More often than not, concert films serve a pair of primary purposes: to make the live music experience more accessible to a worldwide fanbase, and to make their subjects seem suitably larger than life. As evidenced by the bombast of Nimród Antal’s “Metallica: Through the Never,” those heavy metal maniacs certainly aren’t lacking in either spectacle or success after thirty-plus years of rockin’, with the film’s narrative segments even going so far as to suggest that their stage show could hardly ever be contained to one measly arena.
Much of “Never” is a straightforward performance piece, with lead vocalist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo thrashing out their standards to a packed house, although to call the litany of pyrotechnics that follows “straightforward” might be a bit misleading. Coffin-shaped displays drop from the ceiling, glowing crosses rise from the floor (itself a massive video screen), lasers and flames shoot out from all around, a giant electric chair gets shocked with Tesla coils during “Ride the Lightning,” and an oversized statue is assembled for “...And Justice for All” simply for the sake of collapsing moments later.
It’s all very appropriately overblown, and director Antal (“Vacancy,” “Predators”) gives the fireworks as much attention as he does each performer. Even if you don’t care for the band’s particular brand of headbanging antics, the concert as shown here is a pretty bitchin’ tech demo. Furthermore, Antal emphasizes the sheer scale of the proceedings, opening the film in the sky above the city and sweeping down to the arena parking lot pre-show, and later craning over from the stage right into the stands with the kind of immersive 3D that served “U2 3D” so well five years ago. It’s like that dude in the bottom right corner is flipping dual birds right at YOU!
That’s not all, though. With the entire band credited as co-writers, they’ve concocted a subplot that sees mostly mute roadie Trip (Dane DeHaan) venturing out to help a stranded tour truck and finding himself in the middle of a vaguely post-apocalyptic scenario unfolding across deserted downtown streets. His experiences roughly correlate to the playlist -- he leaves with gasoline in hand to the strains of “Fuel” and puts up a fight against a mob during “Battery” -- with Trip avoiding a masked, lynch-happy horseback rider at every turn.
These nightmarish encounters are a fair measure to reintroduce abstract, van-worthy imagery to the world of hard rock, but for Metallica, these detours see them doubling-down on self-mythology when their own music and mayhem should be trusted to do the trick. Even the concert has its own share of supposed “mishaps” that see the quartet eventually stripping away the flashy showmanship in order to focus on their songs. After all, for hardcore fans, nothing else matters.
SCORE: 6.1 / 10