Toward the end of Metallica: Through the Never, the eponymous band’s concert-film collaboration with Predators director Nimrod Antal, a stage-show mishap totals the arena’s sound system, leading the thrash-metal legends to plug into on-stage amps. The destruction of what passes as pomp at a Metallica concert precipitates the film’s best moment, a growling rendition of “Hit the Lights.” The moment, however, is nearly ruined by singer-guitarist James Hetfield crowing with earnest casualness that the circumstances remind him of the days of Kill ’Em All, the band’s legendary debut. It’s an awkward and stiff utterance, an unmistakably scripted call out to their oldest, most devoted fans, and it speaks directly to the band and Antal’s cooperative indulgence in not-so-coy self-aggrandizement, decked out in IMAX 3D no less.
Metallica’s members are now primarily showmen, working with a barrage of effects, pyrotechnics, and stage spectacles, and they show a preternatural talent for rousing their audience into a rebellious fervor. Even though the band (Hetfield especially) often comes across as over-rehearsed in their banter and behavior, the sheer speed and howling force of Metallica’s best songs goes a long way toward alleviating the clearly modulated energy of the founding members. (Bassist Robert Trujillo, who took over for Jason Newsted in the early aughts, is the sole musician who shows an invigorating physicality, and he’s the subject of Antal’s most alluring shots.) As a concert film, Through the Never is par for the course, lacking in visual acumen, but unmistakably enraptured by the rampaging power of the music, despite Metallica seemingly being on autopilot here.
Through the Never, however, isn’t strictly a concert film. The addition of an astonishingly ill-conceived fictional subplot that features a backstage runner, played by Dane DeHaan, searching for gas and a (no kidding) mysterious satchel in Canada, all amid a quasi-apocalypse, pushes Antal’s film into a realm of distinctly aggravating nonsense. Reminiscent of Sucker Punch, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Warriors, to name just a few, the runner’s storyline proves totally unnecessary to further express the rush and mood of Metallica’s music. One doesn’t need a Bane-like goon with a super hammer, doling out an unreasonable amount of hangings, to sell the thrilling effectiveness of “One,” “Nothing Else Matters,” or “Battery,” to name three of the hits the band runs through during their set.
Though adventurous in concept, Through the Never shows the band crawling back under the carapace of their long-standing legacy as the dark lords of American heavy metal, perhaps in response to the egotism and psychological wounds laid bare in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. The songs still sound great here, but the instruments aren’t amplified nearly as much as the nostalgia and vanity of the men who wield them.