Metal Lords (2022)

How is this not a season of a TV show? I am genuinely mystified. Mind you, I’m not really complaining. More shows should be movies. But the point stands that everything about Metal Lords feels like it was trimmed from about eight 30-minute episodes into a barely functional 97-minute narrative. All the stuff that makes TV shows specifically good in comparison to movies — the abundance of little moments that build to a sense of relationships and character development and a lived-in universe — is missing from Metal Lords and would have drastically improved Metal Lords.

Pretty much all of the beats are chunked out into 2-4 scenes that would place neatly into a few episodes of a streaming-style serialized coming-of-age show. You know, the kind that gets solid reviews, entertains saps like me for a few hours, and gets promptly canceled. (See: Everything Sucks!) It feels desperate to shed its weight to feature length. Major portions of the plot are missing, as if someone, perhaps the writer (Game of Thrones’ D.B. Weiss) or editor, just assumed the audiences could fill in the blanks. I want those blanks, damn it!

For example: In one scene, Kevin (Jaeden Martell) declines to tell his best friend Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) that he lost his virginity because he knows it will upset him in the moment. We never see him share the news, but a scene later, Hunter is acting like Kevin has a girflriend he declares a band-ruining “Yoko.” Sure, we can guess the news eventually leaked, and we’re spared a technically unnecessary scene, but why deprive us of those rich moments that actually inform the characters and their dynamics?

Metal Lords has a rambling cadence to it. There is the unifying thread of Hunter and Kevin forming a metal band to compete in the upcoming Battle of the Bands, but it follows lots of narrative side streets to get there, only enhancing the sense this was initially scoped as a TV show. Kevin falls for cellist Emily (Isis Hainsworth) and tries to talk Hunter into letting her join the band. Hunter suffers through a series of degrading humiliations that are 75% directly self-inflicted, like when he punches a bully to take out some aggression, and 25% indirectly self-inflicted, like when his obsession with metal scares off other musicians.

I have a lot of mixed-tilting-negative thoughts on the script, but one area where the film unambiguously shines is the performance of the “teen” actors. Only Jaeden Martell was younger than 20 when this debuted, but they actually feel like high schoolers, a rarity in film.

Emily is perhaps the film’s most intriguing character, mostly because Hainsworth gives the most intriguing performance. I am eternally grateful that the crew let her speak in her Scottish accent; it adds tremendous color to her charisma. Even when the story rushes her plot points going off meds, she lends Emily terrific urgency and shading with little gestures and expressions. She has some great reaction faces and lovely chemistry with Martell, who is solid as the saltine but likable protagonist.

Greensmith offers an impressive and challenging performance as the deeply unpleasant Hunter. I’ve known people like Hunter in my life — big heart deep down, buried beneath layers of off-putting personality traits and alienating social habits, exacerbated by bad mental health and a short fuse — and they tend to be very difficult to spend extended periods of time with. Hunter also suffers from the film’s aggressive narrative trimming; he would have benefited more than any other character with a little more nuance and depth in the script.

Thankfully, Metal Lords absolutely nails the ending. Like School of Rock before it, it climaxes with a genuinely great musical performance that is actually performed by the kids (or is a good fake of such). It’s an adrenaline-pumping payoff on the film’s obsession with metal.

It’s not a coming of age movie for the annals, not even one of the best of the year, but with its excellent performances and rousing finale, it’s a decent enough watch if you like get-the-band-together comedies. Just make it a mini-series next time.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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