Metallica is shaping up to have a stranger than normal film career. First they popped up with their interesting documentary all about how lame they had become in the face of age and wealth. Now they're back with a film that challenges the concert movie genre by disguising it as a full-blown music video.
It's been many years since I was up on my music videos, so I don't know how times have changed. When I was younger, I remember seeing the world premiere of Metallica's "Unforgiven" video, which had something like twenty minutes of scary old people doing scary old people stuff before the music actually begins. This time, it's more like twenty minutes of Metallica for each minute or so of Dane DeHaan getting his ass kicked on his trip through The Never. The notion that this is half concert film, half narrative is a fallacy.
But letting that go, we're left with a surprisingly fun theatrical experience. Old as they are, Metallica's prowess onstage might surprise those who have written them off in recent years. The setlist is stacked pretty well with classics, and the renditions sound alive and better than expected. Still no bass, though.
Visually, the film is stunning. I actually kind of liked the 3D, but even without it, there's something larger than life and crisp about the way Metallica Through the Never's concert footage looks. The show itself is visually interesting as well. The band roams around all corners of a massive stage which also acts as a giant television screen. Their often wide separation from each other is a little weird, but it gives cameramen an open opportunity to get remarkably intimate shots of the band. On top of that, Metallica's set utilizes tons of gigantic props that come from the floor or ceiling depending on what song they're playing. Some of it's pretty inventive, and as film viewers we get an ideal view of all this deeply expensive heavy metal goofiness. There's a fun moment where one of James Hetfield's microphones shorts out and he gets all pissed off. I had a hard time telling if it was affected or genuine.
As Metallica rolls through their almost endless setlist, the world outside the concert goes to Hell. In small, well-spaced snippets, we follow Dane DeHaan's young roadie as he attempts to run some errand and instead gets in a car wreck, runs into a massive violent protest, and gets chased through increasingly empty streets by a horse mounted Mad Max villain.
These scenes are incredible for their baldfaced rejection of all sense or meaning. DeHaan's adventure lives and dies on music video logic in the best way possible. As DeHaan runs through streets lined with hanging bodies while pursued by a masked lunatic, Metallica Through the Never begins to feel like a modern interpretation of all those silly heavy metal album covers you'd see all the time. It's goofy, sure. But it's a really fun kind of goofy.
These bits barely intersect with Metallica's show, but that doesn't really matter. If you're not here for the Metallica action, you're in the wrong place. And as a Metallica film, it succeeds. They still have it, despite all these years. After Some Kind of Monster, it's easy to see them as dysfunctional, talent-wiped babies. But the ending credits of this film, which finds the band playing through two different instrumentals (Edit: it's actually just one song, "Orion," which I'm not as familiar with as I should be) in an empty theater, actually makes them look happy and even a bit badass again.
You Metallica fans know who you are. This film should please you. The concert is good, Dane DeHaan's journey through The Never (whatever that is) is strangely fun, and the whole package adds up to a great theatrical experience you probably shouldn't miss if interested. The only thing it lacks are throngs of scary old people.