Starring: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich
Directed by: Nimrod Antal (“Predators”)
Written by: Nimrod Antal (“Kontroll”), James Hetfield (debut), Lars Ulrich (debut), Kirk Hammett (debut), and Robert Trujillo (debut)
Despite their recognition as one of the biggest rock bands in the world, the past 15 years have been somewhat unkind to Metallica. After a middling response to the bands Load and Reload albums, Metallica became Public Enemy No. 1 when drummer Lars Ulrich went on a one-man crusade to shut down the popular file sharing service Napster in 2000. A few years later, they became the laughing stock of rock with the horrendous St. Anger album, which received harsh criticisms from fans and critics alike. Along with this album came the excellent documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” which would have had a “Spinal Tap” level of humor had it not been so sad to watch. The band regained their footing a bit with their 2008 album Death Magnetic, but lost it again with their completely confusing and utterly unlistenable collaboration album with Lou Reed called Lulu in 2011. Though they have suffered through their fair share of missteps, Metallica has maintained relevance in the music world, which is a testament to the strength of their older catalog and unquestioned devotion to fans. In their latest journey, “Metallica: Through the Never,” the band introduces audiences to a 3D concert film with an added twist.
It’s clear from their opening song, a thundering version of “Creeping Death,” that Metallica is on their best behavior. Anyone who has seen Metallica in the past decade knows that their live shows can be a mixed bag. Guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield’s vocals have been on a steady decline since the mid-90’s, replacing a once gravely, aggressive delivery to a sing-songy one that accentuates each lyric with an ooh or aah. Guitarist Kirk Hammett occasionally plays a little sloppy and will regularly butcher his own guitar solos, and drummer Lars Ulrich often feels like he’s playing a completely different song and loses time mid-track. But Metallica fans will be happy to know that many of these inferior qualities of Metallica are absent in “Through the Never.” They actually sound as tight as they have in years. Hetfield’s vocals are the obvious improvement, adding a little bit of that grit that has been sorely lacking. Hammett nails nearly every solo, Lars keeps in-line and bassist Robert Trujillo is present in the mix, adding another dimension to the live sound.
As one might expect, the setlist is somewhat of a “greatest hits” affair, filled with songs that have been on the radio for decades and cuts from every album other than Load and St. Anger. From a visual perspective, director Nimrod Antal (“Predators”) brings a unique and large-scale look into the performance. There are tons of camera angles, perfect editing, and a keen eye for interesting close ups and implementation of the effects happening in and around the stage. On that front, the band makes use of several giant set-pieces that reflect album art. These elements are displayed during the title tracks from the albums Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All. The band clearly pulled out all the stops to make these shows larger than life, financing the film and the giant stage in the arena on their own. But of course, at this point in their career, Metallica can certainly afford it.
Throughout the concert footage is a half-cooked narrative featuring actor Dane DeHaan (“Chronicle”) as a roadie who goes out into the streets on an errand for the band. There, he finds apocalyptic-like events and must go on the run for his safety. It’s certainly a unique way to frame a concert film, but, unfortunately, is completely worthless and feels like an extended music video more than anything. There are some decent visuals, particularly one of several bodies suspended from up high, but the story is nonsensical, unnecessary, and adds nothing to the film. Fortunately, it’s such a small part of the film that it’s a mere brief distraction. Luckily, only a couple of full-length songs are interrupted by the unfocused storytelling.
Metallica has been the focus of some pretty harsh criticisms over recent years, some of it valid, and some of it not. One thing that is undeniable, however, is their unrelenting devotion to their fans and the workhorse approach to touring, something they have never stopped doing even in the face of criticism. Their die-hard fans have rewarded them with support and still come out in droves. Their impact on rock and metal music is undeniable. In “Metallica: Through the Never,” they prove their sound still holds up.