There is no need to explain who Metallica is. They’ve been around long enough to transition from being the thundering rock musicians whose tracks your parents made you turn down to being parents themselves, and no doubt shouting at their kids to turn their music up. What Metallica hasn’t really done in quite some time is surprise us. The S&M album was a beautiful experiment, but Metallica had become the one thing a groundbreaking metal band with designs on immortality-like longevity could ill-afford to be: ubiquitous. Conventional wisdom would suggest that it would take more than a concert video to rejuvenate this group and return them boldly to the limelight.
And conventional wisdom would be entirely correct, but thankfully Metallica Through the Never is indeed more than a concert video.
Directed by Nimród Antal, Metallica Through The Never intertwines concert footage with a scripted genre narrative. The catalog of Metallica hits performed during the concert provides the appropriate underscore for the fictional portion of the film. In the narrative, a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent across town during the Metallica show to retrieve a necessary item from a stranded truck. The particulars of the item in question, and the reason for the truck’s disablement, are safely filed away under MacGuffin.
What is exceedingly more important than the details is the devil. In this case, a death-mongering hellrider harvesting victims among a rioting, increasingly more murderous horde; the apocalypse coming on so fast as to have seemingly been incited by the savage chords of unyielding metal fury blazing forth from the concert.
As the visiting band members revealed during Fantastic Fest, there had been several different filmmakers during the pre-production phase who had pitched conceits for the accompanying narrative, but, inexplicably, Nimród was the only director to put forth a horror-based throughline. The union between heavy metal enthusiasm and horror fandom is formidable and longstanding. Though not a causal relationship, it is nonetheless evident that the Venn diagram of music and film genre appreciations finds the greatest overlap at horror and metal. The narrative portion of the film does an adequate job matching the severity of the band’s music with dark and unsettling images, and Dane DeHaan turns in a rather engaging performance as the fierce rock-n-roll hero. The action sequences are basic, but effective, and the brief use of stop-motion animation is quite captivating. Metallica’s set list wonderfully denotes each new dramatic beat of DeHaan’s tumultuous journey through a city on fire.
The problem however is that what should be the defining aspect of the film, the fictional storyline, feels underdeveloped. Apart from a few moments of inspired fright and entertaining mayhem, the non-concert portion of the movie isn’t quite up to snuff. It’s slight to the point of frustration; bearing barely more setup and exposition than, oddly enough, a music video. The ending in particular is woefully unsatisfying. What ends up counterbalancing this shortcoming is the highly conceptual concert itself. Metallica puts on a wild show brimming with spectacular production design, and it’s very easy to be more drawn in by the musical performance than by the miniature horror film playing in its interim. The mid-stage construction of the giant statute as the guys launch into “…And Justice for All” was especially impressive.
I happened to catch Metallica Through the Never on the same day as the press screening for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and frankly, there was something unexpectedly harmonious about that pairing. Make no mistake, from that statement should not be assumed any storytelling or performance equivalency. However, both films are testaments to the totally immersive quality of cinema. Gravity and Through the Never are total sensory feasts demanding of the biggest screen possible; IMAX is definitely the ideal presentation format here. The precise combination of visual and auditory experiences encompasses the audience and seeks to achieve maximum levels of pure escape. I can honestly say that, while they couldn’t have been more divergent in terms of content, both Gravity and Metallica Through the Never were entirely unique and mesmerizing cinematic feats.
The one caveat to be offered, in a somewhat get-off-my-lawn capacity, is that an ample supply of Tylenol would be a wise piece of multiplex cargo. Films presented in 3D can sometimes harbor the threat of headache for viewers, especially this one. When taken into consideration that Through the Never is a 3D concert film loaded with high-octane Metallica hits, the decibel-destroying recipe may have some folks categorizing the viewing experience as exit eyes, enter migraine. Metallica fans, as well as those not quite as curmudgeonly as this writer realizes he is sounding, will likely be undeterred by this possible cranial bombardment. Admittedly, this caveat is not a slight against the film, as a movie like this should absolutely be cranked to eleven. However, it is something to be considered before the trek Through the Never is made.
Though there is a lot to appreciate from the outside looking in, Metallica Through the Never is 100% a movie for fans of the band.
Upside: An innovative and visually spellbinding delivery system for the music of one of metal’s premiere groups.
Downside: The horror narrative feels underdeveloped.
On the Side: The film will be released this Friday, September 27th; marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton.
A previous version of this review listed the album “…And Justice For All” as “Injustice For All.” It’s hard to type or copyedit while headbanging. Our apologies.