Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers
Runtime: 134 Minutes
The story of Queen – or more specifically the story of Freddie Mercury – has had a very long history of production problems dating back over a decade. Being passed between writers and filmmakers under 20th Century Fox production slate and the heavy guidance of the surviving Queen members, who were all too often vocally trepidatious concerning how the film would end up portraying the British music artist without tarnishing his legacy.
That fear – when combined with the chaotic production of this final film, only for Singer to be fired well into shooting due to his unprofessional behaviour toward the film and replaced with Dexter Fletcher (who left the project many years ago) – has pretty much added up to this; a big, loud, empty musical biopic that offers little to nothing in the way of depth, motivation or understanding beyond holding up Queen and it’s frontman as statuesque versions of themselves for all the world to adore.
That’s pretty much the biggest issue amongst the many on show in this car crash of a feature. With all the blowback the lengthy production has received from the likes of guitarist Brian May and producer Jim Beach, what’s on show never really gets into the mind of the singer and writer of one of the biggest rock groups of the 20th century.
The story lists from scene to scene, filling out moments and ticking off boxes and tour dates in rapid pace, and even the moments where it’s allowed to breathe arrive with obvious connotations and a lack of revelation considering the entire world already know who Freddie Mercury was now, especially regarding his sexuality and partying lifestyle. Not that it had to make him into a martyr or dwell on the suffering of his later life, but at least it might have been something. Even his lifelong relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) feels like we’re being held at arm’s length for most of it.
Same, sadly, goes to Rami Malek as the man himself. Although bearing a striking resemblance and delivering a mostly strong portrayal of the man on stage, it’s all a part of the mythologizing nature of the product as an entity right down to the heavy lip-syncing of every single track. It’s a performance that’s all show, and if the film were trying to make the point that a man’s action can speak louder than his thoughts then it might have a point – but it doesn’t.
The whole thing feels like an empty shell, grandly holding up its hero and never once allowing us to see into his own thought process or feelings beyond the fleeting moments it allows us to see into his isolation.
The fact that the film as a piece of filmmaking doesn’t really stand up to anything nearly as monumental as the music it’s selling is also distracting. It’s an oddly cheap looking movie, even in its apparently bigger moments.
It doesn’t really carry a discernible tone or aesthetic identity, with so many montage sequences filling in the blanks that are clearly just coverage, because the prospect of having Malek just saunter around in fabulous costumes was pretty much all that was on their minds, with an embarrassingly long final sequence at ‘Live Aid’ that just starts to feel like an odious karaoke recreation.
There are good aspects in the midst of all this shallowness though. The moments where the film actually decides to be about the music as it was being created offers up some fun insights as to the mad craftsmanship at work with the band in their heyday, Gwilyn Lee is note-perfect as Brian May, even if the same can't be said for Ben Hardy’s Roger Taylor (Joseph Mazzello doesn’t get a thing to do as John Deacon), and the hair, costumes and makeup are all as glam as they need to be.
Bohemian Rhapsody is exactly what it was always going to be given its production plights. The songs are great, but it’s a film that looks like it was shot by two different people, edited by a studio that realised it wasn’t working, and released having junked anything that wasn’t a song or a major narrative beat and settles for a greatest hits sing-along medley to let the audience do all the emotional work themselves.