Film Review – Metallica: Through the Never
Metallica: Through the Never
Heavy metal is dangerous. At least that’s the conceit that has followed and perpetuated its existence in the pop culture realm of music, pretty much since its birth back when bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin took the charge. Then, in 1986, heavy metal band Metallica firmly planted itself at the forefront of the genre with the album Master of Puppets. By this point, they had already released two critically acclaimed albums, Kill Them All and Ride the Lightning. Both had done commercially well. But it would be Master that would launch them into the stratosphere of rock music gods. It’s been twenty-seven years since the release of that album, and Metallica has seen many ups and downs, and somehow has maintained themselves as a group—for the most part. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Now, thirty years after the release of their first LP, Kill Them All, Metallica wants to lay claim to the heavy metal stake they once wielded, and they’ve hired director Nimrod Antal (Predators, Kontrol) to help them do it in Metallica: Through the Never, which might be the best thing this film has going for it. From the trailers, media press releases, and IMDb, the band and filmmakers would have you believe this a story fueled by the music of Metallica, but make no mistake, this is a concert film first and foremost. The story of Trip (Dane DeHaan) and his adventure as a roadie for Metallica who is sent on a mission to recover an out-of-gas truck with a special package that the band needs inside is barely even secondary to what’s mostly on display: the band. The fact that they even attempt to truncate a concert film with a flimsy MacGuffin is the beginning of where everything that doesn’t work starts.
What does work is the fact that Metallica at this point is a well-oiled machine. They’ve been playing most of the songs performed here for practically thirty years. They can do this in their sleep. And instead of looking tired and bored, they use their weathered experience to put on a full throttle concert. Filmed over several days, director Antal and cinematographer Gyula Pados use the time to their advantage to move giant high-def cameras around a stage that is both sterile and constructive, as they weave around band members, over the audience, and otherwise right to the forefront of the IMAX-3D screen it’s being broadcast on. Without a doubt this is the best experience you could have of a Metallica show, without going to a Metallica show. In fact, with the high definition sound system that accompanies the IMAX screen, this might be better than an in-person concert experience. For an hour and half, Metallica assaults the audience with their greatest hits, bringing back to memory why they once were considered the masters of their heavy metal domain.
Then there’s the story side. At first, the whole idea of the MacGuffin situation seems like it’s going to be the focal point of the movie, but when you’ve been watching Metallica deliver twenty minutes of songs from Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, you begin to realize this really is just a concert film, not a narrative—which then makes the narrative that much more annoying, because first off, it makes no sense, then second, it’s banal and annoying. What does make sense in a bizarro world kind of way is that the whole MacGuffin fits in perfectly with what Metallica has spent most of their careers attempting to do: compliment their music with vignettes that visually represent what their songs are kind of about. From music videos to their concerts, Metallica has always been about the imagery accompanying the chest-thumping guitar licks. Even their stage show presented on screen here illustrates their visual storytelling devices, as images of World War I soldiers marching and dying are displayed on screens around the stage as the band plays the song “One”—a song that’s accompanying video showed scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun, adapted from the novel the song was inspired by.
Two things ultimately permeate in the movie just enough that it almost unravels the ear-shattering rest of it. One is the ridiculous story of the roadie Trip, who at one point lights himself on fire in order to fight a horde of people dressed exactly like him(?), and the other is the band themselves. In 2004, Metallica commissioned a documentary about themselves going through group therapy, as a band, as they recorded their most panned album to date, St. Anger. If there’s one thing the documentary successfully accomplished, it was revealing just exactly what prima donnas the band members are. The petty squabbling, compounded with their hilariously unreal expectations of the world outside the one they created, made for a both cringe-inducing and guffawing time.
This time around, the band is confined mostly to their stage performance, but that doesn’t mean the attitudes are gone. At one point, James Hetfield‘s mic goes out, only to have him throw it down in anger, point at it for the stage technicians to see, and storm off to the next microphone, where he continues to point in anger at the dead mic that’s now being fixed. And then there’s the stage show production. At this point, the concert is hyperbolic in its presentation, from an electric chair being lowered from the ceiling and emitting electricity, to rising headstones on stage, to construction workers building Lady Justice, to then only have her crumble around the band members as they rock so hard they caused that to happen. It’s become a Spinal Tap show, and they’re just too serious about what they do to see it. But, the crowd loves it, and the audience I saw it with loved it, so it basically boils down to this: if you love Metallica for the music that made them the band we’re aware of today, then this is the concert film you’ve been waiting twenty-seven years to see.