In Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer brings his commercially successful mediocrity to the music biopic genre to tell the story of Queen. In the process, he manages to turn a uniquely successful band — with one of the most eccentric musical frontmen of all time — into a very vanilla and uninspired movie. Playing out less like a dramatic true story and more like a visual greatest hits journey with a Wikipedia page for a screenplay, Bohemian Rhapsody never pushes itself past the standard biopic formula. Instead, it hops from milestone to milestone checking boxes along the way, content with letting the music keep the audience entertained.
There are occasional moments where the film dives beneath the surface, but it doesn’t seem comfortable staying there for too long. Glimpses of lead singer Freddie Mercury’s private life are shown, but there’s never much of a narrative developed from it before we are thrown back into the band setting and the creation of another hit. And even in those behind-the-scenes moments where Queen produces one of their iconic songs, the film presents it in an obligatory “here’s who gets credit for this song” manner. The hastiness with which these moments are presented makes the film feel like a rock skipping along the surface of a pond instead of one that plunges into the depths of the water.
With a predominantly milquetoast cast of supporting characters, Rami Malek turns in the only performance with any sort of dimension to it. In addition to the looks — which seem about as spot on as anyone could get to Freddie’s unique features — Malek managed to master Mercury’s signature preening and posturing. Beyond that, his performance squeezed every last bit of depth from a skeletal screenplay. It is a shame that the script didn’t afford Malek more opportunities to flex his dramatic muscles. What is there, he hits perfectly. But to no fault of his own, he most likely will not be on the awards radar later this year as the film is simply not constructed in a way that is conducive to an Oscar-caliber performance.
Fans of Queen will be delighted that the band’s music is front and center throughout the entire runtime. With a catalog as famous as theirs, it would be impossible for the audience to not have some amount of fun simply hearing hit after hit. But the film could have used a break from the band’s catalog in order to put more emphasis on the moments when the band is playing. It feels wholly unnecessary to have the Queen discography as the entire score and soundtrack. We don’t need a Queen song when the band is walking into a meeting with a record executive. We do need it at the culmination of key moments in the band’s story. A perfect example is the recreation of the infamous Live Aid performance. By the time this moment arrives, we have been inundated with so many Queen songs that musically (and narratively), the moment doesn’t feel special. In fact, it drags on a bit too long and feels more like an epilogue than a triumphant moment. The length of the scene has the unintended consequence of providing more opportunities to notice the sketchy special effects of the crowd which the film insists on showing instead of opting for a tighter focus on the very strong stage performance.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a formulaic music biopic that plays out in a fashion more akin to a long montage than a character-driven story about four individuals coming together in a band to make music. It is a very safe and sanitized version of events that is more fun to listen to than to watch. And although it comes by that fun by default, it never feels like it is having fun. There are too few moments of tension or exploration and, in turn, there is no perspective for the moments that should be highs for the audience. But for those not looking for the ups and downs of deep cuts and who instead just want to skip from one hit to the next, Bohemian Rhapsody is a perfect greatest hits album.