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'Metallica: Through The Never' Review: Ambitious and Loud, With a Gibberish Story

6/12/2014

By Todd Gilchrist
TheWrap

If you think youd like watching a Metallica concert paired with a gibberish fictional story, then youll probably love Metallica: Through The Never.

A rhapsodic chronicle of a young roadie's retrieval of a prized band keepsake filtered through a greatest-hits set, director Nimrod Antals performance documentary treats Metallica with predictable reverence, but falls flat trying to create a coherent throughline for its fictional segments. Nevertheless a sweeping, ambitious take on concert films, Metallica: Through The Never works well enough visually, and certainly musically, to make up for its feeble attempt to fictionalize the lengths to which a fan would go for his favorite band.

The film opens with a beautiful, continuous shot that sweeps across a vast Canadian cityscape, down past the concert venue (or one of them) where the band is set to perform a sold-out concert, and ends on a close-up of the dinged bumper of a Metallica fans car. As a chubby metalhead gets out and exclaims first to arrive, last to leave, Antal sets the tone for his musical odyssey, pairing epic, adoring cinematography with affectionately canted fandom.

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The next shot introduces Trip, played by Dane DeHaan, who eats pavement while trying to coolly skate his way to work. Unfortunately, the films instances of humor are too few and far between, but these moments offer a brief respite from the bands propulsive dirges, not to mention the post-apocalyptic showdowns that follow.

Even if you have mixed feelings about lead singer James Hetfields growling delivery, which probably too often sacrifices subtlety for visceral power, Metallicas best songs dexterously balance structural complexity and anthem-like scope, qualities Antal beautifully highlights via plenty of close-ups of the band members as they perform. Their use of Ennio Morricones The Ecstasy of Gold as a preamble to their first song which has served as their intro music since 1983 — speaks to their operatic ambitions, and they completely follow through via a stage setup that allows each member to roam freely in a 360 degree space while oversized props from their classic albums pop up periodically on stage.

Moreover, the acoustics of the venue complement the chugging wall of sound that emerges from their instruments, guaranteeing that theatrical audiences will be able to experience every note with blinding clarity.

Admittedly, Im not familiar enough with Metallicas songs to know how many of Trips adventures were prophesied or contextualized here in their lyrics, but suburban warfare and nightmarish drug trip seem to be the only subtext of the fictional story, all of which makes it that much more underwhelming. DeHaans natural intensity notwithstanding, Trip is barely enough of a character to be described as a cipher, and the urgency of his cross-town task fluctuates wildly according to the demands of each set piece.

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The bag hes sent to retrieve, which evidently contains Marcellus Wallaces soul, is a classic MacGuffin, important only inasmuch as it propels the plot forward. But its mystery feels like a missed opportunity, first because its contents could provide Trips journey with more tangible stakes, and then because a final solution or revelation might have given the film a finale that tied together the two narratives.

In terms of its larger purpose to obliterate as many of Metallica fans eardrums as possible with a big, loud concert — the only time the film stumbles is when it tries to pair the apocalyptic traumas of Trips story with on stage malfunctions and accidents during the bands performance, such as when a lighting rig explodes, and later, a production assistant catches on fire.

And while Hetfields momentary concern over his charred employee and jeopardized stage show is admirable, it feels even less believable than the fictional story, especially when the band pretends to rally for their finale by assembling amps on stage garage-band style, without discernibly changing the sound or volume of their performance. But ultimately, Metallica: Through The Never feels like the cinematic equivalent of a fans homemade greatest hits mix tape, complete with hand-drawn liner notes that dont quite capture the nuances of their music, but nevertheless adoringly embody its spirit.

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