Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest frontmen in music history. That’s an undeniable fact. As lead singer of Queen, Mercury’s energy, charisma, voice, and songwriting ability were front and center as the band churned out hit after hit for the better part of two decades. When Freddie died of AIDS in 1991, it shone a spotlight on the reality of the disease and raised even more awareness on how it could affect anybody. Thus, when the reality of a biographical picture on Mercury and Queen became a reality, anticipation was high among fans of the band as well as those curious about their meteoric rise in popularity.
Chronicling the band’s formation all the way to their legendary reunion at Live Aid in 1985, Bohemian Rhapsody captures the spirit of Freddie (played by Rami Malek), including the xenophobia his family faced as immigrants, Freddie’s sexual awakening, his life-long friendship with Mary Austin, and the inner demons he battled. When Farokh Bulsara first meets Brian May (Gwylim Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) of the band Smile, they’ve just lost their lead singer. He presents himself as an alternative and immediately proves to be a charismatic vocalist and performer when they add John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) on bass.
As the band begins to rise in popularity, Freddie professes his love for Mary (Lucy Boynton) and they start to spread their wings creatively after their albums and performances draw huge crowds. Massive hit after massive hit is then released before EMI music executive Ray Foster (Mike Myers) butts heads with the band on songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” believing it won’t be a hit. Eventually, tensions within the band and the machinations of Mercury’s personal manager Paul Prenter causes Queen’s dissolution. Dealing with the pressure of producing two solo albums and not having his family or friends to ground him, Freddie begins to lose control when he finds out that a massive concert called “Live Aid” is being organized and Queen isn’t able to perform. In one last stab at glory, Freddie and the band mend fences to deliver arguably the greatest live concert performance in history.
Rami Malek masterfully puts on Freddie’s infamous overbite and flamboyant outfits in what might be an Oscar-worthy performance. After a few seasons of playing the paranoid Elliot on Mr. Robot, it’s refreshing to see him take on a role this big and with much less constraints. Lee and Mazzello’s resemblance to May and Deacon really help blur the lines between the real band and the actors, and watching the film in IMAX really takes the audience right in the middle of Queen in concert.
I seriously couldn’t see why some critics hated Bohemian Rhapsody and I didn’t read any reviews before watching it. I know this film was plagued by changing cast members and directors throughout its production, and that even though Brian Singer got final credit as director, he had already left earlier due to “creative differences.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been a Queen fan from as far back as I can remember. I grew up with “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Killer Queen,” “One Vision, ” “Under Pressure,” “We Are the Champions,” and so many other hits by the band perpetually playing on the radio. Maybe I was fascinated by how the movie traces the band’s roots and eventual rise. Maybe I really was just blown away by this film.
When it ended and Freddie’s final fate was presented, most of the audience that I attended with erupted in applause. After all, what Queen performance ever ended with anything but raucous cheers and hands clapping?