It was always going to be an uphill battle to chronicle the history of Queen and their magnetic frontman Freddie Mercury in filmic form - in the same sense, how one cannot envy the filmmakers who will inevitable tackle Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley biopics. The challenge of portraying decades of a musician’s life is no easy feat, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ knows it. The film plunges into two seperate tellings of their larger-than-life subjects, going to and fro between being a heavy analysis of Mercury to a celebratory traversing of Queen’s greatest hits. The film falls victim to that identity struggle as it often produces a hollow piece of work restricted by its textbook attitude - its biggest crime making such a legendary performer attune to such generic storytelling.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ traces the dazzling career of the iconic band Queen, highlighting the snapshots and music that cemented them as one of the most beloved bands of all time. From their early beginnings touring pubs and colleges to headlining sold out concerts around the world, nothing could stop the rise of the band and their operatic lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, TV’s ‘Mr. Robot’). However, as their success grew, Mercury’s fame attributed to a lifestyle that threatened to disrupt everything the band had fought to earn. The timeline of their story is shown through the guise of their celebrated Live Aid performance, often heralded as one of the greatest live performances of all time, to tell the story of how one of music’s most celebrated bands came to shatter conventions and inspire people around the world.
The most inherent issue with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is that for all said conventions the band shattered, the film itself is staggeringly inoffensive. It is a bland and paint-by-numbers biopic that imbues all the standard tropes that are accustomed to its genre. With each passing turning point through Queen’s discography, the level of predictability increases and the moments that are meant to inspire joy and in others sadness are heavy-handed, instilling the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The manner to which the film progresses through its narrative is too lazy to be defined as workmanlike, as it offers montages galore and the rifts of seminal tracks to highlight an emotional beat that never feel earned to groan-worthy effect. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is trying to illuminate a band of such great stature, and where the film falls apart is that they take the most standard creative choices to try and get there, often to its detriment.
Although, a lot of those issues stem from a wider problem, being the tameness of the film’s screenplay. As mentioned, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ reveals that it doesn’t quite know what kind of film it wants to be. More often than not, it feels largely content with being a joyful deep-dive to the origin stories behind Queen’s greatest hits with a wink-and-nudge attitude. Other times, it aims to explore the darker aspects of Freddie Mercury’s personal life. But one thing the film is never able to orchestrate is complexity beyond the facts, feeling more like a Wikipedia entry than anything definitive. Nothing feels explored to its fullest, instead skirting through Queen’s history and the nature of Mercury’s sexual orientation with no potent conviction. It underserves its characters and offers nothing outside of the formula.
Nothing feels explored to its fullest, instead skirting through Queen’s history and the nature of Mercury’s sexual orientation with no potent conviction. It underserves its characters and offers nothing outside of the formula.
Additionally, the film can never escape the feeling it permeates of artificialness. Where great biopics makes effective use of their artifice, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ struggles to not feel like the cinematic telling of Queen, which becomes increasingly distracting. Mercury’s bandmates are portrayed in a very self-serving light which screams interference by Brian May and Roger Taylor. Moreover, the visual effects are very goofy and noticeable, with some rough crane shots making it apparent that crowd members were clearly cut and pasted into the stadium. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is prone to showcasing the hallmarks of the biopic and other facets in the filmmaking does not assist in straying from it.
However, the shining light of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is unequivocally Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury. It's ironic that for all the misgivings that the film has, what many would have viewed as the toughest challenge the film was to face is achieved with ease. Malek completely loses himself in the role, effortlessly capturing the bravado and idiosyncratically energetic style that Mercury became renowned for. Furthermore, in the character’s quieter moments, how Malek conveys Mercury’s degree of self-reliance is very tender amidst a very loud film. The material Malek is given tends to compact him, but for what he is given, he takes the opportunity with both hands and crafts a remarkable performance in the process.‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ really does try to showcase the legend of Queen, but for all its lofty ambitions it can never move past the traditionalism that plagues it. A spirited performance from Malek and some exciting recreations can only do so much, and with the screenplay as pedestrian as it is, it falls very flat. I’m sure the film will find an audience, but as far as musical biopics go this is never able to reach the heights of the musicians, that the film is serving as a tribute to. Above all else, it teaches a valuable lesson: if you want to show the life of someone shrouded in legend, do so accordingly.