Monday, July 8, 2013
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo
In the beginning of this Evangelion Rebuild project, we were promised that this would be the more sane and more pleasant Evangelion, perhaps leaving the characters in a better place than being left alone in a desolate apocalypse. "Evangelion 2.0" actually seemed to be moving in this direction, by turning Shinji into a surprisingly heroic and self-assured character, pushing his giant robot to the limits of the apocalypse to save Rei Ayanami, his main love interest at that point. If you are like me, and thought that was an impressive new direction for the series to take, you'll find "Evangelion 3.0" to be just as shocking. Shocking in how quickly that negative and depressing status quo is restored - that lone bright spot at the end of "Evangelion 2.0" being only the herald for a whole new dimension of depression and nightmares.
Perhaps even more impressive for "Evangelion 3.0" is that this shocking swerve actually works. This series basically took a suicide turn right into oncoming traffic at two-hundred miles per hour, and it managed to pass right through and set up a massive finale to finish off this film series. Many fans are going to be very turned-off by what happens in between "Evangelion 2.0" and "Evangelion 3.0", to the point they might say the series has betrayed their expectations. Even I'm not particularly happy with how "Evangelion 3.0" went - it seems to be a rather sudden rewrite of the plan that Studio Gainax had for the series after the second film - but when a movie is this well-made, you cannot let your expectations get in the way. Quality is quality, brilliance is brilliance, and "Evangelion 3.0" is brilliant.
Its quite a thing to feel truly blessed while watching a movie. I sometimes get a common thought along the lines of "what the hell did I do to deserve this nightmare?" (usually when an ad for Adam Sandler's newest celluloid abortion plays*) but I rarely get the feeling that "do we really deserve a film series like this?" Are we worthy of the ascendant joy that is the Rebuild of Evangelion? Well, I'm just going to say that after the willfully-awful "Eureka Seven Ao", the world owes me one. So if a movie this good is going to get made, I'm going to simply enjoy it.
Unfortunately there's really no way to describe the events of this movie without massive spoilers. If you haven't seen the first two movies, do that now. You will not be disappointed.
Its been about fifteen years since the events of "Evangelion 2.0". Shinji and Rei have been stuck inside Eva Unit 01 for all this time, floating in a quarantined satellite in orbit. The film actually opens in a very confusing haze, as you're not entirely sure what it going on or why as the entire previous matrix of factions has shifted during the time skip. Basically the status quo of the original series has been left behind, NERV has been destroyed, most of the Earth is in ruins, and the remaining portions of humanity are at war with each other. The old paradigm of children pilots fighting aliens called "Angels" is essentially gone, as the Angels seem to be mostly gone, instead some of the Evangelion pilots are working with Misato's faction, and others are working with Gendo Ikari. Obviously the goals of these two groups are entirely different. One group seems to be trying to save what is left of the Earth that has survived the various apocalypses, and Gendo, as usual, is an evil bastard trying to bring forth the final destruction of the universe as according to the weird trippy Armageddon scheme that Evangelion usually has.
But of course, what you're probably wondering is what happened to your favorite characters. Curiously, even though so much of what was recognizable about Evangelion has been dropped, most of the main heroes are stuck as their typical selves. Shinji hasn't aged since he's been in stasis for all this time, but neither has any of the other pilots. Why? Well, I guess the fanbase would have been simply too angry to see an adult Asuka so she is still a preteen. As is the new character to the Rebuild series, Mari, whose addition to the Evangelion series has yet to pay off. (She still hasn't had enough screen time in any of these movies to make any major contribution besides fanservice, and she only has one more movie to justify her existence.) Most disturbing for the viewers will be the fate of Rei Ayanami, since Shinji sacrificed so much to save her. The news is not good, but I'm still hopeful that the original Rei might return somehow.
The first half hour of "Evangelion 3.0" is a fireworks display of very-expensive looking battle scenes, three right after each other. Gainax once again is using the Rebuild series to push the envelope in anime production values, showing every single second of the long waits in between each of these films in the final product. "3.0" opens with an outer-space battle, followed immediate by a sea battle featuring an entire floating armada of naval warships and a giant airship, and then a whole other battle begins right after that. This movie is trying very very hard to entertain you with just about every trick is can muster, but really, the best parts of "3.0" are when the robots go away and we just let the story move on its own.
Shinji returns to the geofront and NERV headquarters to find the old familiar locations of Evangelion have been completely destroyed. The underground pyramid has been melted, the hallways of NERV are empty, all of Tokyo-3 has been blasted away. The old Evangelion has been destroyed, leaving the heroes to work forward into an uncertain future. Though the story is very very different at this point, "3.0" is more or less an adaptation of the series episode 24, where Shinji meets the mysterious Kowaru Nagisa, an Eva pilot of immense power but great kindness. Most of this film is between these two characters in their vaguely romantic relationship, plotting to save the world. As impressive as the sight is watching Gainax's fancy CG flying battleship spin away from alien attacks, much more impressive both visually and artistically is something as Shinji and Kowaru sharing a duet on the piano. This is no surprise to Gainax though, they know what they are doing, and they film these sequences with the love and care of a painter carefully getting the brush strokes on his canvas exactly perfect.
I still don't really understand much of the plot, as you'd expect from Evangelion, a series legendary for having one of the most confusing storylines ever written**. We still have a mixture of science fiction, Judeo-Christian occult, and whatever other ideas Gainax has thought up. Obviously if that's not your kind of thing, "Evangelion 3.0" isn't going to convert you. Ultimately its probably not going to come together until the last movie, though the story this time seems somewhat more lucid. There has yet to be any extended sequences of Shinji hallucinating within his mind as his subconscious and nightmares scream at him while the souls of every human is fused together into a single super-entity. Gendo, however, is definitely up to something, and we won't know what until movie "4.0". That keeps things interesting, and very unpredictable, so I wouldn't recommend giving up on this series until the final adventure.
At the current speed though, Evangelion Rebuild is shaping up to be the definitive Evangelion experience. "3.0" is probably not as great of a movie as "2.0", but I personally loved the plot events of that movie much more. I'm still impressed that a series can be so bold as to burn down its entire universe and still move forward, damn the fans. It would be like if Bane had succeeded in nuking Gotham, and then "Batman 4" starred a radioactive Bruce Wayne fighting for the dust of his city - and it still working. You have to admire the bravery of it, the force of will, the integrity. You'd never see that from an American film series, I can say that much.
Here's to 2015 or however how long, when "Evangelion 4.0" comes out.
* Jesus Mary-fucking Christ, "Grown Ups 2" must be the worst-looking movie ever made. It is hideous that a movie that grotesquely awful could ever be allowed to exist. Why isn't Obama's fascist shadow government keeping us safe from terrorism like this?
** Actually, however, most of it does make sense, if you're willing to watch the series multiple times, and the movie to comprehend it all. But remember, I used the word "most".