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Elvis Draws Polarizing Reviews After Cannes Premiere, See What Critics Are Saying About The Biopic

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Elvis may have left the building, but he’ll be gyrating into theaters this summer, thanks to director Baz Luhrmann (The Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet). Elvis, the story of one of music’s biggest icons, sees rising star Austin Butler in the title role, with Tom Hanks like we’ve never seen him before playing Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The film debuted at Cannes on May 25, and critics have some pretty strong opinions about what they saw. Despite the reported 12-minute standing ovation and huge praise from the King’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, the biopic is receiving some pretty brutal feedback.

The first footage we got from the Elvis trailer looked stunning, and the movie promises to show about 20 years of the musician’s life, from his humble beginnings all the way to his tragic death in 1977. Baz Luhrmann seems to have gotten creative with his storytelling, leading to polarizing reviews from the critics ahead of the film’s theatrical release on June 24. One thing that’s not up for debate, according to Stephanie Zacharek of Time, is the director’s love for his subject. She says: 

At times it’s barely a movie—the first hour or so is exceptionally fragmented and frenetic, as if Luhrmann were time-traveling through a holographic rendering of Elvis Presley’s life, dipping and darting through the significant events with little time to touch down. But through all the arty overindulgences, one truth shines through: Luhrmann loves Elvis so much it hurts. And in a world where there’s always, supposedly, a constant stream of new things to love, or at least to binge-watch, love of Elvis—our American pauper king with a cloth-of-gold voice—feels like a truly pure thing.

While many reviews aren’t as complimentary as the one above, most of the critics agree that Austin Butler does more than imitate Elvis Presley’s prolific dance moves and singing voice. He apparently embodies the character in a way that is no small feat for possibly the most imitated person in pop culture. Anna Smith of U.K.’s Metro newspaper acknowledges this but says as good as Butler is, Tom Hanks is equally as bad:

The King himself is played by Austin Butler, and boy does he deliver: from the swagger to the voice, he embodies Elvis and swiftly makes you forget you’re watching the kid from The Carrie Diaries. It’s a star-making turn. Unfortunately, Hanks fares less well as his manager. Wearing prosthetics and putting on a distracting foreign accent (Parker was actually Dutch), Hanks feels too much like a caricature, waddling into the picture like an uninvited guest at a snazzy party.

David Ehrlich of IndieWire grades the movie a D, saying Austin Butler’s performance is worthy of the King, but he's buried alive under a rhinestone rollercoaster of weak biopic tropes. He also wonders why Colonel Tom Parker is the main character of a movie called that holds the late rocker's name: 

‘It doesn’t matter if you do 10 stupid things so long as you do one smart one,’ Colonel Tom Parker advises us near the start of Baz Luhrmann’s utterly deranged musical biopic about the King of Rock & Roll, but even a ratio that forgiving would still leave Elvis roughly 370 ‘smart ones’ short. If only this 159-minute eyesore — a sadistically monotonous super-montage in which a weird Flemish guy manipulates some naïve young greaser over and over and over again until they both get sad and die — were gracious enough to be as short in any other respect.

Caspar Salmon of The Daily Beast says Elvis “lurches about flashing its gold like a drunk old millionaire in a strip joint,” calling the biopic “utterly exhausting.” It rushes past important aspects of the singer’s life, like how he went from promising upstart to the superstar owner of Graceland. His mother’s death is also seemingly neglected. This critic says:

These errors matter, because the film is so extraordinarily long and spends what feels like decades on elements of Presley’s life that are considerably less interesting (such as the Vegas residency), that the film feels cobbled together, a ragbag.

Adam Solomons of AwardsWatch grades the movie a C+, appropriately, since this review can’t seem to choose which side of the rating to fall on. The critic calls the movie “terrible” and yet “wildly entertaining”:

A fiercely conventional biopic with all the musical analysis of a Spotify playlist, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is, more often than not, an affront to cinema. Hack-handed edits, schlocky performances and manic pacing prevent this ever being a film worth taking particularly seriously. It doesn’t even seem to want such a response. Yet, a skill Luhrmann has always seemed adept at, Elvis is also a wildly entertaining two-hours-and-fifty-minutes of absurd dialogue and choice politics. It brings me little pride to say it’s among the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year. Elvis may well have you all shook up, even if its melody is decidedly unchained.

For all the strong opinions being offered, it seems the negative reviews all praise one aspect of the film or another, while the positive reviews still also have major concerns. For what it’s worth, 34 critics who have seen the movie and rated it on Rotten Tomatoes have scored it above average, with an 82% rating and average score of 6.8 out of 10.

Elvis will be released exclusively in theaters on Friday, June 24, and should be available for streaming to HBO Max subscribers in August. In the meantime, be sure to check out our 2022 Movie Release Schedule to start planning your next trip to the theater! 

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.