Mamma mia… the reviews for Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody have been unleashed, and they are – at very best – a mixed bag.
While Mr Robot star Rami Malek is roundly praised for his role as legendary frontman Freddie Mercury, the rest is deemed a bit of a mess.
It could be that the problems in its development proved insurmountable in telling the story of one of the most iconic rock bands of all time.
Even before director Bryan Singer exited amid talk of no-shows on set and clashing with his stars, to be replaced by Dexter Fletcher, the original iteration with Sacha Baron Cohen in the lead collapsed after he disagreed with the band on how the narrative would pan out.
Cohen claimed at the time that the band wanted something far less edgy that he did, and it appears that that is exactly what they’ve got.
“Bohemian Rhapsody the song is a sonic masterpiece and Bohemian Rhapsody the movie is just a conventional rock flick, one all too ordinary for a man and a band that exemplified the extraordinary,” reckons USA Today.
“Other than a solid job by Rami Malek… as magnetic frontman Freddie Mercury, a few exciting musical sequences and a couple of moments of actual greatness, the film is mostly a paint-by-numbers behind-the-music journey through the ups and downs of the iconoclastic British rock band.”
Writes Indiewire: “The critical failure of Bohemian Rhapsody is that, 134 minutes after the lights go down, the members of Queen just seem like four blokes who’ve been processed through the rusty machinery of a Hollywood biopic.”
According to Playlist: “Despite its intentions to get close to Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody is as intimate as a sold-out stadium show, with none of the accompanying power.
“Like trying to hit that famed high B flat on ‘Galileo’ without a warm-up, Bohemian Rhapsody is embarrassingly unprepared to cover the life of its subject — Freddie Mercury. This jumbled take on the legend is squawky, sexless, and shallow, assaulting the senses as it offers little insight or real depth into Mercury or the band he fronted.”
Uproxx goes further still: “Either one of the next two things are true: Either the surviving members of Queen still resent the fact that so much of their legacy is wrapped up in Freddie Mercury that they had to make this revisionist history of a movie, or the surviving members are so cinematically tone deaf they inadvertently made a movie that sure comes off like that’s what they were trying to do.”
While most hail Malek’s performance, it’s the narrative of Mercury’s sexuality that has troubled some.
The Guardian reckons that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody honours Mercury the showman but never really gets to Mercury the person’.
“The inevitable bust-up is another page out of the Spinal Tap playbook but, unforgivably, Bohemian Rhapsody casts Mercury’s wilderness years as a symptom of his gayness. We see the solo Mercury in Munich, drug-addled, shorn of his real friends and exploited by his new ones, who are mostly leather-clad, party-happy men. It reduces Mercury’s homosexuality to a tutting ‘he’s got in with the wrong crowd’.”
Uproxx agrees: “Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t ignore Freddie’s homosexuality, but instead kind of twists and warps it into what the movie presents as his downfall.
“Look, there’s Freddie, doing drugs and hanging out with all his gay friends, while the rest of the band – those squeaky clean choir boys – tell Freddie how they can’t stay and party because they all have to get home to their wives and kids. You see, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon are wholesome people who would never partake in the rockstar lifestyle like Freddie Mercury does.”
There are some compliments, but they tend to be with conditions.
“The film benefits from some uncanny performances that help it transcend all the dodgy wigs and telegraphed dialogue; and of course it has that majestic back catalogue to draw from whenever things start sagging,” writes The Scotsman, while in a three-star notice Empire calls Malek ‘spectacular’.
But those hoping for the definitive Queen biopic will likely be left cold.
It’s out today across the UK.