Malek, music are the stars of too-formulaic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Movie review)

Prior to seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), I was hardly a Queen fan. The band’s popularity had faded before I was old enough to appreciate it, and growing up, their music was not something I was into.  My knowledge of Queen was limited to knowing they had a handful of decent songs and a few overplayed stadium anthems, and were led by one of the most eccentric frontmen of all time.  That said, I’m a huge music fan in general and had heard good things from friends about the film, so I was excited to learn about the legend of Queen.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” chronicles the rise of Queen but is understandably focused more on Freddie Mercury than the overall band. Spanning 15 years, the movie’s 2 hour, 15 minute runtime quickly shows us the formation of the band, its rise to success, and Mercury’s departure for a solo career and following reformation of the band. It finishes with a near-perfect reproduction of the legendary Live Aid set from 1985 (slimmed down slightly for the film).

This movie works like two different things for me: part biopic of Freddie Mercury and part rock show.

The biopic part is mediocre. Even from a biopic standpoint (of which most carry the same formulaic approach), it is average.  Covering 15 years in 2 hours is tough, but there seem to be many missed opportunities regarding Mercury’s early life and solo career.  The film even manages to skirt around Mercury’s sexuality. There isn’t anything memorable here.

However, as mediocre as the film is, Rami Malek does an incredible job as Mercury and is captivating throughout. He absolutely shines during the live performances. His nomination for Best Actor is certainly justified.

The rock show parts are where “Bohemian Rhapsody” shines.  As the opening 20th Century Fox logo is displayed, an electric guitar plays the tune we are used to hearing in the form of a trumpet, setting the stage for the rock we are about to hear. The sound design is great and the music sounds incredible.

Rami embodies the electrifying presence of Mercury on stage, and the Live Aid concert is so fun to watch that upon conclusion of the film, I immediately dug up the real thing on YouTube and cranked it on my home system. The music is the star here.

So although “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not perfect, it does have its hook. From an outsider’s perspective, it gave me a good look inside the larger-than-life rock-star persona of Freddie Mercury while also touching on the darker side of his lifestyle.  It should introduce Queen to a new era of fans and elevate the band’s status even higher among the original fans.

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