Who says a movie has to make a lick of sense to be entertaining? “Metallica Through the Never” is a concert documentary/apocalypse thriller/Imax 3-D extravaganza, a veritable turducken of fantasy film, stage spectacle and crushing sonic aggression. The idea, I guess, was to make a concept album in film form. It plays as if the projectionist mismatched reels of essentially unrelated movies, but I’m OK with that. If half an hour of bizarro side-narrative fever dream is the price of admission for a gorgeously lensed, best-seat-in-the-house hour of chugging rock brutality, I’ll pay gladly.
The film opens at Vancouver’s monumental Rogers Arena as crew members set up for the band’s massive stage spectacle. The tone is light. In the parking lot we meet the archetypal Metallica fanatic, a beer-bellied lummox, naturally. A junior roadie named Trip (sleepy-eyed Dane DeHaan) skateboards into the hockey palace, bumps into the band members in a series of jokey on-the-fly encounters, then receives a mysterious assignment. He must find a stranded van, retrieve an all-important satchel, and return it backstage at top speed. En route, he takes a pill and encounters “Mad Max”-style eruptions of surreal violence and urban breakdown.
While Trip battles a Bane-like hulking executioner and zombie armies of the night, the concert roars to life with “Creeping Death.” The riotously energetic arena performance and literal riots outside have some tenuous thematic connections. The band’s death-centric lyrics and arsenal of Grand Guignol stage effects resonate with the terrors afflicting poor, trapped Trip. “Fuel” kicks off his nighttime journey. His good luck charm (not a very effective one) is a jointed puppet, which is surely related to the band’s anthem “Master of Puppets.” Don’t ask how, or why there are monstrosities prowling Vancouver at midnight. My interpretation is that everything that happens to the gofer after swallowing his pill is hallucination. I hope so, because the narrative segments don’t make a lick of sense.
Most ticket buyers will line up for the music anyway, and that is a monument of gnarly beauty. Lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitar virtuoso Kirk Hammett and bassmaster Robert Trujillo pull out every thrash metal riff, giant stage prop, laser effect and pyrotechnic gimmick in their 30-year bag of tricks. Director Nimrod Antal (“Predators”) is equally resourceful, employing 24 cameras, multiple dollies, cranes and Steadicams to shoot each song in its own visual style. The result is a portrait of a band at the top of its form blazing through a 14-song “greatest hits” set list.
Metallica famously survived the kind of internal dissension that destroyed Guns ‘N’ Roses, and they’re all the stronger for it today, with undimmed energy and love for what they do. “Through the Never” puts the proof right before your eyes and ears.