After a decade of troubled production history ranging from original star Sacha Baron Cohen’s departure due to creative differences to Bryan Singer’s firing and got replaced by Eddie the Eagle‘s Dexter Fletcher, it looks as if the long-gestating Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic is doomed from the start.
And yet, here it is. Despite all the woeful behind-the-scenes drama, Bohemian Rhapsody is thankfully neither a disaster nor a mess. It’s just that the filmmaker’s decision to play safe with a more audience-friendly PG-13 version means everything here — from Freddie’s controversial personal life as a bisexual singer to his AIDS-related illness — has to be scaled down considerably.
Both Anthony McCarten’s screenplay and Bryan Singer’s overall direction (yes, he is still credited as the sole director here with Fletcher given an executive producer credit instead) tread familiar ground by following closely to the conventional biopic formula. It’s like watching a big screen, albeit condensed adaptation of Queen and Freddie Mercury taken from the Wikipedia pages.
Not to mention the movie tends to wobble with all the surface-level melodramatic approach that’s neither affecting nor emotionally penetrating, particularly whenever the scenes aren’t focused on their music.
But Bohemian Rhapsody remains an entertaining crowd-pleaser, thanks largely to Rami Malek’s phenomenally charismatic performance as Freddie Mercury. Not only he can sing — though not in a straightforward manner since his voice is actually “an amalgamation of a few voices” as revealed during his interview with Metro — but also manage to capture the late Queen frontman’s flamboyant swagger, mannerism, voice and all his moves right down to a tee.
Although Malek is a scene-stealer of all the ensemble cast here, the supporting actors are equally decent. This includes everyone from the three Queen bandmates (Gwilym Lee’s Brian May, Ben Hardy’s Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello’s John Deacon) to Lucy Boynton’s role as Freddie’s one-time lover, Mary Austin and Allen Leech as Paul Prenter, Freddie’s personal manager who slept with the singer. And in an otherwise small role, the virtually unrecognisable Mike Myers made quite a lasting impression as an EMI executive, Ray Foster.
The music is another big winner here. Whether it was the band’s recording session during their experiment on sound and voice on the “Bohemian Rhapsody” song or numerous concert appearances on stage, the music sequences are both rousing and entertaining enough to watch for.
Then, there’s the meticulous re-creation of Queen’s legendary 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. It was the climactic 20-minute finale where Malek’s Freddie Mercury and his bandmates pull out all the stops in front of over 70,000 crowds as they tear the sky with some of the band’s biggest hits including “Radio Ga Ga” and “We Are The Champions”. The scene alone gave me the goosebumps and it’s even more effective with Newton Thomas Sigel’s epic camerawork that brilliantly captured the feel and scope of the Live Aid concert using a combination of tracking shot, long takes and bird’s-eye view. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming or even singing along with the song upon watching this in the cinema.