Top critical review
Some good moments but predictable
on 17 December 2013
I was keen to see this after so many positive reviews and comments. It is a somewhat interesting film about a great band, and is slick and cleverly put together. The best part is in the sections about the early days, but most of it watches like an overlong promo video for the band/tour/albums etc. The tone is universally (and gratingly) hagiographic, and the interviewees (few apart from those on the bands long term payroll) are carefully chosen to bring out strengths (particularly in terms of influence). There are no weak albums you will learn, only misunderstood ones.
In the world of Rush the heroes in the band are outstanding musicians, and there is not doubt they are a cut above most. A delicious moment however has Neil Peart talking to Freddie Gruber, who summarily dissses all of rock/pop drumming as trivial, clearly including Neil. Neil lets this pass, and explains how his drumming improved from the time he worked with Freddie. But before then he would have been on many fans top five drummers lists anyway. So the entire Gruber adventure seems like an ego trip which did nothing to change the fact that Rush have not released a classic song since the early 80's.
Rush are controversial to many rock fans musically, particularly because of their dubious electronic direction in the 80s. This is not properly addressed, and is dismissed as a critics problem. But in 1983/4 if you loved 2112 you had abandoned Rush in favour of Metallica and others. The electronics were, we find out, dropped in the later 80s and although it is not mentioned this change in direction correlates with the time that Appetite For Destruction (Guns and Roses) came out and the world of hard rock changed.
The film also contains a glaring internal inconsistency. We are told all about the brave new direction in the 1980s (Moving Pictures onwards) and that it was a commercial move. Likewise the move back to basics in the late 80s. But then we re told the band did not sell out.
For me the most interesting thing I found out was that the first Rush album is a much more straight up rock and roll affair than the rest, not least because Neil was not in charge of lyrics. I need to check it out.
So in summary, I learned a few bits and bobs here. The film tries hard to portray Rush and overlooked giants who could stand side by side with Led Zeppelin, The Who or even, gasp, the Beatles. But in the end the laugh out loud nature of such claims remains untouched, the true greats seem if anything greater in stature. For me Rush will always be a handful of stonking songs, Working Man, The Trees, 2112, Bastille Day, Xanadu. Personally I do not get Tom Sawyer or Spirit Of Radio, and it was all downhill from there.
Finally, although there is a lot of snippets of songs and concert footage in the film I do not think there is a single full song, which is disappointing, and rather supports the overlong promo conclusion.