Courtesy of Fox
Freddie Mercury was, no question, a global icon. A singer ahead of his time, who was insane to watch on stage. Being equipped with an extra incisor at birth, it allowed him the flexibility and freedom of range that singers could only dream of possessing.
Without a doubt, his music transcended listeners across generations, and his powerful vocals only added to those dynamics. But If not for Rami Malek’s electric performance as Mercury, this movie, entitled “Bohemian Rhapsody” - borrowed from the six minute opus that raised a few eyebrows - could literally be about any band at any given time in history. From the moment a young Mercury coincidently stumbles upon a rock band whose lead singer just quit, to the drug infused origies on display, nothing in this film will differentiate itself from the plethora of genre tropes.
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) hardly offers insight into the sparring legacies of both Mercury and the band he fronted: Queen. Instead, “Bohemian” is a routinely mechanical film that rally’s through the motions and offers no clarity or depth behind its subjects, which, running a puzzling 136 minutes, you'd think that wouldn't be an issue.
As mentioned, what you get with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an onslaught of cliches; the eventual fallout between friends, a looming solo career that threatens to break up the band, and angry producers (Mike Myers in a wasteless cameo) telling Queen that “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be a headbanger.
Of course, we all know it will be. And Singer chooses to hastily rush through important narrative arcs - (Mercury's sexuality is handled cheaply. As is Queen’s eventual North American tour) - while introducing characters on the fly (Mercury had a lover by the name of Jon Hutton, who was very important in his final years, and only shows up at the last second) – just so we can hear Queen record songs we've heard a dozen times.
In fact, we don't gain any fodder of how the titular “Bohemian Rhapsody” became a massive hit. All we see is the bandmates - John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and Brian May (Gwilym Lee) - sitting in a recording studio messing with tempos and guitar solos and then, poof, the song is released to huge success. The film is also a victim of the coveted “five years later” that dutifully omits any events of relevance during that period.
Those shortcomings really damage the films bottomline, with Singer’s saving grace being Malek in the lead role as Mercury; who embodies his ego, and flamboyantly extra attitude with poise. Watching the “Mr Robot” actor step into this light is rewarding in that he channels the mannerisms which made the singer tick, but not so much in that Malek isn't given much to sink his teeth into. Save for a final twenty minutes that culminates with the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. The sequence itself is staged with gusto, and marks the only instance of creative thrill in this mostly dry motion picture.
Everything else is handled in odd and frustrating ways. For those who didn’t know, Mercury had an addiction to drugs and alcohol, yet the film never bares the weight of his actions or consequences. In addition, his early marriage to then wife Mary Austin (played exceptionally by Lucy Boynton) crumbles under Anthony McCarten's tepid screenplay. And, yes, I know the songs “We Are The Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” but the way Singer and McCarten showcase their evolutions feel lousy. (Someone starts playing a riff, they all go ‘that sounds good’ and the song manifests out of thin air.)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” would like to think that by giving a brief overview of Queen's success (while delivering show stopping performances related to their catalog of huge hits) should warrant a pass. And I'm unsure just how impactful Dexter Fletcher's (“Eddie the Eagle”) reshoots changed up the tone of the film (he was brought on by Fox to finish up for Singer late in the game) but you can almost feel a clashing of visions. A true shame in the eyes of those looking for something deeper in regards to the bands past. “Rhapsody” desperately wants the accolade of being a greatest hits album, and ends up playing more like a one hit wonder.