Lest there be some young’un who thinks of “Enter Sandman” as New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera’s intro music and that’s it, the guys in Metallica are here to remind us that there’s a band behind the rage rock. The IMAX 3-D release “Metallica Through the Never” is all about reasserting their relevance, loudly. Of course, it’s also about doing some energetic-as-ever headbanging for the cult that’s helped them to move 110 million albums (plus a few Napster freebies) over the last three decades. (The title is borrowed from a track on their biggest-selling release, 1991’s “Black Album.”)
The movie’s marketing promises a fresh hybrid of concert film and narrative feature. That’s a welcome tease for everyone who appreciated what the band did for rock documentaries with “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” (2004), in which frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich laid bare their strife — for a therapist. We think of this, and of the group’s uniquely demonstrated affinity for features, and we’re intrigued. We remember “One,” their 1989 single and video riffing on Dalton Trumbo’s horrors-of-WWI meditation “Johnny Got His Gun.” We think about how the band always strides onstage to Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold.” Then we hear Metallica’s hype machine selling “a groundbreaking 3-D motion picture event.” OK, we say, sign us up.
And things do start promisingly: A sullen-yet-stoked roadie (Dane DeHaan) skateboards his way to Metallica’s latest arena stop, catching surreal glimpses of his bosses. Hetfield arrives in a flame-spewing roadster. Down the hall, bandmate Robert Trujillo warms up on bass, seismically. The show kicks off and the group launches into “Creeping Death,” all dark fury, growling vocals, workout sweat, and shots of guitarist Kirk Hammett’s custom six-strings with their Lugosi and Karloff themes. DeHaan is sent to fetch some mystery item from a crew truck that’s broken down en route to the venue — in the middle of a cityscape out of “The Warriors.”
But that’s everything we get. The band, which shares screenwriting credit with director Nimród Antal (“Predators”), doesn’t seem interested in — or capable of — legit narrative. Instead, they’re all about hypnagogic flashes and rocking their set — an old-school music video stretched to feature length. There’s no crystallizing of all that blackly random, adolescent-skewing sonic anger. Talented up-and-comer DeHaan doesn’t even get dialogue, relying only on his junior-DiCaprio brooding as he encounters a gas-masked, one-man lynch mob and other inscrutable threats.
Antal delivers some compelling imagery, at least. Outside the arena, DeHaan stumbles onto an eerie mass execution scene, and climactically comes at attackers with explosive, effects-heavy force. Inside, Metallica thrashes on a sprawling, H-shaped stage tracked by a couple dozen cameras, making every other shot an immersive 3-D view of the rockers floating in a sea of fans. Trouble is, minus a story of any substance, this starts to feel like an awful lot of decibels to absorb for anyone without that diehard interest.
Editor’s note: Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo will attend the midnight screening on Friday, Sept. 27, at AMC Boston Common.Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.