Bohemian Rhapsody Review

New Queen movie is “Under Pressure” to meet expectations.  


Jace Henderson, Visual Editor

“Bohemian Rhapsody”, the song by Queen, is one of the most iconic progressive pop-rock songs of all time. Running at six minutes, nearly unprecedented for its time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” stands tall as a triumphant symphony of earworms and harmonies that’s far outlasted its status as a chart-topping single in 1975.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”, the movie about Queen, however, stands far worse than its contemporary. Admittanently, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not a great movie. At times, it’s not even that good of a movie. As a forgettable, hackneyed, and almost offensive biopic of Queen’s legendary frontman, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), “Bohemian Rhapsody” feels less like an in-depth character study and more like a smudged transcript of a Wikipedia page with a horribly compressed pace and bland mess of melodramatic and cliche writing. As a tribute to Queen and Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody” fundamentally fails.

But, despite its many, many, many shortcomings, at the sum of its parts, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an unquestionably entertaining ride through Queen’s history as long as you confused the real-life events of Queen, with a late-night rerun of famed rock-and-roll mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap.”

Given the film’s staggeringly short, sub 2-hour, runtime, the film expectedly compresses the band’s biography; but the way the film glosses over major life events and the band’s trials and tribulations is baffling. Within the first 20 minutes or so, Mercury has already joined the band Smile, became a rock-and-roll hit in the U.K., found the supposed love of his life, renamed the band from Smile to Queen and created the piano melody to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song that is). The film has a breakneck pace that constantly and frequently teases the audience with the allure that perhaps there’s more to these events than it’s letting on. The movie never stops going and even when it does, the events portrayed are chock full of historical inaccuracies. “The Blues Brothers” feels more fleshed out than the characteractures on display here. Freddy is a problematic, dramatic and overly flamboyant homosexual partyhound who constantly butts heads with his wisecracking “family-men” bandmates, despite the fact that, in reality, they were living the rockstar lifestyle far earlier and far crazier than Freddy ever was.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is decidedly a little too safe in its portrayal of Mercury and Queen. Perhaps the reason for this is because of the band’s heavy involvement with the film. A brief history for the uninformed: “Borat’s” Sacha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play the role of Freddie Mercury, but soon left the project due to reaching an impasse with Queen’s real life guitarist Brian May. Cohen wanted to do a much darker portrayal of the events in the film, but the band-formerly-known-as “Queen” didn’t want the film to besmirch their branding. Cohen dropped the film, and since then the film has been passed around in an arduous process of development hot potato from 2013 until Rami Malek signed on in late 2016. Then in December of 2017, director Bryan Singer was booted from the film under allegations of sexual assault and was replaced by “Eddie the Eagle’s” Dexter Fletcher who took over late in production and rushed the film out to theatres. The end result is the film we see today. Far too inaccurate for a diehard audience hoping for a substantial biopic and far too cliched to be that memorable for those who’re unfamiliar with Queen. “Bohemian Rhapsody” seems to only be for an audience comprised of fans of Queen’s music and music only. If the only thing you know about Queen is that Freddie Mercury was a homosexual icon with a fantastic vocal range, then this movie will surely speak to you.

It’s no surprise the soundtrack to the movie is killer, but it’d be more shocking if it wasn’t. Queen’s greatest hits are up front in full display, and the almagnation of Rami Malek and Freddie Mercury impersonator Marc Martel’s voices faithfully recreate some of Freddie’s most famous vocal tracks. The film basks in its use of music, and the film’s finale is a great example of that. In a bizarre but nonetheless impressive choice, the film’s closing, 20 or so minutes, is devoted entirely to a beat-for-beat recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance, a real life testament to Queen’s performing prowess, and an even better testament to Rami Malek’s acting performance.

For all the issues that the script seems to have with Freddie, it’s a delight to see that Rami Malek handles the role with grace. It’s truly commendable that Malek portrays Freddie’s flamboyance so effortlessly without overdoing it. Any lesser actor could easily get lost in the minutiae, but Malek truly encapsulates the role in its entirety, making the only unbelievable part of his performance his fake set of teeth that he wears throughout the film.

Malek isn’t the only great performance in the film either as the supporting actors are just as well judged. Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazzello give entertaining performances with shocking likeness as Freddie’s contemporaries, and Lucy Boynton gives a heartfelt performance as Mary Austin, Mercury’s once lover. Not to mention the fantastic cameo by Mike Myers that’s so on the nose it couldn’t be anything but the best bit of comedy in the whole film.

It’s here that I’m at a crossroads with the film because the movie is almost a love letter to the band’s legacy. Every recording session is presented with comedy and grace, and the aforementioned finale serves as not only entertainment, but a sweeping tour de force for both Rami Malek and the Freddie Mercury presented in the film. But on the other hand, I can’t shake the sense of sleaze that comes with the altercation of facts and Mercury’s character. The timeline is more warped than a funhouse mirror and the only thing it accomplishes is a pretty by-the-book point-to-point plot. But on the other, other hand the cliched plot lends itself to a movie going experience best coupled with turning off your brain and simply taking in the sights, sounds and impeccable performances. Like the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” can’t decide if it’s real life or fantasy, but in the end nothing really matters as the movie is as easy come and easy go as you like. If you’re looking for a dedicated and accurate biopic then I’d spare yourself from this monstrosity, but if an entertaining performance and a rocking soundtrack is what you’re in the mood for, then don’t stop yourself from having a good time.