Breathtaking when performance, technology and cinematography click at the same moment, “U2 3D” is a concert film that should draw well from the band’s fan base and tech fanatics. It has its overwhelming moments, especially in the early going, as the filmmakers emphasize a frenetic swirl of angles and effects. Eventually, the pic settles down and the artistry of the Irish band and their unique onstage power become the focus.
Pic is an enveloping experience, particularly when viewers are placed in a great spot in the audience and Bono or U2’s guitarist, the Edge, are little more than an arm’s length away. Less involving –and maybe even vertigo-inducing (pun intended) — are angles from high overhead of Larry Mullen Jr. drumming; it’s such an unnatural way to view a show that it will feel foreign to anyone with a bank of concert-going memories.
Lasting about as long as most bands are willing to play these days, U2 is captured as a powerful quartet, an entity greater than the sum of its parts — one can’t help but be amazed that this still just a four-piece band making an amazing and splendid racket.
Shot during the fourth leg of their “Vertigo” tour in 2006, pic features 14 tunes and Bono’s recitation of the U.N. Declaration of Rights. Shows on that tour were 23 or 24 songs per night, and the filmmakers have gone with the dozen songs that made it into each night’s set list, making transitions from outdoor stadiums to indoor arenas seamless.
“U2 3D,” which sticks to performances and crowds, boasts a remarkable human element. Shots that place the viewer next to the Edge, Bono or the bassist Adam Clayton pull them off the pedestal that acts have to climb when addressing 50,000 fans at once.
Pic amazes when the concert feels most alive — Bono reaching out into the crowd, a girl on some guy’s shoulders almost blocking your view, the crowd bouncing around us — but elsewhere, there are 3-D effects used almost solely because they were available. Fortunately, moments involving the former outweigh the latter.
Perhaps it’s a personal take and not something everyone else will see, but “3D” appears to isolate the Edge more than any of the other musicians. In a live concert, one rarely takes one’s eyes off the charismatic Bono.
In this film, though, no shot of the Edge can linger long enough; he is a fascinating blend of the ordinary and the mystical, a guy in a T-shirt, jeans and skullcap with a magical presence, capable of making sound from his guitar that seemingly should require four musicians on separate instruments. His face reflects authority, compassion and contentment, not the rage and glee that envelop Bono’s onstage persona. The Edge is a still presence, a cornerstone, a man who quietly revels while a wild celebration unfolds around him.
“U2 3D’s” greatest gift may well be its ability to remind the world that in the two decades since “Rattle and Hum,” U2 has remained a significant and forward-thinking rock band, one that still performs with authority and is not wrapped up in the political dogma of its lead singer.
Pic, which screened in a shorter version at Cannes, premieres at Sundance and opens Jan. 25.