Leave it to U2, whose fascination with technology has transformed their concerts into brilliant celebrations of multimedia light and sound, seamlessly entwined to create a spectacle both decadent and graceful. Sixteen years after the Rolling Stones unveiled their Steel Wheels tour in the larger-than-life IMAX format, the 32-year-old Irish quartet has upped the ante, assembling footage from the South American leg of their 2006 world tour into a 3-D performance piece that is visually arresting and musically vigorous, a bold affirmation of the group's vitality.
Unlike 1988's “Rattle and Hum,” the beautifully shot but frustratingly self-absorbed documentary that mixed the band's live recordings with a series of unrevealing interviews, “U2 3D” is straightforward and mostly unpretentious. It is a concert film devoid of any introspective chatter, featuring 14 of the band's hits and, lest your mood become too carefree, a somber recitation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the center of it all is Bono, U2's ubiquitous frontman and outspoken political activist who rarely misses an opportunity to lobby for world peace from his extravagantly illuminated pulpit.
If “Rattle and Hum” depicted a band slightly overwhelmed by the trappings of superstardom and seeking, however prematurely, to establish themselves as heirs to Elvis and the Beatles, “U2 3D” makes a more credible statement. It captures the group in its natural environment, performing for thousands of rabid fans from atop a massive stage and making it all seem somehow intimate.
As a testament to their undiminished prowess as a live act, it is a rousing achievement. Watching U2 tear through a spirited set that deftly juggles their latest singles (“Vertigo,” “Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own”) with signature hits from as early as 1983's “War,” it's easy to forget that this is a band whose contemporaries once included Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and even The King himself.
While Bono and The Edge, whose subdued, everyman charm runs in refreshing contrast to his colleague's rock-star persona, remain formidable performers even as they approach the half-century mark, the unseen stars of “U2 3D” are directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, who first worked with the band on their video for “One.”
Shooting the band from every conceivable angle, from the midst of the frenzied crowd to scaffolding high above the stage, Owens and Pellington thrust moviegoers headlong into the film in a stunning 3-D experience.
By the time Bono turns to the camera during a searing rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” reaching out to his audience in a typically theatrical plea for peace, love and understanding, one half expects his outstretched hand to surge through the screen and seize one of your own.
Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes