It's fairly indisputable - Queen are the Kings of rock. From Freddie Mercury's infamous personality and troubled personal life to their genius works which range from iconic global anthems to experimental ballads, there are countless reasons why almost everyone has some special place reserved in their lives for one of the most popular rock bands of all time. That very fact however is also the reason why it's such a monumental task to even begin to make a movie about them, as every audience member will have a whole host of preconceived ideas about how they want the story told.
So, over twenty-five years since Mercury's death, enter this year's Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), a film that not only has the weight of all those expectations on its shoulders, but one that also reportedly suffered from a relatively troubled production after original director Bryan Singer left late to be replaced by Eddie the Eagle's Dexter Fletcher. It follows the rise of the band from the very beginnings to their monumental Live Aid gig of 1985 whilst shining a particular spotlight on Freddie himself (played by Rami Malek), and it features hit after hit to remind you just how many incredibly timeless songs this band really wrote.
Unfortunately however, it has to be said that it generally opened last week to fairly damming reviews, with many taking issue with how much or how little it explores the darker sides of Freddie's life or what exact parts of the band's rise it decides to depict - personal criticisms which should hardly come as a surprise given that the whole subject matter is something so close to so many hearts. If you put all of that aside though, what you'll find is a film that winds up a very successful dissection and a genuine celebration of Queen's legacy and the fascinating central character behind it.
Indeed, this is a film that doesn't take a position on any of the difficult stuff but instead broadcasts Freddie's sexuality (which was fairly controversial at the time of course), drug use and vulnerability without judging or shying away from it all, and instead offers an objective look at what makes him and the band tick and what gave them such universal appeal. If that makes it "tame" or not "promiscuous" enough then so be it, but it allows for the perfect exploration of the band and arguably the only viable way of bringing their story to the big screen.
There's one scene in a recording session in which Freddie talks about how he wants to "give the audience something they can perform," and as they begin work on the infamous 'We Will Rock You,' the moment becomes one of several in the film where the reasons behind their genius becomes very clear, and by the end you really feel that yours and so many others' love for Freddie and the band has been given proper objective exploration.
In the same breath though, none of that would have been successful if it wasn't for the brilliance of the execution, and in large part there we have the four central performances to thank as all of the band members are not only done justice in the fact that they seem like shockingly accurate recreations of their real-life counterparts, but also because they're given genuine humanity and relatability. That's particularly the case where Freddie is concerned, as Rami Malek shows both the dark and light sides of this fascinating performer to an extent that you'll feel like you're genuinely watching Freddie unmasked for the first time - something which again may uncomfortably differ from some individuals' preconceived ideas, but is unquestionably very successful.
All of that makes the film thoroughly viable in its own right then, but above all else what Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), really is is a Queen and Freddie celebration. Indeed, with countless flawlessly-executed renditions of their many musical masterpieces (largely using original recordings) as well as plenty of successful comedic moments that thankfully acknowledge the humor and charm behind the band's appeal, it not only winds up a real ball of a movie, but also a properly fitting celebratory piece.
In fact, if there's one overriding feeling you'll likely take away from the experience, it'll probably be pride, as seeing this group of characters you care about realize their dreams and make music that means so much to so many people is very powerful - both in the context of the film, and in reality. That makes the tragedies of Freddie's personal life all the more upsetting to watch, but it is all gloriously epitomized in the final moments where we see a masterful recreation of a good chunk of their renowned Live Aid gig. This is the film truly reveling in the band's success and commemorating Freddie's showmanship, and it's a final act that will likely have you moved to tears.
All in all then, if you're looking for a Queen documentary, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), isn't that film, but what you will find here if you put all of your expectations aside is a very successful dissection of Queen and Freddie's legacy and, in the end, a thoroughly moving and uplifting celebration of it. Those angered by the lack of promiscuity or how closely it matches up with their existing perceptions or attitudes towards Queen have arguably missed the point, as this offers a far smarter and more objective look than that.
So it's because of that kind of magic that, despite all of the pressure pushing down on it, this is ultimately such a killer queen of a movie. Hopefully through time it will become a film that breaks free from its criticisms and will instead be seen as a compliment to the band's incredible legacy. Don't let it bite the dust folks, go see it - it really will rock you.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Bohemian Rhapsody • Run time 2:14 • Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language