Come for the Queen music, stay for the multiple close ups of cats.
As soon as the lights dimmed in the theatre and the trailers started playing, I caught the unmistakable smell of weed. So I suppose that’s something I can look forward to as a Canadian movie-goer. Speaking of things to look forward to, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) is a movie that’s been on my radar for a while now. I’ve always been a sucker for not only movie musicals, but movies that are inherently musical. I went with my Dad because he’s a big admirer of Queen, I love him, and someone had to pay for the tickets.
Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles the highs and lows of the professional and personal lives of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury leading up to the band’s legendary performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert in London. Freddie getting ready for the Live Aid concert is literally how the movie starts, accompanied by the opening verse of “Somebody to Love.” At first I was like, “right off the bat you’re going to give us one of Queen’s biggest hits? You’re not going to make us wait? Okay movie, go off.” It’s a risky move to utilize one of the band’s most popular songs in the first few minutes of the movie, a move that proves to be the riskiest thing about Bohemian Rhapsody.
As far as biopics go, this movie is pretty solid but ultimately doesn’t add anything new to the genre. The plot is fairly formulaic when it comes to biopics about bands: We see how the bandmates come together, witness their first instances of success, and explore the inevitable turmoil that happens behind the scenes. That’s perfectly fine. I mean, you knew that was what you had in store when you bought a ticket to this Queen / Freddie Mercury biopic. However, when you’re recounting the careers and lives of musicians who were so out-of-the-box, and pioneers of rock music, you need to do so in a way that is as equally out-of-the-box.
It wasn’t enough of a spectacle. It really needed to be a fantastical, musical, extravaganza. Perhaps a story that told Freddie’s life through his music more in the vein of a traditional musical rather than a movie that is interspersed with musical performances. I kind of wanted an over-the-top musical number where Freddie fights with the band while a chorus of background dancers sing along to “Another One Bites the Dust.” Although that veers dangerously close to Rock of Ages (2012) territory, and I don’t think any of us need to be reminded of that fucking movie. Stop it Tom Cruise, just stop it.
Though lacking a certain spark, all of the musical performances in the movie are stellar. Partly because the music of Queen is so infectious and beloved, and partly because Marc Martel, a Christian rock singer from Canada, does a jaw-dropping impression of Freddie Mercury. Famous for his ability to imitate the Queen frontman, Martel’s impeccable vocals were mixed in with actor Rami Malek’s, as well as the original Mercury’s vocals, to create a flawless imitation that makes every performance a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. Thank God they hired a vocal double that actually sounds like Mercury, otherwise that would have been horribly distracting. Almost as distracting as this movie’s abundance of TERRIBLE wigs.
As Freddie Mercury, Rami Malek is great. He clearly did an enormous amount of research into Mercury’s life and it shows as he transforms into the late singer. In the beginning his performance is a bit zany and over-the-top, making the whole thing feel inauthentic almost to the point of laziness. I mean, Mercury was a character, but he wasn’t a cartoon. As the movie progresses though and Mercury’s life begins to unravel in a downward spiral, Malek is able to present a stunning portrayal of a true individual who on the surface lived an extraordinary life, but beneath it, dealt with the same doubts and demons that we all share. It’s incredible to watch Malek as Mercury, a role for which I think he’ll at least score a Golden Globe nomination for, but I still would have liked to see more of the other members of the band and his relationship with them.
A lot of time is rightfully devoted to Mercury, and the movie does a good job of showing the more serious times in his life like his AIDS diagnosis. However, the movie continuously shies away from showing us any of the fun the band had together, or their creative process, something that I think a lot of fans would be interested in seeing. In fact, two of the best scenes of the movie are where the band create “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “We Will Rock You,” and seeing their creativity and passion for pushing the musical envelope is a thrill to watch. It’s something that I would have loved to see a lot more of. I’d also have liked to see a lot more of the other bandmates, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, played by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello, respectively. The three of them are a breathe of comedic fresh air that lighten the mood in between multiple scenes of Mercury’s descent into the dark side of fame.
OH MY GOD, another shining light in this movie is Mike Myers as record label executive Ray Foster! Mike Myers is in this movie you guys! It’s a small role, more or less a glorified cameo, but I was nonetheless thrilled to see that he’s working again. I want only good things for him. We forgive you for The Love Guru (2008) Mike. Please make more movies.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a fun movie-going experience and if you’re a fan of Queen in any sense, than you should definitely go ahead and see it in theatres. That being said, you’d also be fine to rent or stream it because it’s not necessarily a show-stopper that demands the big screen. Oh, and good luck getting ANY part of the eponymous song out of your head after viewing.
Are you going to see Bohemian Rhapsody? What’s your favourite Queen song?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!