Bryan Singer (and his last-minute replacement Dexter Fletcher) make a stiff, enjoyable mess of iconic source material.
Biopics are hard. Summarizing the impact of an iconic figure into a two hour block of time often means big pieces of that person's story are going to be changed, or omitted completely. Bohemian Rhapsody doesn't quite suffer from this problem, since instead of giving us the life of Freddie Mercury as a story, it opts for a sanitized montage of the band's career highlights. Mercury is the main character, but the protagonist of this film is Queen.
With its extensive catalogue of hits, Bohemian Rhapsody makes excellent use of its source material. It slaps you over the face with spectacular performances by Rami Malek (playing Freddie Mercury), and the rest of the ensemble of bandmates. Their spirited (if obviously mimicked) appearances bring fresh life to already beloved pieces of music, and it's genuinely exciting to watch these actors recreate "Killer Queen," "Somebody to Love," and "We Will Rock You."
The problem is, Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie made for Queen fans, not movie fans. It prioritizes the genesis of iconic songs and band milestones over plot and character development. What does Freddie Mercury want in life? What drives his mission to become a rock icon? Why did he grope that random waiter after a party? It ended up working out for him and the waiter, but the first two questions never get answered. We're just left with smooth shots of recording studio sessions and flaccid debates about how groundbreaking Queen is going to be. The audience doesn't get an opportunity to make the decision for themselves if they think Queen is going to be groundbreaking. Every other scene some side character is telling them it's so.
Bryan Singer's premature exit from the project may explain the clunky direction and meandering plot, but it doesn't excuse the lazy attempts to develop Freddie Mercury as a person. From the early scenes with Mercury at home to when he's spinning out of control in Munich, the film is determined to gloss over his state of mind with broad, clumsy strokes, and then quickly move on to the next beat.
20th Century Fox
The movie does have its moments, however. One feels connected to the characters, Freddie included, when the band is assembling the album "A Night at The Opera." Not only does the sequence feature fantastic reproductions of "You're My Best Friend" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," but the energy from the scenes permeates and gives the audience something to chew on. We see the chemistry between the bandmates, we get to know what they like and don't like, we see their creative motivations, and their melodic failures – it feels like we're in the studio with them.
20th Century Fox
Bohemian Rhapsody gives any true Queen fan a thrilling experience, with exceptional casting and a brilliant soundtrack. It's the movie you take your dad to so he can lie about how he saw Queen live in one of the depicted concerts. But other than the catchy songs and a praiseworthy performance from Rami Malek, the film doesn't have much else to offer the casual movie-goer. The story is meandering and disingenuous, and doesn't give the viewer a satisfying understanding of the man who made Queen one of the greatest rock bands in the world.
At its worst it's a slick mess of artificial earnestness and missed opportunities, at its best, it's a two hour music video of the most dedicated Queen cover-band of all time.
Ahmed Ashour is a media writer, tech enthusiast, and college student. He has a Twitter: @aahsure
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