Metallica: Through the Never
Directed by Nimród Antal
In its 33rd year, Metallica is a small business whose full-time staff—including a road team of about 100 people—and other overhead expenses require continuous touring. This arena-rock concert movie advertising their main income stream offers fans a combination of arena-level volume with recording-studio clarity: the mix is clean, the mastering all at the same deadening roar. “Loudness wars” scholars will note the dynamic monotony—the very opposite of live performance.
The band’s technical proficiency remains impeccable, their show as professional and visibly expensive as any KISS performance. Substituting fireballs for fireworks, the quartet strides over a custom amoeba-shaped in-the-round stage. Frontman James Hetfield looks like Ron Perlman at this point, white goatee and all, as he goes through the time-honored motions of giving fans what they want: mock-maniacal laughter and routine drop-outs for the crowd to sing the most famous lines. Drummer Lars Ulrich pounds away, guitarist Kirk Hammett plays arpeggios without breaking a sweat, and bassist Robert Trujillo makes appropriately scrunched-up metal faces.
It’s a long way from 2004’s fascinating Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, which delved into the stresses and interpersonal frictions of keeping this kind of corporate-rock going. The impersonal performance is shot with a very basic level of proficiency by Hungarian-American hack Nimród Antal, who sometimes clearly runs out of good coverage options and resorts to awkward close-ups of Ulrich’s spare drumsticks. In 3D, the crowd’s an amorphous mass, the stray foregrounded middle finger or sight of someone checking their smart phone providing rare moments of non-stage-managed spontaneity.
The performance is intercut with an incredibly silly (“surreal”) narrative in which roadie Dane DeHaan has to go pick up a MacGuffin from a stalled van, only to run into an inexplicably rioting crowd (labeled “protesters” in the credits, although against what’s unclear) and an ominous horseman who’s hanging people from street lamps. The band famously refused to make a video until 1989’s “One,” and this feels like an outlet for every stupid idea they didn’t get to indulge in their first decade of existence; even Axl Rose might balk at the conceptual vaporousness.
Opens September 27