Skip to content

REVIEW: ‘Michael Jackson’s This Is It’


Michael Jackson proved time and time again that he was both master and victim of some of popular culture’s most serious control issues.

At his best, he could sing and dance with supernatural stamina. At his worst, he rearranged his physical features until they fought back, and resorted to anesthesia just to get some shut-eye.

Like most posthumous releases, Michael Jackson’s This Is It places fans in a quandary. Jackson didn’t sign off on this cash-in film comprised of rehearsal footage for what would’ve been a 50-date residency at London’s O2 Arena, and for once, crazy big sister LaToya is totally right: There’s no way that he would have.

Michael was all about the magic. This film focuses on what goes into creating the slick entertainment that his fans came to expect. It depicts the guy behind the curtain at the end of the Wizard of Oz, not the almighty illusion.

And that’s what so great about it.

Although he does wear three layers of clothing on his back and relatively flattering pants on his legs, yes, Michael is too thin. Yes, his nose is too pointy. We know all that. What we’ve rarely seen direct evidence of is what his collaborators have said for years: When it comes to his craft, Michael is hands-on.

We see him working with his keyboardist Michael Bearden, spitting out syncopations, and getting thrillingly testy when Bearden doesn’t get them immediately right. We hear him ad-libbing and embellishing the ending of his “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” duet with an intensity that even stuns partner Judith Hill. We see his anger over singing harder and higher than he thinks he should’ve during the same song. We see him lose control and then scramble to regain it.

Never does he fall prey to his usual quirks. That’s an unqualified relief. Neither does he come across as someone who looks as though he could drop dead at any moment. That’s a more complicated issue.

No matter how objective documentaries may seem, they inevitably reflect the points of view of their filmmakers. This Is It builds an argument that the show’s director Kenny Ortega and production company AEG Live didn’t overwork Jackson, and by extension, did not contribute to his death. Some of his fans feel differently, and have organized a counter argument-an online campaign titled This Is Not It.

By its very title, This Is It suggests both finality and definitiveness: This is the end for Jackson, and this is how it went. But this ain’t that kind of movie. It’s directed by Ortega himself, the same guy who directed and choreographed all three High School Musical movies, supervised Jackson’s previous Dangerous and HIStory tours, and created the dance sequences for Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Dirty Dancing. No way is he cut out to create a tell-all exposé. He’d be implicating himself.

But for those very same reasons, Ortega is the right guy to preserve Jackson’s legacy as a dancer, and that’s what he’s done here. Even when the world’s most famous moonwalker is only presenting the framework of his familiar routines, he moves phenomenally well. He’s not a sickly shadow. He doesn’t induce winces. Once again, and for one final time, it’s Michael Jackson’s talent that is shocking.

WATCH: Michael Jackson, This Is It trailer