With 30 years in the music industry and a storied history that includes the tragic loss of a band member and the controversial Napster incident, Metallica is a name music lovers of all stripes have experience with. Moviegoers may also be familiar with Metallica due to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, which was the 2004 documentary that chronicled two years with the band. Now roughly 10 years later, Metallica’s return to the silver screen is not unwelcome, but those expecting another documentary will be disappointed while fans who want to experience their favorite band in the comfort of a theater will be thrilled. Everyone else’s enjoyment will be wholly dependent on how much they like Metallica’s music.
There isn’t much story. Trip (Dane DeHaan) is a dedicated roadie to the heavy metal band Metallica, who is set to play a large venue in a downtown metropolitan area. Because Trip knows how to get things done, he’s tasked with recovering something important from a crew truck that ran out of gas. So while he’d much rather stay and watch Metallica play, he ventures into the night to do what he’s told. Unfortunately, Trip runs into the worst roadblocks imaginable, including an automobile collision, a standoff between rioters and riot police, and a masked, hammer-wielding horseman with a penchant for lynching people. To make matters worse, Trip is a drug-user who is prone to hallucinations. His dedication to the band, however, is unshakeable, and they really need this thing he’s supposed to get.
At its core, Metallica: Through the Never is a concert film. Yes, there’s a running narrative featuring Trip venturing through an increasingly nightmarish city, but that portion is probably 20-minutes-long if all of those scenes were strung together end to end. At best, the narrative section could be considered one long music video since there is almost no dialogue. The narrative is also inconsequential to the film proper, in that it could be excised completely and the film would be just as enjoyable with just the band playing the concert. That’s because it’s established early that Trip is an unreliable storyteller who pops pills, which are probably causing his hallucinations, like seeing blood dripping from a guitar, so it’s hard to know if anything Trip is experiencing is actually happening. Also, the band’s performance is truly awesome, and is enough to carry the film.
Metallica and their creative concert in the round steal the show – as they should. The film really comes into its own during the concert sections of the movie, with three main components synergizing perfectly: the band, the stage and the cinematography. Metallica performs their set with the kind of gusto that would satisfy any metalhead, with Lars Ulrich sweating into his drum kit, James Hetfield growling into the microphones and Robert Trujillo getting up close and personal with the crowd while slinking low with the bass. The stage is a multimedia attraction unto itself, boasting electrified set pieces, fog machines and a floor composed of flat panel screens. Several of the more inspired moments in the film come from the practical effects during the stage show, whether it’s the haunting silhouettes of soldiers marching by or the disturbing images of people trapped alive in coffins. Finally, the raucous energy of the concert and the audience is captured wonderfully by the camera crew, which does a fantastic job of making the theater audience really feel like it’s part of the event. IMAX 3-D only helps to sell the effect.
Despite the great stage show, viewers may find themselves a little exhausted by the end of the film. Much like being the listener in a one-sided conversation, moviegoers may feel frustrated at not being able to respond in what is traditionally a participatory event. Unless the theater is full of lovers of Metallica or the heavy metal genre in general, then any single fan may feel awkward throwing up devil’s horns and head banging. Instead, he or she will just have to control their outbursts and watch in stoic silence. Non-fans who are just looking to watch a solid film may also suffer from the fatigue that comes with too much action – there needs to be some relief, comic or otherwise. But it will never come.
Metallica: Through the Never is mostly hit, but sometimes miss. The narrative aspects with Trip are visually striking, but ultimately unnecessary. Audiences would be better served if the whole movie were just a 90-minute concert, since the stage show is that strong. There’s even some manufactured drama onstage with busted microphones, malfunctioning stage lights and pyrotechnics gone wrong to heighten the experience to incredible levels. In the end, narrative or no narrative, this movie is ultimately for Metallica fans, with just enough style to attract newcomers who aren’t expecting a full-fledged story.