Metallica, Through The Never
Directed by Nimrod Antal, Produced by Charlotte Huggins, Written by Nimrod Antal and Metallica, released 2013
All that is, was, and will be
This is a hard movie to review for many reasons. The first is that, well, I tend not to review live-action stuff. Tools of the Imagination is meant to shed some light on animation and toys, stuff that while not specifically the purview of kids, is somewhat the result of a linger sense of child-like wonderment. Secondly, because I’m struggling to remain unbiased. I consider myself a huge Metallica fan – some fans’ opinions notwithstanding – and thus it becomes hard to appreciate the movie on its own merit without dipping into my fandom of the band that inspired the film. And thirdly because this is NOT the movie I thought I was going to see.
If you haven’t seen the original trailer for Through the Never, the audience is treated to a narration of our protagonist (played subtly but excellently by Dane DeHaan) that paints the film as being some kind of coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of some sort of social unrest/upheaval/war. In the current trend of musicals and movies set around bands’ discography (Mama Mia for ABBA, American Idiot for Greenday, Jersey Boys for the Four Seasons), I made the mistake of thinking the Boys in Black had decided to get in on the action and give us some sort of Metallica musical.
This was not to be.
What we’re instead treated to is, for all intents and purposes, concert footage with a really ambitious music video interspersed in sixty to ninety second spurts. Both are very well done (more on that below), but that left the movie feeling very underwhelming because I was hoping such a high-concept band like Metallica was going to deliver a stirring narrative. What remains, however, is still very worthwhile.
Story – 2 out of 5
The story is about as bare-bones as you can get and still be comprehensible. Trip, our intrepid protagonist, is a roadie at a Metallica show (it isn’t entirely clear if he works for the stadium or the band, but we do get the impression his employment may not be entirely legal). He delivers a package and as the concert is starting up, he gets sent off to find a wayward truck with a crucial MacGuffin. Trip goes out, gets into an accident, and finds himself stranded in the middle of a city in the midst of widespread and very violent protests. Trip becomes a target in this protests after he throws a brick at a murdering horseback rider in a gas mask. Trip eludes capture for a bit, only to end up cornered. He employs an escape that is as brilliant and hardcore as it is stupid, ends up dying and getting brought back, which sets up a final confrontation with the horseman that simultaneously blows up Metallica’s stage show.
Characters – 1 out of 5
While I really liked DeHaan’s performance of Trip, there really is no character or character development what so ever. There’s a marionette that plays into the story’s third act which is clever but again doesn’t really gives us anything to work with. Lastly, the figure of the masked horseman is completely enigmatic. While all of this makes for evocative imagery, it leaves a lot to be desired as far as developed characters.
Acting – 3 out of 5
Almost all of the story is conveyed through the music, the imagery, and DeHaan’s acting. With no spoken lines in the film (the trailer’s narration not only isn’t in the movie, but amounts to more dialogue than is in the movie), DeHaan still manages to create a very identifiable character in Trip. It’s a testament to both the director and DeHaan that this very minimalist performance works so well.
Visuals – 4 out of 5
Much like the acting, the visuals are really superb, not just in the ‘story’ sequences but also during the concert. The framing and cinematography of the Metallica concert that is the majority of the movie is expertly done. The visuals are engaging and dynamic, with transitions from one shot or focal point to the next proving to be very innovative and clever. Somewhat like visual puzzles, you will be looking at the screen, not entirely sure what you’re looking at when it will suddenly hit you.
Music – 2 out of 5
If you’re a Metallica fan, then the sound and music will blow you away. Since the ‘story’ events tend to occur during the transition from one song to the next, it’s often the opening notes of a given song that will set the stage for what’s about to happen in the story, giving serious gravity to the events. Sadly, if you aren’t ‘fluent’ in Metallica’s musical language, you may be left a little clueless why everybody else suddenly just gasped.
There’s also an issue with pacing in the film. While normally this might be a story issue, since this is essentially a filmed concert, it seems appropriate to address here. The songs are, by and large, played in their entirety. As a concert, that’s great but as a film, it quickly gets to the point where a stanza or two is all that’s really needed to get the full emotional impact with regards to the story, and yet the song will keep going for way longer than seems necessary.
There are also a couple of points where two and even three songs are played back-to-back in the concert before we return to the ‘story’. If you’re invested in the story, these periods can really drag, no matter how much you like the music.
And the inclusion of ‘Nothing Else Matters’ still baffles me. I love the song, but it’s such a jarring change of pace given what’s happening in the movie and in the concert, it just comes off shoe-horned.
Overall – 2 out of 5
I really enjoyed this movie, but I am squarely in its target demographic. I’m a Metallica fan and I enjoy vivid cinematography, so I loved every minute of it. At the same time, I’m really disappointed in what the trailer suggested the film would be, versus what it delivered. I was really hoping for more story, more characters, and less concert. I dug the concert and enjoyed it tremendously, don’t get me wrong, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting, and hoping for, Metallica’s Mama Mia.