Summary: The rise of Queen, culminating in the legendary Live Aid concert.
I don’t even know what it means when I say I gaga this movie. I love Queen. Not love in the sense of I know everything about them but I can listen to them for hours that turn into days. This movie didn’t quite sweep me up in the way the band itself does, but I left feeling strangely satisfied and in awe of the scale of their success as well as deeply reminiscent of how much their music has endured. While I don’t think this movie is successful on a lot of levels, it captures a lot of the on-stage energy and the wow-factor of the band. They preferred to focus on the triumph of Mercury and the persona that people most associate with him and choose to remember. That’s fair and I get it, as the people it’s coming from (Brian May and Roger Taylor served as producers) knew Mercury best and know the image he either wanted to preserve or felt more in service to.
If that’s what the goal of the movie was, then great! If more people become interested in Queen or continue to hold them in such high regards, then great. For me, it just seemed to not know what it wanted to be, what it wanted to show. A strangely noncommitted tone for a movie about a band that was extremely entrenched to what it was what it stood for.
This is a very surface level look at a deeply troubled person who preferred (and succeeded) at living in the moment. It’s a take that celebrates who Mercury was, the band’s works, and the larger than life personalities behind the even bigger songs. It’s almost like Rent in the sense that it doesn’t delve into the heavier issues that were/are obviously present in the setting (here, drugs, alcoholism, and unprotected intercourse are lightly implied), but it still manages to strike emotional chords somehow. It may depend on how deeply the music affects you outside of the movie, it may depend on how much you know about Mercury and the back end of things- but something, some moment or person or notes, will have affected you as you leave.
There are flaws within the movie and I’ll just make it known right here- none of it is with the acting. Rami Malek is appropriately unsure and overconfident of himself throughout. He manages to bring an intimate feeling to the concert scenes, despite them taking place in front of hundreds, thousands of people. It’s a solid cast, with Aidan Gillan making an appearance and Mike Myers managing to not be too distracting.
The problems with the movie are mostly in the direction, the editing, and the overall pacing of the movie. Everything, for the most part, feels like a plot point or worse, a checklist. It moves as if it’s just going through the motions and none of the scenes really get a chance to resonate- the firing of personnel, the cracks that led to the band taking a break, not even the romance angles.
The sequence of events is ok- I can turn a blind eye to that. I mean, I really enjoyed The Greatest Showman, and that guy was a chump. But when the overall vision and technique is just so… basic, then everything feels lackluster. Half the job is done here with the music of the band being so vivid and dramatic, and it’s disappointing that the visuals are uncreative in the presentation of the material. It’s very much a literal presentation of each song- conception, recording, performance. I remember a couple of shots that emphasized the music in some way, shape, or form, but a lot of it is stagnant and flat direction that has no weight to it, as those heavy beats are hitting or as Mercury’s vocals soar. Most of the cuts aren’t even on beat– I’m not saying it has to be for every song but it’s an extremely odd decision to make when trying to emphasize how impactful their sound was. This is Queen, we’re talking about here. Queen was all about taking risks and disrupting the thought of what practices made sense- so it stands out that the film is very linear and literal in its presentation. The music should have been the driving force behind every single decision made in this movie. And that could be the replacement of Bryan Singer with Dexter Fletcher three-quarters of the way through (a lot of things come off as out of place- you can separate the reshoots), but it’s hard to even conceive how “great” the original vision might have been. I wish that someone like Baz Luhrmann or a director who really knew how to work with music had gotten their hands on this- someone who was either willing to go really wacky and flamboyant or someone who understood how to use the music to emphasize the visuals.
Bohemian Rhapsody left me feeling good, if not great, but not about what was presented. They’re feelings not about the work itself, but of the music and memories we have from Mercury and the band. I’ll never complain about having too much Queen in my life or the voice of an angel ringing in my ears- but in this case, I think I’ll pop in the Wembley concert.