What do you feel when you hear a Queen song? While none are quite alike, they all seem to have an epic, larger-than-life quality. They reach the deepest parts of your soul, awakening a primal love of loud sounds and beautiful voices. The lyrics can be nonsense, the sounds can be bizarre, but it’s all unquestionably Queen.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” aims to do the impossible, condensing the rise of the band and its captivating lead singer Freddie Mercury into two hours. While not a complete failure, the biopic comes off more like a “greatest hits” album — capturing moments of those powerful emotions but never giving the audience a full picture of the legendary band and the equally legendary man.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the film charts the rise of Queen from its humble beginnings in England to the smashing concerts known worldwide. The film also sheds light on Mercury, looking into his struggles with fame, identity and sexuality.
While I say it shows these two sides of Queen — the fun concerts and Mercury’s difficult life — “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t do either particularly well.
As a biography about the band, the film moves too quickly past their development and success, only focusing on individual songs rather than whole albums or tours. Because of this, the recording sessions feel forced and unrealistic, leading to repetitive scenes of the band arguing about what a song should be before choosing the right sound, then switching to a montage of the group performing on stage.
The concerts are a highlight, showing off Rami Malek’s uncanny ability to emulate Mercury. He naturally performs Mercury’s iconic style and mannerisms, leading to some exciting and hilarious moments on stage.
In general, Malek’s performance is consistently incredible. He not only looks the part but can also play Mercury’s layered complexities. Malek conveys so much in the way he speaks or moves — he is the emotional core of the film. It’s an award-worthy performance that is sadly buried within a middling product.
The other side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Mercury’s story, which aims to be emotional and uplifting, but is cheesy overall. This side of the film feels very disingenuous, because it only dives into Mercury at surface level. The writing and plotting do not match Malek’s sincere performance, which tries to expose Mercury’s heart and soul. The film itself is only trying to be entertaining.
There is a distinct lack of focus and depth. Rather than making an honest and definitive biography of Mercury, the filmmakers also try to make a crowd-pleasing run down memory lane. It wants us to care about Mercury and the band, but we only know Mercury and his struggles, seeing the other members in quick flashes of song recordings and concert performances.
There’s nothing technically wrong with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” either. It’s well shot, the editing is solid and there are even some beautiful moments of acting and composition. Overall, it is an entertaining movie — but it’s just that, nothing more. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a standard music biopic, doing the bare minimum with a story and person that were all about going the extra mile.
The highlight of the entire movie is the finale at the iconic Live Aid benefit concert. This 15-20 minute sequence finally captures the raw power and emotional impact of Queen. It also realizes the theme of family and inclusiveness that the movie was avidly spouting for the past two hours.
On paper, it’s a beautiful moment that will bring everyone to tears, but I was left unsatisfied. On a logical level, I could see the greatness within “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I knew I had never been bored, but I still had this empty feeling when the credits began to roll.
This movie may be a celebration of Queen and Freddie Mercury. It may also be an entertaining movie for fans of the band and for general audiences. However, it is not a passionate and thoughtful look into a complex man and a revolutionary band. It’s the compilation album, missing the context and depth of the full LP.