Outside a sold out arena, a young roadie skateboards his way towards the backstage entrance. Metallica's vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield roars by in a silver hot rod belching flames. As Trip (Dane DeHaan, "Lawless," "The Place Beyond the Pines") walks down the hallway, pieces of ceiling fall from the shuddering chamber bassist Robert Trujillo is warming up in. But just as the kid begins to enjoy the show, he's given an assignment to retrieve something the band needs from a broken down truck in the city. Heading out in a van with a creepy puppet noosed around his rearview, Trip is about to travel into "Metallica: Through the Never."
Writer/director Nimród Antal ("Kontroll," "Predators") and Metallica join forces to create one of the most eye-popping, ear-splitting rock shows ever put on the screen. Gyula Pados's ("The Duchess," "Predators") thoroughly immersive 3D cinematography puts us on and above the stage, the better to view the action and projections on its 200 foot length created with motion-activated LED screens. Anyone who's ever wanted to analyze any of this band members' playing styles will unlikely get a better chance.
These guys seriously want to entertain you and put themselves in some precarious positions to do so. The pyrotechnics are so intense, it's a wonder they're even legal. Then there are the four giant Tesla coils literally shooting bolts of electricity around a huge suspended electric chair ('Ride the Lightning'). A thirty-five foot tall Lady Justice is assembled only to be toppled all about the stage. Larger than life coffins revolve overhead and, as Metallica kicks into 'Cyanide,' five actors within them act out having been buried alive, the effect so surreal we think they're holograms. We get strafing bullets (actually lasers with sound effects), explosions and the impression of a helicopter overhead as silhouetted soldiers march across three video screens for 'One.' There's even a 'pretend' accident on stage when technicians run out to deal with the chaos and catch on fire, all so Hetfield & Co. can get stripped back down to garage basics for their finale.
Interwoven with all this spectacle is Trip's story, edited for musical continuity with the concert. Antal says he was inspired by the circular journey of Paolo Coelho’s 'The Alchemist,' but the connection between Trip and what's going on onstage is fairly tenuous until their climaxes. There's a death warrior on horseback who's stringing people up like Trip's creepy puppet ('Puppet Master'). There's a riot facing police in shielded assault gear. Imagery of Trip submerged in water is used as a slate cleaner to take him from one weird post-apocalyptic incident to the next. The effects look great, especially when Trip's puppet comes to life in Trip's final showdown with the horseman which causes the city to disintegrate as things are crumbling inside the arena he's making his way back to. But the actual purpose of his mission, the contents of a lone leather valise in the back of that truck, is never revealed, Antal's own little "Kiss Me Deadly" nod. DeHaan's an exciting new actor, but while this dialogue-free quest plays up his intriguing look, it doesn't make the best use of his talents. This entire excursion gives a unique structure to the concert film, but in the end, it's little more than a detour from the main action.
Instead you'll be left wondering how Ulrich keeps up his energy and how serene lead guitarist Kirk Hammett seems despite the decibel level. I'm not a Metallica fan, but while this film certainly inspires respect for these guys' musicianship (and showmanship), by the end I was beginning to feel aurally pummeled into submission. Even so, this is one of the most memorable concert movie experiences I've ever had and it's good to see these guys rock on ten years after "Some Kind of Monster" documented their near implosion. Many kudos to the technical crew - both stage and film. See it on an IMAX screen if you can. (For those wondering if questions are answered after the credit roll, the answer is no, but you will have the band play out for you.)
Robin did not see this film.
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