If 2004’s “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” was a rare rock documentary of interest to people who might not necessarily care for the music, as it chronicled attempts to resolve interpersonal conflicts that very nearly broke the titular band apart, “Metallica Through the Never” is for fans who don’t need any feelings explored that they can’t headbang to. A set list consisting of greatest hits from more than three decades of history, a dynamic stage show, Imax 3D presentation and a silly but diverting fantasy narrative make this a definitive document for anyone who’s ever hoisted the devil-horn fingers in metalhead solidarity. This first U.S. release from the revived Picturehouse Entertainment opens on 300-plus Imax 3D screens Sept. 27, then expands Oct. 4.
The majority of the pic is a straightforward but elaborately crafted (what with 24 cameras, multiple cranes, etc.) translation of the group’s 2012 touring concert, cobbled together from five nights in Vancouver and Edmonton. The show (designed in large part by John Mark Fisher, whose prior live-rock extravaganzas include Pink Floyd’s legendary “The Wall” tour) is nothing if not aesthetically ambitious, weaving running motifs from Metallica lore into a package that encompasses a floor of panels on which images are projected (including 5,000 squirming colored maggots), Tesla coils, lasers, flames, crosses that rise from below the stage, five actors screaming inside coffins they wake up sealed in, a giant “blind justice” statue that breaks apart, and so forth.
Nonetheless, the four musicians aren’t overwhelmed by all this showmanship, as they’re in crackerjack form and expert at rousing the crowd — even if this kind of performance scale means they’re often playing in physical isolation from each other, exhorting viewers seated in the round from opposite sides of a uniquely shaped long platform. (The ruse of some apocalyptic event nearly wrecking the stage allows them to revisit small-venue days of yore by clustering together amid the rubble for a parting “Hit the Lights,” from 1983 debut album “Kill ‘Em All.”)
As thrash metal pioneers, Metallica played a big role in stripping metal of its ’70s bloat and bringing in a fast/tight sensibility from punk music. Still, too much compact crunch can be a little monotonous, so beyond including a few slower-tempo tunes, the band and director Nimrod Antal (of Hungarian cult hit “Kontroll,” plus U.S. thrillers “Vacancy” and “Predators”) devised a storyline starring young actor Dane DeHaan (also at Toronto in “Kill Your Darlings” and “Devil’s Knot”). He’s “Trip,” a tour gofer who’d rather watch the show, but who instead gets sent on a mysterious errand into an eerily deserted city. On foot after a car crash, he watches anarchist types in hoodies attack riot police, then each other, then (for no obvious reason) him, led by a murderous specter on horseback. (One of the film’s very few jokes is a final shot underlining that we never did learn just what the object of Trip’s errand run was.)
Energetically staged if not exactly deep, like Metallica’s lyrics, this mini-horror-fantasy-adventure trades trades in metal nihilism that really doesn’t bear much thinking about if you’re over 15 and/or not titanically stoned. The narrative bits serve well to break up the concert sequences, offering distraction without ever overstaying their welcome. After all, vaguely “Mad Max”-like dystopian miniatures are nice, but “Master of Puppets,” “Enter Sandman”, et al. are what this movie’s audience really came for.
Sound mix is naturally tremendous, and every other tech/design contribution is tops.