Aside from Metallica themselves, which includes James Hetfield as lead vocalist and guitar, Lars Ulrich on drums, Kirk Hammett on lead guitar and Robert Trujillo on bass, the film stars Dane DeHaan as this low level roadie for the band who is given the task to retrieve a broke down truck a few miles away that has something the band needs for the show. That is the basic premise to Metallica: Through the Never (MTTN from here on out) as it continually intercuts from the raging live performance by Metallica and the increasing bizarre fantasy adventure that DeHaan's roadie goes on.
So, when someone says that there is an actual movie infused into this glorified concert film, you should really take that with a grain of salt. The story being told has very little meat to it and suffice to say makes very little sense as well. While the movie portion of MTTN would never work by itself, there just isn't enough to it to stand alone, it does fit perfectly within this hard hitting and heart pounding concert flick and does in fact turn what would normally be just another pre-recorded concert into something truly unique and special.
But let's be honest here, the real star of the entire production is the music and usually its fate would ultimately rest upon the quality of that music and/or its track selection. For a non-fan of Metallica or any sort of thrash metal (such as this reviewer), this can seem quite problematic at first, but the film is surprisingly not as reliant on you being a fan of the music or the band itself as one might assume. The reason for this is the brilliant choice by Metallica to bring on an actual film director, Nimrod Antal to make sure it was much more than just another concert film.
The reason that was such a brilliant decision is because Antal approaches the material from the perspective of a story teller first, where as a stage director would put the focus squarely on the music aspect. This gives the film a very cinematic quality as he uses the music to tell a story instead of simply filming the band performing it (although, the concert footage is definitely no slouch) and transforms what would normally be just a simple concert film with multiple camera angles into an entirely different beast altogether. He uses the music to tell a story in a way that hasn't really been seen before. This isn't just another concert movie, this is a concert experience unlike any other.
The fact of whether or not you are a fan of the music doesn't even factor in since the unique blend of this fantastical story of a roadie traversing a city under fire and this spectacular stage show filled with some of metal's most revered music transcends such petty conventions. The music fuels the intensity of the roadie sections and the roadie's adventure gives the music a purpose beyond just the usual aural delights. If ever there were ever a case where two distinct pieces came together to make a satisfying whole, this is it.
The only real issue with the film is that in the end, it feels more like a super long and overly elaborate music video than an actual feature film (although in that respect, this could be the best music video ever made). The reason for this is while the concert footage delivers on the expected chaotic energy from such a legendary band with performances for such classics as Master of Puppets, Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters, the story section of the film doesn't really come together in any sort of meaningful way.
The first half of the film is mostly taken up with concert footage with the story section fit snugly in between sets to update us on where the roadie is. This part of the film is actually well done, with this slow build up to the reveal, it sets an appropriately creepy mood. However, when crazed crowds of thugs, people setting themselves on fire to fight thugs off and guys with gas masks on horseback hanging countless people from streetlights all over the city, well...let's just say it begins to stretch reality a bit.
This once again takes us to that music video mentality, where the visuals are there only to support the music. Who cares that a puppet can come to life and move around or that a simple pipe can crumble an entire city with a single blow, it looks cool and works well with the music. The few sequences where either the music is perfectly synced to the action at hand or the action directly impacts what is happening on the stage (which is the coolest parts of the film by the way), there is little to complain about so long as you can accept the story section as nothing more than pure fantasy with a total lapse in logic.
These are all petty complaints however, as the film as a whole is a tremendous success in both the world of music and film. If you are a fan of Metallica, this could be the best film you see all year, if you aren't a fan, this will still be one of the best films you see all year. Either way you look at it, this is a film that you must see in theaters (and IMAX if you can still find it there) because seeing it at home is not even an option.
This is the concert event film of the year, of the past few years...hell, perhaps even of the past decade. With some tremendous stage work mixed together with Metallica's classic catalog of hits and a unique twist on the concert film, seeing MTTN shouldn't even be a hesitation. Coming from a non-Metallica fan, see this film in theaters before its too late, you won't regret it. Filmed concerts have a new standard to live up to and it won't be easy.