Early reviews of ‘Elvis’ are all shook up

Austin Butler as Elvis
Image via Warner Bros.

Early reviews for Elvis are proving critics find the film divisive, even if the overall arch is a positive one.

The pendulum could swing for better or worse for the Baz Luhrmann-directed musical biopic that releases next month, but for the time being the film is scoring in the high 80s on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, as of press time. However, it’s important to remember that the ranking is only based on 16 reviews thus far, so that number may vary wildly as we get closer to release.

For as many critics who couldn’t help but fall in love with the film, the negative reviews are absolutely brutal, with IndieWire proclaiming the film to be “Bohemian Rhapsody at 4,000 M.P.H.,” for example. Calling the film a “159-minute eyesore,” reviewer David Ehrlich nevertheless leveled praise for star Austin Butler, even if his performance was “buried alive under a rhinestone rollercoaster of weak biopic tropes.”

Even in the positive reviews, such as what appeared to be an overall recommendation from New York Times writer Kyle Buchanan, there were still some notable low points, specifically Tom Hanks as Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Despite that, Buchanan said the film brings all of Luhrmann’s glitzy cheesiness you’d expected as well as an over-achieving performance from Butler.

However, Deadline‘s review of the film was pretty much filled with nothing but wall-to-wall praise, even for Hanks. Reviewer Pete Hammond called the movie a “musical feast of a biopic.”

The Guardian‘s review was nowhere near as kind, however. Giving the movie only two out of five stars, writer Peter Bradshaw claimed the film to be “off-key” and even leveled criticism at Butler’s performance.

“It’s not a movie so much as 159-minute trailer for a film called Elvis – a relentless, frantically flashy montage, epic and yet negligible at the same time, with no variation of pace.”

As for Butler’s performance, Bradshaw called it “competent but not especially inspired.”

On the other hand, The Hollywood Reporter leveled praise for the film, particularly for its direction by Luhrmann. However, writer David Rooney admitted the sequences can sometimes come across as surface level, rather than serving a more in-depth narrative, and the writing of the film sometimes doesn’t keep up the pace of the direction. But ultimately, if you’re a fan of Luhrmann especially, it should be an enjoyable time, the reviewer said.

As for Variety‘s take, they called the film “on-the-surface” but “stylish.” However overall, reviewer Owen Gleiberman called the film “compulsively watchable,” even if the movie’s myth-making can come across as superficial. Particular praise went to the gut-wrenching third act of the film, centering on Presley’s Vegas days, where it seemingly became a more deeply-felt drama.

Elvis comes to theaters June 24.