In a perfect world, this Metallica concert experience would have been just that: a straight-up, riveting, utterly immersive 3-D film with music blaring through IMAX speakers and massive images of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo filling the screening. And make no mistake, all of that is in METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER, in the very capable hands of director Nimrod Antal (KONTROLL, PREDATORS, VACANCY). But then there's this sketch of a story the runs through the film that is visually quite interesting, but adds very little to the actual experience of watching and listening to Metallica perform.
While I applaud the band for trying to do something more than a straight concert film, the staging of the particular shows that were filmed for this document pretty much cover this being anything but ordinary. But that doesn't stop a story from developing concerning a roadie named Trip (the great young actor Dane DeHaan, soon to be seen in the new AMAZING SPIDER-MAN film as Harry Osborn), who is sent out into the city to locate a missing band-owned truck. But as he gets closer to finding the vehicle, strange and scary things begin to happen that resemble a violent uprising. All the while, Metallica's music acts as the soundtrack to this tale.
And how about that music? I feel like every review of this film I've read so far has had the critic exclaim their level of fandom for Metallica before they dive into talking about the film. I would not consider myself a "fan" of the band, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate their music. I actually like the sometimes symphonic qualities that some of their more epic songs display, and this stage show is like walking through a haunted house.
I was genuinely surprised how many of these songs I actually knew, despite not owning any Metallica music. There are tremendous, definitive versions of such songs as "Creeping Death," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "One," "Wherever I May Roam," "...And Justice for All," "Master of Puppets," "Nothing Else Matters" and, of course, "Enter Sandman." Some fans may complain that the chosen tracks are decidedly lacking in deep cuts, but as a casual fan, I was thrilled to hear so many familiar songs, made all the more memorable thanks to unique stagings for each tune.
I've known since seeing the band in the great doc METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER that this is group of guys who take their music so seriously that they were at one point willing to sacrifice the band if it meant maintaining the health of the individual members. They only wanted to make music if they were all physically and psychologically well. A part of me suspects that maybe, psychologically, some of them are still on the edge, because only that would it explain the added through-line of THROUGH THE NEVER. Thankfully, the value and strength of the music owns the day and this film. Hell, I even dug the instrumental jams the band engages in during the end credits.
In addition to rocking music, METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER also features some of the best 3-D you'll see in your life. It's strange and wonderful that in just one week, you're going to see another spectacular, eye-popping use of 3-D in Gravity, which uses it differently, but with equal effectiveness.
At times, this film is frustrating (pretty much every time it leaves the concert), but I will admit I'm such a fan of DeHaan's work in such movies as CHRONICLE, LAWLESS and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, to name a few, that I was happy to see him work his angsty greatness all over the movie. I didn't actually see this film on an IMAX screen, but if you're able to find one that's playing this work, opt for that and hope your eardrums and eyes will forgive you for spoiling them so dramatically.