Concert movies come and go, and though there have been plenty of solid ones – “Monterey Pop” and “The Last Waltz” quickly come to mind – nothing is going to top the rock splendor of “Woodstock,” at least not for this old hippie who attended that great gathering.
But the newest entry in the genre, “Metallica: Through the Never,” is right up there with the good ones. Premiering on IMAX screens, in 3-D, then moving out into general release, the film features an outstanding performance by the decades-old thrash metal rock band, shot by who knows how many cameras that sometimes catch the whole spectacle of the show and sometimes get right up close to the band members and their instruments. There’s also plenty of action, as singer-guitarist James Hetfield and company are not a band that likes to stand still, and their movements all over the massive and impressively designed stage are fluidly followed by those similarly moving cameras.
Truth be told, this boy is no Metallica fan (I go more for Deep Purple), but these guys have earned my respect for their success, their longevity and for their ability to whip an arena-ful of fans into a frenzy. Yeah, the powerful smash-you-over-the-head songs begin to sound alike, and the power ballads often tend to turn into smash-you-over-the-head songs. But Hetfield exudes an amazing bigger-than-life presence, and drummer Lars Ulrich’s endless energy hints that he might be part drum machine.
This is exciting stuff, from the moment the band breaks into its opener, “Creeping Death” (about the holiday of Passover, I kid you not), right through a generous panoply of fierce and fiery pieces from their catalog, including “Ride the Lightning,” “Cyanide,” “Master of Puppets” and “Hit the Lights.”
It’s clear that the band is having a great time, and they know that they’re hitting all the right marks in this show, and it’s equally clear – just look at all of those fists pumping up and down in unison – that the crowd is absolutely caught up in everything. On top of that, there’s no doubt that director Nimrod Antal (who is responsible for one of my favorite ever opening shots: of Adrien Brody waking up while falling through the sky in the film “Predators”) is a big fan of the band. They sound great on their own, but he also makes them look great.
Alas, as cool as this film is for its spot-on capturing of a live concert experience, it’s marred by what someone thought was a good idea but instead goes terribly wrong. Between some of the songs, there’s also a narrative story happening. Up-and-coming actor Dane DeHaan plays a practically silent loner (he doesn’t have even one full line of dialogue, just a couple of shouts) who works for the band as a gofer. Just after the show begins, he’s pulled from the arena and told to jump in a van, deliver gasoline to a trucker who’s run out of fuel, pick up a package and bring it back.
Page 2 of 2 - DeHaan (“Chronicle,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” next month’s “Kill Your Darlings”) has a great screen face and an expressive attitude that puts him in or around the James Dean school of acting. But this is a part that gives him nothing much to do. The intrusive sequences (they stop the flow of the concert) might have worked if they made up a film of their own, as the story starts out strange, gets really weird and kind of uncomfortable, then enters into a state that approaches something like psychedelia. In the end, borrowing an idea from both “Pulp Fiction” and “Repo Man,” the story goes nowhere and leaves the film with a reason for viewers to scratch their heads.
But the concert stands tall, and having finally seen Metallica play live, or as live as I’m likely to see them, it may be time for me to grab a copy of “Ride the Lightning” and learn what they’re really all about.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER
Written by Nimrod Antal and Metallica; directed by Nimrod Antal
With James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Dane DeHaan