"Most bands aren't Queen," one of the members tells a dismissive producer. It's true. They're one of the most entertaining and talented rock bands ever assembled. So it's a shame that the movie of their lives is like so many other musician biopics.
2007's brilliant parody Walk Hard eviscerated Oscar-nominated movies like Ray and Walk the Line, relentlessly mocking all the clichés they're guilty of. Bryan Singer and writer Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour) must not have gotten the memo, because they looked at that long list and embraced almost all of them.
Does young Freddie have a deeply religious father who doesn't understand him? Oh, yes. Does he have a serendipitous audition for a small band that goes on to conquer the world? Yup. And is there a montage of him pushing everyone he loves away because of his addiction to drugs and alcohol, culminating in an embarrassing public spectacle? You bet there is.
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) commands the screen from the first frame to last. He's tremendous, making good on the promise he's shown in small roles in small movies over the past decade. He nails the paradox of Freddie: a showman who's deeply lonely, a performer who's never really himself.
But the movie is content to jump from A to B to C, without much consideration of how each scene should play out. So an early birthday party scene is a total mess, while Freddie's coming out to his wife (Lucy Boynton) finally lets the film slow down enough to focus on real emotions.
There's also the matter of the film's rating. A life as decadent as Freddie's needs an R-rated movie to really dig into his addiction and wildness. (When the film began production, Sacha Baron Cohen was to play Freddie, but "creative differences" caused him to leave the project.) So instead we get a lot of Malek breaking glasses and looking sweaty, and one montage of him being led by his devious manager/sometimes lover Paul (Downton Abbey's Allen Leech) through a gay nightclub.
At least the music is incredible. Malek lip-syncs perfectly, and the sound mixing is top-notch. The film's big finale – the band's legendary gig at Wembley for Live Aid – is almost re-created in full. The performance, of course, is magnificent, even if the CGI crowd is distracting.
If the surviving band members had gotten out of the way, there could have been a movie that pushed boundaries the way the band did. Instead, it's as safe as a sing-along of "We Will Rock You" at a baseball game.