There are two ways to look at Metallica: Through the Never. And because they are mutually exclusive, we had best examine them both.
For devoted fans of Metallica, the San Francisco-based band, this is a priceless keepsake, a gift from the heavy-metal gods. It's an epic, elaborately staged performance by Metallica of their greatest hits, filmed in awe-inspiring, 3-D Imax splendor.
For the rest of humanity, the great untattooed masses, it's sheer torture, an excruciating ordeal. The incredibly indulgent content of the film resembles what Spinal Tap might do if they had an unlimited budget to exceed.
Pyrotechnics, flying coffins, explosions, massive heathen idols - that's just the beginning. Because Through the Never also has story running through it.
Or, at least, a subplot meandering around. In between songs, there's footage of actor Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) playing a roadie. Dispatched on an obscure errand, he pops a pill and finds himself in a violent totalitarian night city, full of scrambled symbolism. Whoa, dude!
But we're here for the music. And Metallica bucks and thunders their way through a parade of pulverizing hits like "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Ride the Lightning," "Cyanide," and "The Memory Remains." (One song you won't hear: "Through the Never." Go figure.) For fans, it's headbanger heaven.
Everyone else will be covering their ears, begging for mercy, before Kirk Hammett's first squalling guitar solo is over. It's sludge metal played at pulverizing volume.
Even I had a headache, and I actually like this kind of music. The pain in part was probably caused by the film's 3-D distortions. In an arena setting, the depth of field shifts so often that a significant part of the frame is always blurry. Strap yourself in for a nauseating visual roller coaster.
Curiously, the band member you see most is not front man James Hetfield or exhibitionist drummer Lars Ulrich. It's hulking bass player Robert Trujillo. Presumably, he's metal photogenic. Godzilla stomping around the stage with his long, greasy hair flying, he looks like Kane or Grave Digger or some other villain from the universe of professional wrestling.
Grading Through the Never is obviously tricky. For hardcore Metallica fans, there aren't enough stars in the sky to assign this film. If you're not in that elite group, this is a near-total eclipse.