Electric guitar riffs fill the air. The anticipation is palpable, everyone’s leaning in. As the bass reverberates through the theatre, you’re expecting a killer opening frame full of smoke, lights, and rock and roll. But when the first scene plays out, you’re left to wonder: am I watching the wrong movie?
It’s a reminder of how incredible their music is, these anthems stood the test of time, and I’m certain you’ll leave the theater on a Queen high.
Don’t get me wrong— Bohemian Rhapsody will rock you with all our favorite Queen hits. Opening with the always poignant Somebody to Love, it sets the tone of ultimately what the movie is about: the man behind the legend, the Freddie Bulsara (the Queen frontman’s real name) behind Freddie Mercury. You bet the cinema sang along when the band recorded the title song, or when the frontman was on the piano singing Love of My Life. Not to mention the stomping and clapping of We Will Rock You, the head bops for Another One Bites The Dust and Under Pressure, and the inevitable happy tears for We Are The Champions.
It’s quite the romp through their greatest hits, now if only audience members could stand and dance while watching. It’s a reminder of how incredible their music is, these anthems stood the test of time, and I’m certain you’ll leave the theater on a Queen high. It’s been two weeks since I saw the film and I’m still singing (and dancing) to Don’t Stop Me Now.
But it isn’t what you expect it to be. For starters, a film about the legendary Queen would surely include grit and tension: two things that the movie glaringly lacked — most probably done to get a PG-13 rating.
Another downfall of the film is what seems to be the hushed storytelling about Freddie’s sexuality. It’s no mystery what a wild life the rock god led, and yet the film seems to paint his choices in bad, bad light. Freddie Mercury deserved better than this injustice of an “If Freddie Mercury stayed straight, bad things wouldn’t have happened to him” implication appearing near the end (Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991 due to AIDS complications). Again, another possible consequence of creating a film for general patronage. With a barrage of lukewarm to negative reviews from critics prior to its opening, it felt the film was destined to bite the dust.
It’s the performances, paired with the band’s iconic discography, that will keep you on your seats wanting and waiting for more.
But then again, this kind of reception is nothing new for the British rock band. In 1975, Queen wanted to release something that they were told would never be a hit. Bohemian Rhapsody proved both critics and skeptical fans wrong. The film also did the same and it’s currently the box office champion raking in $72 million plus worldwide.
For the most part, the biopic hits a lot high notes. In what might be one of this year’s greatest performances, Rami Malek completely disappears into the legend that is Mercury. Not only does Malek become the frenetic rock god onstage, he encapsulates the insecurities and doubts of one Freddie Bulsara behind the scenes.
You just knew he did his homework on bringing Freddie’s concert performances to life, from the soul of the lyrics pouring out to the dancing like no one’s watching bravura. It’s his portrayal that makes you overlook the Wikipedia screenplay, the very same thing that limits Malek to provide a wholly truthful look behind Freddie Mercury. The casting is the film’s saving grace. It’s their performances, paired with the band’s iconic discography, that will keep you on your seats wanting and waiting for more.
The film’s strongest scene happens at the end, an absolute riot of a reenactment and the closest thing to us being there at one of the world’s greatest performances. It’s uncanny, it’s authentic, and all kinds of wonderful — one that makes you forget all the scenes before it, and to an extent, the world you’re in.
In that moment, you’re in a crowd of thousands. You holler when Freddie’s signature “Ay-oh” pierces through the cheers. You might even shed a tear or two when the anthem of all anthems ends the show. But if you haven’t seen it yet, let me tell what I felt in that moment of real-life and fantasy: I felt absolutely, absolutely glorious. To put it simply: I was a champion of the world.