Bohemian Rhapsody - does it live up to the expectations?
After months of anticipation Bohemian Rhapsody is finally here! Mixed reviews beforehand had made me anxious as I entered the cinema but as a diehard Queen fan, the movie didn’t disappoint. I should emphasise if you don’t like Queen you really shouldn’t see this movie. Rami Malek is astounding as Freddie Mercury, the other members are respectfully represented, and the soundtrack is quintessentially Queen, leaving us fans in total ecstasy.
The 20th Century Fox music opened, as usual, only it was Brian May’s guitar that blared through the speakers rather than an orchestra, nicely setting the mood. The film begins on the morning of Live Aid, showing the world tuning-in and playing ‘Somebody to Love’, we follow Queen backstage as they prepare before the stage-door opens and they enter the stadium. We’re then taken back fourteen years to 1970 with young Freddie working at Heathrow baggage-handling wishing he was something else. He meets May and Taylor at a college concert and Queen is born. The resulting two hours is a kaleidoscope of discovery as we observe Freddie’s realisation of his homosexuality, the creation of Queen’s characteristic style, the stories behind their iconic songs, Freddie’s fallout with the band and his AIDS diagnosis. At its heart is the story of a global superstar with an overwhelming phobia of being alone.
There is no denying this is a film about Freddie Mercury rather than Queen and Malek plays him to perfection. The antithesis of anti-social Elliot in Mr. Robot, Malek masters Freddie’s evocative movements, enigmatic personality, tragic hubris and especially his iconic voice assisted by a soon-to-be-iconic set of dentures. At times I forgot it was Malek, especially during moments of archetypal Freddie-ness such as replying to Ray Foster’s (surprisingly well-played by Mike Myers) jibe that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is too long: “I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever”. He also brought real emotion to the role, showing Freddie as perpetually lonely, bolstered yet destroyed by fame and forever searching for ‘somebody to love.’
There were, however, some problems. With a protagonist as enigmatic and magnificent as Freddie Mercury, I was expecting the storyline to be as extravagant with iconic scenes and cinematographic innovation. Yet directors Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher do none of this. They appear to have read the biopic manual and followed it word for word: beginning with a boy with a dream, showing him through success and failure, having a penultimate hubris before an endearing ending leaving the film feeling somewhat predictable with the audience knowing what’s coming next. You could also complain the film was rushed, squeezing fourteen years into two hours inevitably means important moments would be abandoned or veneered. Yet the unoriginal and frantic script is brought to a triumphant end. The last twenty minutes are a perfect remake of Queen’s Live Aid set, a rip-roaring and triumphant finale that had the whole theatre in euphoric heaven and actually upset to leave. An appropriately magnificent ending which could have been a predictable and depressing tale of Freddie’s decline from AIDS.
Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody is a film for Queen and music lovers, filled with Queen classics and moments. The banal storyline is juxtaposed by Malek’s outstanding performance and a spectacular ending. Making it not one of the best biopics but certainly a future classic.