Bohemian Rhapsody,chronicles the rise of the Queen's Band, and Freddie Mercury. But this is not a cradle-to-grave biography. It's a biopic – especially while showcasing the band's performance at Live Aid, a global charity concert in 1985 that raised money to fight hunger in Ethiopia.
Even before Bohemian Rhapsody begins, the 20th Century Fox logo appears on screen and the familiar trumpet fanfare morphs into an electric guitar with Queen-like flourishes. It's kind of like the logo is telling you to get ready for rock, there will be head-banging. When is the last time a non-comic-book movie logo
At San Francisco's famed Castro Theater, people were mouthing lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody – like you do – and clapping their hands along to "Radio GaGa." There are so many Queen songs featured in the movie it's worth seeing it just to hear the music over theater speakers.
The other reason to see Bohemian Rhapsody is Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury, which won him a Golden Globe and Academy Award. Mercury, with his high cheekbones, endless jawline and, of course, those teeth.
Looking like Mercury is one thing, but it is quite another. Enter Malek, who plays. He does not look exactly like Mercury, but embodies him head to toe.
On stage, Malek is outlandish, flirty and mesmerizing as he sways and preys with the Mercury's confidence. His angular stance and press of vocals beam out of his spandex-covered frame like a bright light to the heavens. And that's just as Mercury on stage .
Malek is adept at portraying both the star and the person. In the scenes between Mercury and Mary Austin, his closest friend and partner (played by Lucy Boynton), you see a vulnerable side to Mercury, driven by a search for identity as much as ambition. (Hey, iconic rock stars are just like us.)
Without Mary, as the film shows, Mercury has not fully explored his talent or come to terms with his sexuality. Mercury who he really is, even as he breaks his heart with his philandering.
But the other part of Freddie Mercury is as lead singer of Queen. Legendary guitarist Brian May is wonderfully played by Gwilym Lee under a mop of curls, Ben Hardy plays drummer Roger Taylor and Joe Mazzello plays bass guitarist John Deacon.
Some of my favorite scenes are recording a song. You see as much of the foursome's creativity as you do their bickering. One of the better sequences is the band recording "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a studio on a farm. There's a moment when Mercury writes the lyrics that's part of creation and part divine inspiration. It's just him alone at a farmhouse with his raw emotions and natural talent on full display.
The story has to be different from other music biopics, maybe because so many famous musicians' lives follow the same path: start out as a nobody; find love and success; struggle with stardom, sexual adventures, drugs; loose yourself to fame; grow apart from those close to you; and make a comeback. So, here's the tragic ending.
Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991. It was a "where were you when" moment only, and the message of HIV / AIDS was silent in its infancy.
The sense of Mercury's tragic end creeps on the first frame of the movie, a silent close-up on his eyes. It's not clear what the context is here, but there's enough ambiguity that makes you fear the worst.
But as the short silent beginning ends, "Somebody to Love" kicks in and we glimpse Mercury walking past his cats feasting from fancy bowls to his mansion for that famous Live Aid concert. Mercury is in full-on Castro clone look with short, slicked hair and large, bushy mustache.
Despite languishing in development limbo for years, with various attached stars and directors (and not without controversy), the movie that came out of such a messy creative process is phenomenal. Dexter Fletcher (credited as executive producer) deserves praise for his work in the final weeks of filming.
The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel , a frequent collaborator with Bryan Singer, credited as the film's director. Sigel captures the band performing as authentically as he does the tiny mundane moments between shows. Malek on and off
As for the wardrobe, throughout the film I heard several audience members say "Oh, I want that shirt" or "I need those shoes." Malek's clothes as Mercury are necessarily, gloriously over the top.
Mike Myers is nearly unrecognizable as EMI executive Ray Foster. Bohemian Rhapsody had a resurgence.
Bohemian Rhapsody, 1965 Biopic Straight Outta Compton did for NWA, wants to introduce Queen to a new audience while easily elevating the band's rock god status even higher. Even under all that hype, the film is about four outsiders who made a bunch of fantastic music.
As Mercury says: "We're four misfits who do not belong together for the other misfits."
First published, Nov. 3, 2018.
Update, Feb. 25 at 10:05 on: Adds the movie's four Oscar wins.
Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.
Purchase Bohemian Rhapsody tickets on Fandango