Metallica: Through the Never: Toronto Review

Excess all areas.

The thrash metal overlords star in a head-banging, ear-bashing, sense-swamping 3D concert film with added horror elements.

TORONTO -- A state-of-the-art concert movie shot in 3D and IMAX formats, Metallica’s latest cinematic venture confirms their position as the world’s biggest, loudest, most commercially successful heavy rock band. Nine years after baring their souls in the unwittingly hilarious group-therapy documentary Some Kind of Monster, the San Francisco-based quartet take no chances with their platinum-plated brand this time around. Framed in ultra-vivid visuals and super-crisp sound, these black-clad warriors of Nietzschean uber-metal prowl and growl through their gnarly, snarly, riff-crunching greatest hits like cartoon superheroes.

In addition to the live footage, Hungarian-American horror director Nimrod Antal also includes a fantasy dramatic subplot that recalls his previous work in gory action thrillers like Kontroll and Predators. The result is a kind of live-action computer-game blown up to immersive billboard dimensions. It makes little sense, but captures some of the macabre, intense, hyper-aggressive spirit of Metallica’s music. Premiered in Toronto this week, Through The Never rolls out theatrically later this month. Business should be brisk, considering the band remains a huge global draw, selling over 100 million albums during their 30-year career.

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Former thrash-metal outsiders who gave heavy metal a much-needed jolt of punk attitude during the pre-grunge 1980s, Metallica are now arena-filling megastars with the kind of weapons-grade stage show their status demands. Recorded over five nights in Vancouver and Edmonton during the band’s marathon World Magnetic tour last year, Through the Never captures for posterity a slick multi-camera spectacle well suited to the hyper-intense detail of high-end 3D and IMAX. You can almost smell the money dripping off the super-sized screen.

Arriving onstage to Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti-western theme The Ecstasy of Gold, in long-standing Metallica tradition, singer James Hetfield locks effortlessly into fist-pumping, turbo-roaring rock-gladiator mode while hyperactive drummer Lars Ulrich spends half the concert on his feet, forever exploding out of his seat like Keith Moon of The Who. Playing in the round on a massive high-tech platform that doubles as a vast video screen, the band pinball around the stage as the panels beneath them pulse with lakes of blood, squirming maggots, prematurely buried souls trapped inside glass-topped coffins, and other lurid imagery. Metallica blow up every morbidly obsessed teenage metalhead’s bedroom fantasies into a Las Vegas-level theme-park thrill ride.

Over the band’s heads, meanwhile, the arena blazes with laser beams, pyrotechnics and mechanical stage props. A giant electric chair fizzes and crackles in Ride the Lighting, a towering statue of “blind justice” rises and topples during And Justice for All, and a forest of graveyard crosses sprout for One, the brooding antiwar anthem now firmly established as Metallica’s answer to Hotel California. The film is dedicated to the late Mark Fisher, the legendary British stage architect who designed this eye-popping spectacle plus others for Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, U2, Lady Gaga, the London Olympics and many more.

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Woven around the songs, the narrative subplot adds visual variety, but lacks dramatic weight. Rising star Dane DeHaan, best known to date for the HBO series In Treatment, gives an almost wordless performance as a young Metallica roadie who is dispatched mid-show to collect a mysterious package for the band. However, his nocturnal odyssey across the city becomes a dystopian sci-fi nightmare of mass lynchings, burning vehicles and crazed zombie-punk revolutionaries led by a masked horseman. There are echoes here of Mad Max and Batman Begins, plus the recent global rash of street revolutions. But no context, no conclusion, just hallucinatory carnage for its own sake.

Metallica have shot numerous concert films before, most recently Quebec Magnetic, a fairly routine 2D affair recorded on the same tour. But this is their best to date, with music and visuals both cranked up to 11 and beyond. However mindless and heartless it may be, Through the Never succeeds as pure sense-swamping spectacle. It is a blow-out banquet for Metallica fans, and a blockbuster rock-and-rollercoaster ride for any heavy metal tourists curious to see this music played at major-league level.

Production companies: Blackened, Picturehouse Production
Producer: Charlotte Huggins
Starring: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammet, Robert Trujillo, Dane DeHaan
Director: Nimrod Antal
Writers: Nimrod Antal, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo
Cinematographer: Gyula Pados
Editor: Joe Hutshing
Music: Metallica
Rated 18A, 92 minutes