It’s a kind of weird and awesome experience to grow up listening to band finally getting to see them in concert. Yes, concert, and we say that because Metallica’s new “movie”, a term to be used very loosely in this situation, can only be called a movie because it was 1. filmed by a camera and 2. will be exhibited theatrically. Held together with what generously can be phrased as a flimsy narrative finds Dane DeHaan, the lead in the 2012 surprise hit Chronicle, as a roadie for the iconic thrash metal band sent on an urgent mission during their sold-out concert. Other than than it’s a bona fide concert that becomes a magnificent experience thanks to the glorious IMAX treatment.
At first glance the “film”, slight hint of sarcasm there, sounds like an interesting concept; especially when you see an image like this, or anything from the trailer. In fact it looks so epic and disastrous it entices us to find out just how it all comes together. But watching this play out the extra-Colosseum activity in this concert piece (again, the film is a glorified concert piece) is nothing more than the over-arching visual fancy of a music video – like Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 but with more band and less “story”. Disappointing in more than a few ways, namely coherence, the misdirection created by DeHaan roadie quest (and the subsequent surreal tribulations) are as satisfying as any of Damon Lindeloff’s red herrings. Pity yes, but for what is lacking in plot is way more than made up for in all out Metallicawesomeness (yes that’s a made up word).
Pretense, CG and fanfare aside this is noting more than Metallica saying “hey we’re going to play, hard….so tell us, are you in or out?” And those who are in will be treated to something up close, visceral, and waaay more vibrant and entertaining than run of the mill concert footage. After all, when has Metallica played it safe? From the first loud note to the last fire ball and all the Hefield snarling and Trujillo his crab-walking in between, this is full-on vintage Metallica and that’s what real fans want to see anyway.
Maybe film fans read too much into the premise (guilty!) but this is not a “movie”, just footage of a band doing what it does best for 70 odd minutes. Yet to keep things from getting stale wild visuals and contrivances are inserted to punctuate the concert footage. Enter Nimród Antal and Dane DeHaan whose individual attachments are about as essential and useful as a magician’s assistant – they serve merely to divert your attention and only contributing to the visual spectacle of the show. Starting with DeHaan, who plays the put-upon roadie, he takes us on his journey to get the band something essential to their show. In the sub-levels of the arena (shot at Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey) he hops into a waiting van and gets gone but not before, in a blink-and-you-miss-it scene, where Trip (yes his name is a bit of an in-joke) considers then takes an innocuous half-blue, half-red looking pill. It doesn’t take long to see how quickly this roadie’s expedition turns into a bad dream but really it’s just Trip, like his namesake suggests, not going on one but is experiencing one…that in-joke make sense now?
The eye-popping slow-mo exterior sequences get points for trying, and credit where it’s due Antal is a director who understands how to create compelling visuals. But this, even viewed as a video, is essentially all sizzle and no steak. Admittedly it’s asking too much of something when the trailer should be cited for being just plain misleading. Metallica has endured for 30 years and this concert could have been shot in a phone booth and retained its intensity. So while setting this in a stadium on a highly impressive, immersive and insanely awesome stage (offering 360 degree views, interactive props lighting, tech and pyrotechnics) is compelling enough there really is no reason to even attempts adding a narrative…maybe Antal saw Moonwalker too many times as a kid.
Metallica’s fans just wanna rock, and film fans may be missing the point of the feature by being disappointed that the narrative doesn’t link up to anything at all. There’s tons of potential for, something, but this overlong music video (that finds the whole road trip sequences to be a series of hallucinations that continually get more apocalyptic until they have nothing to do with the band and are just crazy visuals) make extremely good use of being shot on IMAX in 3D. Attempting to bridge the creative gaps, weird elements from Trip’s quest make their way in to the concert experience. Barely perceivable at first but then as Trip gets closer to the end of his journey those same events that befall him befall the arena. It really makes no sense but Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo are rocking so hard by that time that, as James himself says, nothing else matters.
If this were just a 90 minute rock fest people might have enjoyed it just fine but the addition of Antal, DeHaan and IMAX 3D really pluses the experience helping make the whole affair something a little more interesting than your standard live event capture. Would it have been better without the so-called “narrative”? Possibly, but James, Kirk, Robert and Lars are the real draw and everything else, including the Lindelof-esqe MacGuffin and DeHaan’s trippy escapade is unnecessary icing as very little can compete with Metallica’s raw power and refined talent culled from 30+ years in the business. As stated above, this feature is not a film but a hard-hitting “concert feature” yet thanks to stellar pacing, camera coverage and the design of the stage, it becomes an intense and brilliant retrospective of how and why the band keeps rockin’ to this very day. Full throttle, white-hot, pure awesomeness – the hell with the “story”, this is the concert experience Metallica fans need and deserve.
G-S-Talking Point: We never get to see what’s in the bag which Dane DeHaan’s Trip worked to hard to deliver to the band post credits (we think the bag contains an urn with the ashes of the late Metallica stage designer Mark Fisher, to whom the movie is dedicated). So tell us…what are your favorite, albeit unfillfilling or otherwise, unexplained movie MacGuffins?