You know how Queen is the best band ever? And you know how their songs are amazing and anthemic and will always make a swath of people stand up and cheer? Also, you know how Freddie Mercury was a captivating presence on stage, owning an audience like no one else in the history of rock and roll? And how his voice is the greatest voice since humankind started writing songs? The movie Bohemian Rhapsody will make you remember all of that, pumping the cinema's speakers full of glorious, delicious glam rock mastery. It's a fast-paced, often breakneck race to Queen's crowning glory.The movie was written by Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten from a story by McCarten and Oscar nominee Peter Morgan. Between the two of them, they've got some impressive credentials in the field of biopics (McCarten, The Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour; Morgan, The Queen and Frost/Nixon). The movie focuses on Mercury's life from first spying Brian May and Roger Taylor in the band Smile and joining the band along with John Deacon to create Queen, all the way up until the band's legendary, Earth-shattering performance at 1985's Live Aid benefit concert. And while a lot of the broad strokes are nothing you wouldn't know if you've watched the VH1 Legends episode from the mid '90s, the performances and little moments of character interaction keep the story feeling fresh as we go from one monster mega song to the next.
Rami Malek plays Mercury not as a caricature but as the larger-than-life personality he was, complete with crippling loneliness stemming from being an outsider three times over. If the movie has an overall theme, it's finding your family with outcasts just like you, which could also be said of Queen in real life. Mercury's life was a sad one; he married his sweetheart Mary (Lucy Boynton) before realizing he was gay and beginning a rocky, ultimately self-destructive relationship with his personal manager (Allan Leech). Mercury's spirals into drugs and orgies, his shunning of the other band members, and his subsequent attempt to put things right are all on displayÂ and relatively un-sugar-coated in Bohemian Rhapsody. I was happy the movie didn't deify Mercury in the process ofÂ making it clear he was and is a rock god.Going into the film, I was also worried the rest of the members of Queen would be little more than bit players, but they aren't. Certainly it's Malek's performance as Mercury that drives the narrative, but my favorite moments in the movie are the scenes of all the band members together, making music and bickering; it's a glimpse into the (albeit dramatized) process by which they wrote and recorded some of their biggest hits. Just as Malek has the look and mannerisms of Mercury down pat, so too do Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joe Mazzello as John Deacon. If you've seen even one performance or video of the band, you know how astoundingly the cast knocked their performances out of the park.I want to talk a bit about the direction. Infamously, director Bryan Singer was removed from the project for erratic on-set behavior and the movie was finished by Dexter Fletcher, who's also directing the upcoming Elton John biopic. I'm not going to talk about what I think about Singer or what he's done or hasn't in his own life. But what I will say is the resulting Bohemian Rhapsody is sometimes dazzling when it's depicting the band performing, and there's a few truly amazing transitions into different eras of the band's career. Other parts of the movie are less dazzling, shot in a much more conventional way. The moments that feel like they've picked up the band's sense of campy humor are easily my favorite.But the movie's show-stopper is in the complete recreation of a full 15 minutes of the band's Live Aid set, the camera swooping over the digital version of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans at Wembley Stadium, with Malek's Mercury leading them like the pied piper of rock. As with all of the movie's performancesâ€”taken from live recordings of the real bandâ€”this too is simply the real audio from Live Aid with the cast lip syncing to it, but there's a power to the way it's shown. You'll never replicate Freddie Mercury's voice, so I'm somewhat pleased the movie didn't even try.So I was left feeling as moved as I would watching and listening to Queen in any fashion. There's some fun recording studio bits and quite funny meta joke involving Mike Myers' record executive decrying the movie's titular song, and the performances are quite good all around. But I can't help but wonder if I thought the movie was great because it's great or because I love Queen and it's full of amazing Queen music. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, I suppose. It's a kind of magic any way you slice it.
4 out of 5
Images: 20th Century Fox