This heavy metal teen comedy is a colossal misallocation of characters and tone.
There is a movie about metalheads. But not just any devotees to metal music, oh no. This is a film about two musicians in a metal band that love this craft and each other but are struggling to get the fame that’s constantly eluded them. This pair of pals often fight and disagree over where to take their artistic pursuit, but at the end of the day, they’ve got each other and a love for those loud and rebellious melodies. Watching this film, you can’t help but get swept up in the camaraderie and dedication to this craft, even if you don’t know Avenged Sevenfold from Slipknot.
That movie is the excellent 2009 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil and not, unfortunately, the Netflix teen comedy Metal Lords. The chasm of quality between these two projects only gets wider and wider as this new Peter Sollett directorial effort drags on. Even if there wasn’t a vastly superior movie about struggling metal musicians to compare it to, though, Metal Lords would still be a decidedly off-key enterprise.
Kevin (Jaeden Martell) and Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) are high schoolers who’ve devoted themselves to the band Skull Fucker. They’ve got passion to spare but aren’t especially exceptional yet. Plus, they’re in dire need of a bassist if they’re gonna compete in (and win, natch) their school’s Battle of the Bands. To fix this issue, Kevin tries to woo potential girlfriend Emily (Isis Hainsworth) to be a part of their musical enterprise. Hunter doesn’t take kindly to the idea of Kevin spending time with another person, which exacerbates some serious emotional problems that even the chords of a Black Sabbath song cannot solve.
Hunter is the problem with Metal Lords, plain and simple. Not since that cocky cheetah from Spyro: Year of the Dragon has a fictional character with this name provided so much irritation. Throughout Metal Lords, it’s clear something is deeply wrong with Hunter, though we don’t get any indication of where these problems stem from beyond his mom leaving him in 7th grade. He’ll lash out at people in the blink of an eye, sometimes violently, while throughout the story he nonchalantly tosses around ableist, sexist, and homophobic language.
There are countless teens very much like Hunter out there in the real world. It’s easy to imagine a filmmaker like Sean Baker, Josh & Benny Safdie, or Dee Rees being able to realize such an individual with nuance and, most importantly, depict his actions with an appropriate level of gravity. Unfortunately, Metal Lords wants to be a Disney Channel Original Movie that just so happens to have more F-words in it. There are lots of characters who could thrive in such an environment, but not Hunter.
Throughout Metal Lords, Hunter engages in behavior that makes him downright terrifying, especially when he berates Emily in front of a class full of people. But the film he occupies doesn’t recognize the seriousness of his actions. Metal Lords still just wants to do hokey plot turns and big set pieces like a car chase through a small town. You can practically hear the laugh track that should be accompanying certain jokes. There’s nothing wrong with that style of storytelling, but it doesn’t gel with someone who seems to be an alternate reality version of Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Somehow, this problem in Metal Lords gets even worse once it embarrassingly tries to address it. Screenwriter D.B. Weiss trots out a doctor character in the third act to practically turn to the camera and reassure the viewer that Hunter isn’t a sociopath. By then, it’s too little too late. Nobody is going to be invested in this kid who makes Bender from The Breakfast Club look like Paddington Bear.
Unfortunately, Metal Lords wants to be a Disney Channel Original Movie that just so happens to have more F-words in it.
The dissonance between the schmaltzy air of Metal Lords and such a deeply disturbed protagonist makes for a most disagreeable kind of viewing. Even worse, though, is how uninteresting the whole film looks. Metal music has inspired some evocative album covers and outfits over the years. Sollett and cinematographer Anette Haellmigk don’t lean into any of those unique visual flourishes. Instead, save for the occasional use of Dutch angles, Metal Lords often has a flat look with no interesting uses of lighting or blocking to speak of.
Even the use of metal music itself is uninspired. The narrative follows the traditional plot beats of any movie involving High Schoolers, their band, and the friends they make along the way. Slavishly following such conventional storytelling tenets traps “rebellious” tunes in a movie that couldn’t be more bog-standard if it tried. You could replace metal with country music, hip-hop, or polka and Metal Lords would still be the same movie.
The lack of creativity leads talented leading man Jaeden Martell stranded without much of a character to work with. However, he still fares better than poor Isis Hainsworth as Emily. She only exists to serve as a thinly sketched love interest while her mental health condition (which is strongly implied to be bipolar disorder) is played for uncomfortable laughs. The nadir of her role comes in a supposedly cheer-worthy moment in the third act that, among other grave shortcomings, shamelessly rips off Grease and The Breakfast Club.
Metal Lords is just the kind of teen comedy you’d expect a Netflix algorithm to spit out. It’s a hodgepodge of familiar hallmarks of this genre mixed with equally recognizable metal music needle drops and all told without a hint of creativity or vision. That sounds like the mechanical antithesis to the best music produced by folks like Judas Priest. Do yourself a favor and rock out with Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Let Metal Lords gather dust like a Korn album on the back shelf of a record store.
Metal Lords premieres on Netflix April 8th.