Having seen Metallica live, it was difficult to imagine that a film, albeit shot in 3D and on IMAX, could’ve possibly captured the absurd scope of their show. Essentially a grandiose spectacle of metal heads rocking out to the hypermasculine and apocalyptical imagery of James Hetfield’s lyrics, Lars Ulrich’s kinetic drumming, Kirk Hammett’s perpetual riffing, and Robert Trujillo’s rollicking bass, Metallica Through the Never not just replicates the concert experience, but visualizes its visceral thrills with arguably the same intensity. An impressive concert documentary, the film’s modest ambitions buckle when a secondary element - an interspersed narrative that weaves within the band’s set list- derails the wanton desire of experiencing the communal celebration of metal.
The minor plotting of the film’s fictional narrative sees a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) in the process of acquiring an elusive bag for the band. Filmed in a barren cityscape, Trip’s journey mirrors that of the lyrical context of Metallica’s tracks, with songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “One” best visualizing Trip’s increasingly dire descent into an apocalyptical wasteland. There’s no shortage of thrilling sequences as Trip is hunted and chased, essentially figuring into the “other” category that Metallica fans often find themselves associated with when it comes to musical inclination.
These narrative detours often intercut with the concert footage itself, providing an uneven experience throughout. It all results in a narrative that feels undercooked coupled with a disconnected feeling from a concert you’d want to attend. Director Nimród Antal never quite finds the right pacing for introducing the narrative elements, though his editor Joe Huntshing has a very clear understanding of how to transition between the two perspectives of fantasy and reality. Huntshing is dictated by the masculine anxieties found in Hetfield’s lyrical content, editing the picture around critical vocal pitches that accentuate the narrative’s own preening sense of uncertainty. If only Antal were more capable of framing both the concert footage and the narrative piece together.
But with a handsome box office intake over the weekend, placing second amongst specialty releases, it’s not as if my take on the picture would make much of a dent on fans’ perspectives anyway. And quite honestly, my faults with the picture stem largely from a study of Through the Never’s formal qualities. This is an incredibly fluid and entertaining concert documentary/fantasy epic that succeeds or fails on your enjoyment of Metallica’s music. And if you’re a fan, well, “Master of Puppets” never sounded better.