Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Metallica: Through The Never" (2013)

Starring Dane DeHaan and Metallica
Written by Nimrod Antal and Metallica
Directed by Nimrod Antal
Rated R - Violence, strong language, frightening images
Running Time: 93 Minutes

There's never a lack of crazy when you're a roadie for Metallica. Trip (Dane DeHaan) is just such a roadie, hired by a manager to be a gofer for the band. On the night of a massive, one-night-only show, Trip is sent on a mission to retrieve something of vital importance to the band. It seems a truck carrying their parcel broke down on its way to the venue, and Trip has to take his van and a tank of gas and get the thing running again.

At first, Trip seems disappointed that he's missing the show and rushes to get through his task in time to catch the rest. But when he's T-boned at an intersection, he discovers that he's got bigger problems to deal with: Trip finds himself stranded in the midst of a massive battle between rioters and police.

Worse, a mysterious rider on horseback wearing a gas mask seems to have set his sights on Trip, stalking him through an increasingly dangerous and apocalyptic setting.

Legendary heavy metal band Metallica has been heavily promoting this release of their latest concert film, an IMAX 3-D extravaganza that also happens to have a fictional story component to it. While I applaud the experiment, this component turns out to be one of the weaker aspects of the film.

The true stars here are definitely Metallica and the music thereof. Appearing as themselves, frontman James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitar Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo do what they do best: pound out their brutal, energetic music. And they do it so, so very well. One might think that a band that's existed for so long, gone through line-up changes and near-breakups might just sleep their way through this kind of project, but they don't. They attack it with gusto, and their enthusiasm shows.

The concert portions of the film are straightforward, with Metallica on stage, surrounded by their increasingly elaborate props and effects. The set list is a Metallica's greatest hits, focusing mostly on songs from the band's early years. Only three songs from the band's later efforts are offered up here - "Fuel" and "The Memory Remains" from the mid-90s, and a single song, "Cyanide" from 2008's 'Death Magnetic' album. Frankly, while I enjoy "Cyanide" and the sequence it plays over is one of the more intense action sequences of the film, I can't help but think that "All Nightmare Long" from that same album would have been a far better inclusion, if more obvious.

Still, the band roars through many classics like "Master of Puppets," "Ride the Lightning," "One" and "Enter Sandman" that are sure to leave fans salivating for even more. Metallica puts on a great show here, with no sign that their age has slowed them down or softened them up in the slightest. They work the crowd with expert flair, with fireballs and lasers and electrical discharges shooting around behind them.

Occasionally, the increasingly surreal fictional aspects of Trip's storyline intrude on the concert sequences, but for the most part these two things seem almost like you're watching two entirely separate things. In fact, the movie seems to forget that it has a storyline for long sections. Then when it remembers and cuts back to DeHaan, it feels almost disorienting.

DeHaan himself does the best he can. His character has no dialogue, other than yelling "Hey!" at the guy who hit his van with his car. But mostly he just runs around looking more and more like a young Leonardo DiCaprio and being afraid and ever-more beaten up.

It's these sections of the film that feel like a letdown because there's so much potential. The music is rife for dark, violent imagery, yet the film rarely feels like it capitalizes on it. The concept of a truly wild, dark fantasy/action film set to Metallica's music is one I would love to see explored further and better.

Still, the music is really what drives the entire experience. The use of 3D is immersive without resorting to gimmicks with stuff flying out of the screen. Occasionally, a crackle of electricity during "Ride the Lightning" or some other effect will seem a bit more in-your-face, but these things are rare.

If you're looking to watch Metallica really kill it on stage, "Through the Never" won't steer you wrong. It's a helluva show.  If you're hoping that the experimental merging of concert film and fictional narrative will lend itself to anything truly substantial, you'll likely come out disappointed. Metallica fans will find a lot to love here, with some really great live footage.

If you can see "Through the Never" at an IMAX theatre, with its booming surround system, do so. It's likely the closest you'll ever feel to being at a Metallica concert without actually going to one.