If reviews could be condensed to two words, my writing on Metallica: Through the Never would be “It’s metal.” If I allowed myself a few additional words, “old guys can still be metal.” This sucker is a Metallica concert film designed for IMAX 3D. Directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy, Predators), it’s also somewhat of an IMAX 3D music video backed by a band with decades of experience in making ears bleed. It’s not really a movie, but more of an ultimate IMAX experience for folks who enjoy making devil horns out of their hands. It won’t win over anyone who hasn’t already been tickled by Metallica, but for those who enjoy metal at its heaviest and don’t mind seeing their rock gods with grey chest hair and receding hairlines, it is one hell of a night in the theater and the best way to make your eardrums ring without mortgaging your house to Ticketmaster.
Right out of the gate, Antal makes it clear this won’t be your average concert movie with a pretty astounding opening shot that starts as from a swooping helicopter over the city and concludes with a close up of a car bumper. That car belongs to a middle aged metal minion who promptly climbs onto the hood of what is likely his most valuable possession to raise his devil horned hands and scream “METALLICA” as his beer belly pops out of his shirt. Immediately it’s known that this is made by folks who both understand their fanbase and don’t take themselves too seriously. After that, the concert kicks off while a “plot” with the loopy logic, meaningless message, and multimillion dollar excess of a 90s music video is weaved in and around the loud as fuck live music. In short, it’s everything you could possibly want out of the promised experience of Metallica in IMAX 3D.
The band marches on stage and pounds through a library of their greatest hits with an admirably no-to-low bullshit approach to rocking out. The last time these guys appeared in a movie was for the touchy feely documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster which saw the lords of metal confront their personal demons through group therapy. It was an interesting movie, but didn’t exactly showcase the image of Metallica that was carefully cultivated through years of rocking (and the occasional dip into alcoholism). This time, the band doesn’t even speak. The march onto an elaborate stage and power through hits like “Fuel,” “Ride the Lightening,” “Master of Puppets,” and “Enter Sandman” like it’s their job (because it is). The boys are certainly gray around the temples these days, but they can still put on a show. James Hetfield screams into the mic like it stole his girlfriend. Lars Ulrich makes faces while drumming normally reserved to particularly intense toilet sessions. Robert Trujillo sweats on bass till his metal locks look like dreadlocks. Kirk Hammett is a little more subdued in his axe-wielding but still knows how to rile up a crowd. All the while Antal has steadycams and cranes spinning around the band to ensure that every angle takes full advantage of the massive IMAX screen. If you’ve ever wondered if Ulrich’s nasal hair has gone grey yet, all will be revealed. The band puts on a show big enough for the screen and the booming IMAX sound system ensures little is lost from the arena-shaking performance in the theatrical experience.
Thankfully the show was also clearly designed with the movie in mind. It’s filled with pyrotechnics, giant coffin shaped screens, and a floor made of flat screens that appear to fill with blood for aerial shots. It’s all done to line up with the music and heighten the experience cinematically and it works in an old school music video way.
Antal also indulges in a massive IMAX music video that augment the live performance footage. The “plot” involves Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan as a Metallica roadie assigned to retrieve a secret leather bag for the band. It sends him on city stomping adventure involving car chases, a cult lead by a gasmask wearing psychopath on a horse, a stop motion wooden puppet, and a possibly apocalyptic battle to the death with sledge hammers. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but looks gorgeous in IMAX 3D and syncs up with the music well. It’s the sort of thing that would have made an epic music video back when those were still produced, and the graphic content and thematic meaninglessness really doesn’t distract from the experience in any way. You don’t go to a Metallic concert or a concert film expecting deep meaning. It’s all about the visceral experience and the IMAX music video content certainly adds to that, even if it ends up making about as much sense as the film’s ludicrously grandiose subtitle “through the never.”
Metallica: Through The Never is about as fun as IMAX 3D concert movies get, even showing off new ways to ensure those productions take full advantage of the larger-than-large cinematic format. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of work or even one that stretches beyond the genre. However, the flick is a hell of a lot of fun and aimed so squarely at the hearts of the massive Metallica fanbase that it’s hard to believe any of the jean jacket and mullet masses will be disappointed (in fact, there’s an amusing game to be played while watching that I like to call: “spot the female Metallic fan.” There aren’t many and all of them were apparently moved to the front row for close ups). If you aren’t someone with a sweet spot for the band, there’s really no sense in attending because it’s pitched entirely at the converted, and fortunately for Metallica, there are enough of those for this sucker to turn a profit. The movie is as dumb as a bag rocks, but also truly rocks. Really, that’s all it has to do. Bring on the next one.