Before getting to this — and before opening the show, as per the standard set in 1993, with Ennio Morricone's slow-building, increasingly aggressive "The Ecstasy of Gold"— the film, aptly titled Through the Never, demonstrates some self-consciousness. A bloated, middle-aged Metallica fan hops out of his K-car, struggling to get on the roof, where his exposed gut jiggles under a leather Metallica vest and tank top, as he embarrassingly cheers on the titular band in an empty parking lot outside of a stadium.
Once inside, this tone changes, almost demanding the audience — most of whom are already Metallica fans — take the band, their music and (sadly) their social discourse seriously. Overhead crane shots reveal the stage as a screen, which gradually fills with red, dripping blood as "Ecstasy" plays on, and aptly features swinging bells during "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Most elaborately, as Metallica's best renditions of songs from their 2012 tour progress forward, vacillating between booming, propulsive aggression and more contemplative, emotional yarns, the pyrotechnics on display for "One" immerse the stadium, and the 3D audience, in a litany of gunfire and explosions before the familiar chords confirm our suspicions of what track is forthcoming.
The concert footage — captured with sweeping camerawork that immerses itself throughout the stage, utilizing every possible angle, even exaggerating the phallic presentation of Trujillo's physical submission, squatting below Hetfield's guitar and subsequent gaze — is expertly rendered. However, every time the concert experience becomes immersive, presenting the up-close experience that the preferable "in person" dynamic won't allow, Through the Never Steps back to DeHaan's experiences driving through a generic city landscape.
As the songs progress from "Wherever I May Roam" to "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman," he's hit by a car, befriended by an anthropomorphized puppet (a nod to the song) and hunted down by social anarchists in queer fetish wear, seemingly fighting "the man," which seemingly is a metaphor for Metallica's self-professed struggle. Lynching, self-immolation and decimated corporate towers are just some of the obstacles DeHaan encounters, while Metallica offer some political tidbits about the illogical nature of justice.
It's here in the pretence where the populist heavy metal band equate their fast tempos and aggressive instrumentation to something earthshattering (quite literally) that Through the Never runs into problems. The protracted angst and puerile presentation of pseudo-apocalyptic imagery as a means of exacerbating the edginess of aging musicians plays, at times, is laughable. While the many nods to song titles, lyrics and themes present in the track list work their way into this secondary, visual effects-laden narrative (of sorts), they struggle to add the emotional and kinetic intensity the film strives for.
Clearly the intention of this story, beyond making this concert movie into something more than a mere cinematic representation of a live event, is to give added visual representation and power to exceedingly familiar songs. Instead, it's more of a frustrating, often silly, distraction from a concert that works quite well on its own.