The first reviews for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis are coming in hot as the film prepares to hit theaters next week, and the consensus is clear: Austin Butler absolutely nails the title role as The King. Butler is earning rave reviews even if critics aren’t exactly in love with the biopic as a whole. Particularly Tom Hanks‘ overwhelmingly reviled performance as Colonel Parker, which IndieWire‘s David Ehrlich described as a “Kentucky Fried Goldmember” and “possibly the most insufferable movie character ever conceived.”
But issues with Hanks and the film’s frantic approach to Presley’s life aside, a constant refrain is how well Butler channels Elvis without falling into the tired, usual trappings of The King’s numerous impersonators. Butler’s cheekbones are also mentioned several times, so get ready for that to be a thing.
You can see what critics are saying about Elvis below:
Stephanie Zacharek, Time:
Butler conjures the guilelessness of Elvis’ face, his soft yet chiseled cheekbones, the look in his eyes that says, “I’m up for anything—are you?” He and Luhrmann hop through the major events of Presley’s life, sometimes going for long stretches without taking a breath. Elvis is exhausting, a mess; it’s also exhilarating, a crazy blur you can’t look away from.
Ross Bonaime, Collider:
For most of Elvis, the music itself is almost irrelevant, with the act of performance taking center stage instead. Luhrmann’s direction seems like it belongs in a carnival funhouse—always in motion, flying and drawing attention to itself, an act that almost plays like misdirection as opposed to a way to enhance this story: Keep your eyes on the fancy tricks, as we distract from how one-dimensional Elvis too often is. Luhrmann is constantly balancing between showing off through his direction, or mishandling cloying musical biopic clichés.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:
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. At the end of it all, you might find yourself pondering the eternal questions: what does Luhrmann think of Elvis’s music? Does he, for example, prefer some Elvis songs to others? Has he listened to any of Elvis’s songs all the way through? Or does he shut down Spotify after 20 seconds once he reckons he’s got the gist?
Al Shipley, Consequence:
On paper, Austin Butler is Elvis’s big gamble, and Tom Hanks is the sure thing, brought in to help ballast a movie that’s risking an 8-figure budget on a relative unknown. But Butler, who plays Presley from a fresh-faced 20-year-old to an overweight 42-year-old, weeks away from an early death, absolutely carries the film. In early scenes, it seems that his hair and his cheekbones are doing a lot of the work for him. But by the time he makes his late ‘60s comeback, Butler has inhabited Presley to an eerily effective degree. Luhrmann holds Presley at arm’s length, so Butler isn’t asked to depict a rich interior life — he’s mostly Elvis the icon, and he nails it.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:
As for the big question of whether Butler could pull off impersonating one of the most indelible icons in American pop-culture history, the answer is an unqualified yes. His stage moves are sexy and hypnotic, his melancholy mama’s-boy lost quality is swoon-worthy and he captures the tragic paradox of a phenomenal success story who clings tenaciously to the American Dream even as it keeps crumbling in his hands.
Jake Cole, Slant:
Your average Elvis impression typically boils down to a curled lip, a ducktail haircut, and a mumbled “thank ya very much.” Butler never stoops to cheap impersonation, though this is one of the most uncanny channelings of the King that you will ever see. The actor imbues the young Elvis with a believable insecurity and vulnerability that lasts well into the singer’s megastar era; even when Elvis is at his most strung-out and aggressive, there’s a certain softness in his eyes that reminds us of the humble farm boy that he once was.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire:
In fairness to Luhrmann, it’s quite a sight to behold. Butler’s immaculate Presley imitation would be the best thing about this movie even if it stopped at mimicry, but the actor does more than just nail Presley’s singing voice and stage presence; he also manages to defy them, slipping free of iconography and giving the film an opportunity to create a new emotional context for a man who’s been frozen in time since before Luhrmann’s target audience was born.
Pete Hammond, Deadline:
Butler, previously best known in movies for playing Tex Watson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, is an ideal choice as Presley both visually and vocally, and he actually sings himself in the first half during the early Elvis era (replaced by tracks of the real Elvis in the later years). Perhaps more than anyone who has seriously taken on Elvis, Butler thrillingly succeeds, especially in the film’s first half, with an authentic rhythm that makes us wonder what greater heights Elvis could have climbed had he not succumbed to the dark side of his own fame.
Elvis opens in theaters on June 24.