A slickly realized concert movie that cranks from the 3-D and IMAX formats the kind of immersive energy that most feature films can only dream of, Metallica: Through the Never is a suitably gonzo rock spectacle worthy of the band and the expectations of its legion of fans. Some 30 years into their career, Metallica has pretty much become the Rolling Stones of metal — in a good way.
Director Nimród Amtal (Predators) treads a line between generic concert flick and pretentious concept film by blending vivid concert footage filmed over five nights in Vancouver and Edmonton during the band’s 2012 World Magnetic tour with a loose narrative about a young roadie (Dane DeHaan, The Place Beyond the Pines and next summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2) whose errand run turns into a literal nightmare. Dispatched mid-show to collect a mysterious package for the band, his quest across a strangely vacant city becomes a gauntlet of riots, lynchings, random destruction, and crazed mobs led by a horseman who appears to be on holiday from a Mad Max movie.
The surreal mayhem takes a back seat to the band itself — as well it should — and try as they might, Amtal and DeHaan can’t match the level of energy and engagement generated by these veteran rockers. These guys have worked audiences into frenzies for decades, and they have it down to a science and an art. The movie is dedicated to late British stage architect Mark Fisher, who designed the stage for World Magnetic as well as productions for Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and the London Olympics, and his unique style is in full effect. Playing in the round on a massive stage that doubles as a video screen, the band stalk back and forth across it while the panels beneath them spin out suitably morbid imagery, while the usual pyrotechnics go off overhead and all around. Some cheesy but clever oversized props — such as an arcing electric chair for “Ride the Lighting” and a statue of Lady Justice that rises and crumbles during “And Justice for All” — perk up some of their more familiar songs. Even the well-worn anti-war anthem “One” is given new life via mock tracer fire and explosions that detonate while silhouette images of soldiers march around the arena to meet their fates.
Amtal is well aware of the fact that Metallica are the reigning champions of thrash metal, and makes certain that the non-concert scenes are there to serve the band and not the other way around, to the extent that the ersatz plot is superfluous. Metallica’s live shows have always been intense with a capital “I” (so much so that frontman James Hetfield was seriously injured during a performance in Montreal in 1992); DeHaan’s quest becomes an over-extended music video inter-cut with the concert, and as such it’s an unnecessary MacGuffin. It has little context and no pay-off — but in all fairness, with a band that rocks this hard, one isn’t inclined to give a damn.