August of 1975.) Myles Wolff has no credibility as an author, reviewer, researcher, or historian. He needs to be thrown off of his school paper and focus on learning the mechanics and techniques of his stated majors: English and History.

    Reply
    • D

      DonnaSep 18, 2022 at 12:49 pm

      Elvis died on August 16,1977.

      Reply
    • D

      Doug HebertSep 18, 2022 at 1:44 pm

      You’re wrong on the date of death, too.

      Reply
    • P

      Paul SmithOct 7, 2022 at 9:43 pm

      Lighten up dude.

      Reply
  • R

    Richard in NJSep 17, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    Should name this movie ” Col. Tom Parker “

    Reply
  • N

    Nathaniel KinseySep 17, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    You stupid Gen Z idiot’s miss the entire point of Rock N Roll. There is no appropriation… the whole point was everyone put everything together to make the greatest music of all time and in the process bring us together… now you woke assholes wanna tear us apart by finding problems with everything.

    Reply
  • S

    Sivle NoraSep 16, 2022 at 7:37 pm

    An amateurish review that seems like it was written before he watched the film, if he even did. The author seems like a fraud. He might need to change his major if this is the best he can offer. Stop trying to spread false Elvis myths. Elvis didn’t appropriate anything. How do you appropriate the culture from which you came? You’d understand that had you actually watched the movie.

    Reply
    • P

      Paul SmithOct 7, 2022 at 9:45 pm

      Elvis and Parker massively appropriated black culture for their own gain.

      Reply
  • J

    Jim BurrowsSep 16, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Reading Mr. Wolff’s review of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”, my mind raced not to the lives Elvis Presley, Col. Tom Parker, or even Baz Luhrmann, but to Charles Chaplin. Mr. Wolff sounded like the critic who having just arrived back in Switzerland, where his best friend Charles Chaplin, was exiled, told him that there was a guy back in the US which was causing a sensation and that critics had called dreadful. Chaplin asked, “But does the PUBLIC like him?” with emphasis on the PUBLIC. The critic then reached for his pocket and took out of there, a sort of newspaper clip, gave it to Chaplin and said “And again, the critics say he can hardly sing”. Chaplin looked at it and said. “Anyone who commands this attention has to be well worth it. You see, my friend, you cant fool the PUBLIC.” Now it is not the same thing to garner 60,710,000 for the CBS network on a Sunday night, for free, than to draw 32 million to go out of their way, worldwide, to pay to see a movie at the far end of a pandemia, but in both cases, they, the 60.7m and the 32.1m are the PUBLIC. And while a critic can be fooled, you cant fool the PUBLIC .

    Reply
  • J

    Jim BurrowsSep 16, 2022 at 10:21 am

    Reading Mr. Wolff’s review of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” my mind raced not to the lives Elvis Presley, Col. Tom Parker, or even Baz Luhrmann, but to Charles Chaplin. Mr. Wolff sound like the critic who having just arribved from the US in late September of 1956, told his best friend, Charles Chaplin, eho was exiled there, that there was a guy in the US which was causing a sensation and that critics had called dreadful. Chaplin asked, “But does the PUBLIC like him?” with emphasis on the PUBLIC. The critic then reached for his pocket and took out of there, a sort of newspaper clip, gave it to Chaplin and said “And again, the critics say he can hardly sing”. Chaplin looked at it and said. “Anyone who commands this attention has to be well worth it. You see, my friend, you cant fool the PUBLIC.” Now it is not the same thing to garner 60,710,000 for the CBS network on a Sunday night, for free, than to draw 32 million to go out of thier way, worldwide, to pay to see a movie at the far end of a pandemia, but in both cases, they, the 60.7m and the 32.1m are the PUBLIC. And while a criric can be fooled, you cant fool the PUBLIC . And incidentally, this is what Chaplin saw. https://scontent.fmga3-2.fna.fbcdn.net/…/78752467…

    Reply