This was the year we were going to see the start of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy from ‘Game of Thrones’ makers David Benioff and DB Weiss.
Tandem left behind their plans for a galaxy far, far away in 2019, a year before another high-profile planned endeavor — HBO’s “Confederate” alternate history drama series — was canceled due to all the controversy its announcement created.
Don’t cry too much for Benioff and Weiss, who in 2019 signed a five-year, $250 million production, writing and directing deal with Netflix. The convention actually gave us “The Chief,” an overall well-received series co-created, written, and produced by Benioff’s wife, Amanda Peet.
And now comes “Metal Lords,” an underrated, rock-feeding teen comedy written by Weiss that’s as far from “Game of Thrones” as you can get. It’s charming at times – and always fit for a heavy metal cult – but it’s more heavy than head-banging.
Weiss, who played in rock bands growing up, conceived this tale years ago, before Ned lost his head at Winterfell. (Oh, my gosh, spoiler alert if you haven’t watched “Game of Thrones.”)
Metal Lords tells the story of the new squad formed by best friends and social outcasts Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) and Kevin (Jaeden Martell). “Death Metal Work,” whose name we can’t repeat (trust us), is the brainchild of Hunter, a talented guitarist who also sings…you know, sort of. He’s convinced Kevin, drumming by one in his high school marching band to get out of his gym class, that there’s no reason he can’t be a metal god surrounded by drums and cymbals.
Hunter also thinks they need a bassist, and Kevin wants to audition for Emily (Isis Hensworth), a clarinetist he noticed when he dumped the band’s poor manager (pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman in a cameo). Like Kevin, she’s only marching out of Phys Ed. And, her true love is the cello, in which she is very skilled.
Well, with apologies to the world’s Joan Jetts and Lita Fords, a female player isn’t what Hunter – let alone a cellist – had in mind – and wouldn’t give Emily a chance.
As Kevin falls in love with Emily, who doesn’t like sticking to medication that helps her deal with anxiety and depression, Hunter deals with a bully and his plastic surgery only father (Brett Gilman) who doesn’t respect him. .
Here’s the “Metal Lords” problem: It’s really hard to respect – or even admire – a Hunter. Constantly declaring that this or that “metal” or Thing X “would be huge for us” because he’s only focused on the band’s future, he’s completely inflexible and totally unconcerned with the desires of others, including those of shy Kevin.
This is not to criticize Greensmith, who is completely believable in this role. And for someone whose guitar experience once centered on jazz and classical, the actor is quite convincing as a metal-loving chopping machine.
Likewise, Martell (“It”, “Knives Out”) is impressive on leather. According to the film’s production notes, he has had extra time to learn to play during the pandemic-related lockdown and appears to have made the most of it.
Meanwhile, Hainsworth (“misbehavior”) deals with her character’s mental health issues in a way that makes her character empathetic and possibly the person teens with similar issues would deal with.
Another area in which Metal Lords succeeds is its reverence for music. It features some fun headlines by hard rock legends, one of whom, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), serves as the film’s executive music producer. Regardless of whether he is most responsible for the famous tunes used throughout the film – Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” get the most play – it’s a job well done. We know that Murillo wrote music for the band’s original anthem, “Machine of Torment,” with Weiss taking credit for her “dumb” lyrics.
Also, the original music was contributed by Ramin Djawadi, the composer probably best known for his work on “Game of Thrones”.
And the movie gets decent direction from Peter Solett, whose filmography includes another music-backed flick in 2008’s “The Endless Playlist of Nick & Nora.”
Disappointingly, it’s mainly Weiss’ work where “Metal Lords” feels so elusive. The story is clumsyly structured, and it’s nearly impossible to invest in Hunter’s obligatory, unearned turn, and the band’s inevitable late performance, versus a triumphant performance against all odds.
Sometimes the Metal Lords rock, and we thank them for that, but they roll in a erratic way.
“Metal Lords” refers to the entire language, sexual references, nudity, and drug/alcohol use – all of which include teens. Runtime: 1 hour and 38 minutes.