Metallica Reinvents The Concert Film With "Through The Never"

Metallica’s riveting 2004 documentary, “Some Kind Of Monster,” captured the band recording their much-maligned “St. Anger” record – and nearly unraveling in the process. Complete with rehab stints and musical false starts, the film was shockingly candid but thoroughly accessible, laden with intrigue regardless of one’s opinion on the band or their music. It was a feat of mass appeal that any musical act would be hard-pressed to replicate in documentary form, let alone with a concert film.

So, as a concert film, it’s understandable that “Metallica Through The Never” requires a taste for metal on the part of its audience. It’s no secret that the band has recently steered away from its more mainstream 90s material in favor of its thrash metal roots. But what’s so frustrating about “Through The Never” is how close it comes to must-see status, regardless of musical preference. In adding a lavishly staged narrative to an already luminous stage show, Metallica – James Hetfield (lead vocals, guitar), Kirk Hammett (lead guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums), and Robert Trujillo (bass) – and director Nimród Antal (“Predators”) come this close to transcending the genre.

Dane DeHaan (“Chronicle”) stars as a young roadie tasked with tracking down a mysterious bag during a Metallica show. The picture begins with DeHaan arriving at the venue and traipsing around backstage as the band warms up. The way Antal cartoonishly sets the stage gives off a distinct theme park vibe, as if the audience is riding the lift hill of a rollercoaster just before being shot out into a maelstrom of chugging riffs and loopy, unhinged guitar solos. It’s a technique that works beautifully, and as Metallica breaks into the ominous “Creeping Death,” it’s clear that no other band in the world would have the stomach to commit to something so giddily preposterous.

Soon, DeHaan finds himself outside the arena, immersed in apocalyptic urban warfare. The moody sequences that follow are viscerally stunning, and scored by some of Metallica’s best songs, they work wonderfully as a kind of long form music video. As Antal cuts back and forth between the stage show and the mini narrative happening outside the arena, the concert’s set design becomes correspondingly outlandish, from an oversized electric chair that shoots lightning bolts (a nod to Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” record) to a massive, crumbling “Lady Justice” statue (from “…And Justice For All”).

But just as the band’s onstage chemistry seems to peak – it takes them a while to overcome the excessively spacious stage – something odd happens. It suddenly becomes clear that Metallica is doing all the work, their music giving the narrative meaning instead of the other way around. The roadie story doesn’t make a lick of sense, adding nothing to the film other than the occasional slick visual. The ostensibly symbiotic relationship between concert film and narrative piece is entirely one-sided, the picture eventually coming to a screeching halt every time the music fades and leaves us with a mostly silent Dane DeHaan.

As the setlist gradually becomes more predictable – like they weren’t going to play megahit “Enter Sandman” – the stitched together story becomes even less palatable, the film’s nadir coming when it requires the band members to act. As Hetfield and his audience try to act genuinely surprised by collapsing lighting rigs, the pic’s tightrope between gravity and outright cheese becomes entirely slack, belying Metallica’s ostensible contempt for less committed musical acts. It’s a turn that’s sure to provoke eye rolls from even the staunchest Metallica fans, reducing an otherwise glossy production to WWE-style drama.

The film’s ambition is admirable, but ultimately it does little more than set the table for other artists. The first musical act to successfully combine a lucid, interesting narrative with a stage show of this scale and spectacle will get all the credit in the world, but Metallica will deserve much of that credit for providing a shoulder to stand on. As far as near misses go, “Metallica Through The Never” is a good one, and for fans of the band – or those interested in the spectacle of it all – it demands to be seen. But it stings of missed opportunity, just as Metallica’s recent albums have. Its unbelievably limp ending only drives home its status as a vision unfulfilled.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: September 27, 2013 (Limited)
Studio: Picturehouse
Director: Nimród Antal
Screenwriter: Nimród Antal
Starring: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo
MPAA Rating: R (for some violent content and language)