Movie Review: Metallica: Through the Never
Release Date: September 27th, 2013 [IMAX only], October 4th, 2013 [wide]
What We Liked
What We Didn't Like
Since they originally formed back in 1981, Metallica has gone from being an underground heavy metal band to one of the most successful musical acts in the world. The group’s nine studio albums have sold over one-hundred million copies worldwide, they have been nominated for and won dozens of awards, and their songs get more playtime on rock radio than any other band. While the band has already graced the silver screen in the documentary Some Kind of Monster (2004), they’ve returned now with Metallica: Through the Never, a unique hybrid film that blends a fictional narrative with real footage from a set of concerts the band held in summer 2012. Metallica: Through the Never is a solid film, albeit with some notable flaws, but it is definitely worth checking out for fans of Metallica or heavy metal music in general.
As Metallica performs a roaring live set for fans in a sold-out arena, a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent on an urgent mission to find a disabled truck and retrieve a particular item. However, the routine task turns into a surreal odyssey when Trip’s van is hit by another vehicle and he subsequently finds himself up against a death-dealing horseman. As Trip flees through the desolate street, he has only his wits to help him avoid the deadly horseman and deliver Metallica’s cargo.
For all the epic weirdness going on, the movie is really a one-man show for Dane DeHaan as Trip. Ever since his breakthrough role as the lead in Chronicle (2012), DeHaan has been a rising star, and Metallica: Through the Never is just one of the five movies he’s appeared in this year. DeHaan gives a very solid performance here, and I admire his guts in being willing to star alongside Metallica, a band which has been a household name for longer than he’s been alive. The character goes through a ton on physical punishment – including being in a car crash, getting set on fire, and being dragged along concrete by a rope around his neck – and to the credit of all involved, I wasn’t sure which of these were done by DeHaan himself and which were done by the stunt team. Perhaps most impressive, Trip is a silent protagonist, which forces DeHaan to convey everything through his face and body language, a challenge he meets head-on and largely succeeds at.
While I don’t know if what the members of Metallica do here can really be called acting, there’s no doubt that it is captivating. We see James Hetfield getting so into his singing that he’s practically eating the microphone. We see Lars Ulrich drumming with such intensity that sweat is pouring down his face. We see Kirk Hammet strumming and picking his guitars with the precision and dexterity of an artist. And we see Robert Trujillo twist and contort his body as he plays a massive chord with his bass guitar. Watching the members of the band perform with such passion and intensity, it’s clear how and why Metallica has been so successful for so long.
Metallica: Through the Never is directed and co-written by Nimród Antal, the Hungarian-American filmmaker who previously brought us Kontroll (2003), Vacancy (2007), Armored (2009), and Predators (2010). Antal is a talented filmmaker, but he really hasn’t yet managed to hit it big with a mainstream audience. He handles his camera with a sure hand, staging every panorama of ruined streets and every close-up of the band members with a precise eye for the right details to focus on. And I admire the director’s ability to work with two metaphorical eight hundred-pound gorillas like James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. I do hope that this film is successful enough that Antal is able to keep working in Hollywood, and that, perhaps, he can finally break through in a big way with his next couple projects.
As you would expect, the best element of Metallica: Through the Never is the music and visuals, which are uniformly excellent. Most of Metallica’s best-known hits are present and accounted for here, including “For Whom the Bells Tolls,” “Fuel,” “Ride the Lightning,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “Enter Sandman.” But for some strange reason, “Through the Never” is not featured in the movie or on the soundtrack album, despite the film being named after that song. The music is paired with some great visuals, both from the series of oddities which Trip encounters on his mission, and with the members of Metallica as they perform for the roaring crowd. All these things are very impressive-looking, and it’s that Antal and crew managed to wring every single cent out of their $18 million production budget. And I really appreciated that, as far as I can tell, all of the effects used during the actual concert segments were things which could be done in a real stage show, rather than computer effects added in after the fact.
While Metallica: Through the Never is certainly impressive as an audio-visual experience, it does have a number of flaws which detract from it as a film. While the various parts of Trip’s journey are by themselves pretty cool, all these surreal elements in the movie ultimately seemed to be there for the sake of being weird, rather than serving a real purpose. I like weird, surreal stuff in movies, but it has to be there for a reason, and not just to be strange and call attention to itself. This approach might be suitable for a music video, but a feature-length movie needs something to back up the imagery. And without getting into spoiler territory, I felt disappointed by the ending. I wondered how the movie was going to end, and the ending they ultimately went for felt like a bit of a cop-out. The journey may have been an enjoyable one, but the destination definitely left something to be desired.
While I did enjoy my experience of seeing Metallica: Through the Never, I was left with the feeling that it didn’t live up to its potential. Ultimately, I see this as not so much a movie as an opportunity to see an awesome Metallica show without having to pay a fortune for the privilege. In that regard, it’s definitely a success. It has great music and visuals and a strong central performance from Dane DeHaan, but the lack of context or explanation for what’s going on and the weak ending do drag things down somewhat. But if you’re willing to forgive it its flaws, Metallica: Through the Never is a ride worth taking.