Film Review: ‘Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo’

'Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo'

The latest chapter in Japan's long-running anime series is long on visual ingenuity, short on coherent storytelling.

Once upon a time in the ’60s, a critic would have known exactly what to say: that the gorgeous, cacophonous anime sound-and-light show “Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo” should only be watched in an altered state. That would be a serviceable approach to a film that too often substitutes obfuscation for complexity, to relax and drift along on the often-spectacular, pulsating visuals. For those not fully initiated in the moony psychobabble mythology of this Emo/Mecha epic, straining earnestly to understand would be to risk injury. While anime films crated by such brainy artists as Hayao Miyazaki (“The Wind Rises”) and Mamoru Oshii (“Ghost in the Shell”), have registered strongly outside the fanboy sphere, “Evangelion: 3.0” seems likely to play well only to devotees, and not even to all of them. The anime fan writer Reckoner, in the Nihon Review, has already aptly declared the film “a disorienting mess.”

The brainchild of just one man, veteran anime writer-director Hideaki Anno, the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” franchise began as a 26-episode TV series broadcast in 1995 and 1996. It was followed closely by two feature films, “Evangelion: Death and Rebirth” (1997) and “The End of Evangelion” (1997), which were intended to repair the damage inflicted by a mystical mumbo-jumbo ending even more extreme than the “Lost” finale. The current release is the third in a series of four new movies, launched in 2007 and known collectively as “Rebuild of Evangelion,” that retell the story of the original series, with some fairly drastic plot revisions.

The saga focuses on a chosen teenager, Shinji Ikari, a highly reluctant hero whose issues with his stern military father take a strange turn when the elder Ikari calls his son to Tokyo to pilot a giant robot (known as an Eva). The robot is the only weapon that can stand up against a mysterious race of giant humanoid monsters, the Angels, that have popped up from God-knows-where to repeatedly attack Tokyo. (The Mecha subgenre that includes “Evangelion” was a leading influence on Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.”)

The original “Evangelion” series was considered groundbreaking in spending quality time on metaphysical and religious brow furrowing, and on the characters’ emotional problems, almost giving short shrift to the staple ingredient of two-fisted robot-on-monster action. In “Evangelion: 3.0,” Shinji (voiced by Spike Spencer in the English-dubbed version reviewed) awakens after 14 years in suspended animation in deep space and becomes a pawn in an intramural conflict between two factions in the anti-Angel defense forces. The original group, Nerv, commanded by Shijni’s father, has launched the Human Instrumentality Project, which seems to be a genocidal purge designed to jumpstart evolution. The splinter group Wille, which includes several of Shinji’s former comrades-in-arms, is attempting to prevent this.

The amount of heartache and navel gazing indulged in all the installments of “Evangelion” has always been a sticking point for non-fans. Here, Shinji’s distress at the additional destruction that has been visited upon the world in his absence is at once understandable and a dreary drag on the narrative. It strains credulity that the only colleague who ever loses patience with Shinji is Asuka Langley Soryu (Tiffany Grant), a one-eyed Valkyrie in red body armor whose short fuse boosts the movie’s energy level.

Strange twists that pay off include the creepy-crawly Oedipal revelation that the computer operating system in Shinji’s giant Eva is the consciousness of his mother, downloaded and installed (in a manner never specified) by Shinji’s dad.

The movie can be enjoyed on a purely visual level, as a Mecha head trip. The images were created as a hybrid of hand-drawn and CG animation that allows complete fluidity of movement, with shots that swoop all around and though the ingeniously complicated machinery. The deployment of each new technological marvel — such as the space battleship Wunder, which has decks and wings bristling in all directions, like a giant robot’s Swiss army knife — has an operatic sense of scale. (The witty mechanisms were designed by Ikuto Yamashita.)

As a narrative, “Evangelion 3.0” may make you feel your brain is turning into goat cheese. As a showcase for pure visual ingenuity and splendor, though, it rocks.

Film Review: 'Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo'

Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Jan. 8, 2013. Running time: 95 MIN. Original title: "Evangerion shin gekijoban: Kyu"

Production

(Japan) A T-Joy (in Japan)/Eleven Arts (in U.S.) release of a Khara production. Produced by Hideaki Anno, Toshimichi Ohtsuki. English version: A Funimation Entertainment production. Produced by Carly Hunter, Justin Cook, Michael Harcourt. Executive producer, Gen Fukanaga.

Crew

Chief director, Hideaki Anno; directors, Masayuki, Mahiro Maeda, Kazuya Tsurumaki. Screenplay, Hideaki Anno, based on "Neon Genesis Evangelion" by Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto; head writer (English version), John Burgmeir. Camera (color), Toru Fukushi; music, Shiro Sagisu; editor, Hidemi Lee; chief animation director, Kiyotaka Suzuki; art directors, Hiroshi Kato, Tatsuya Kushida; animation producer, Toshimichi Ohtsuki; main character design, Sadamoto Yoshiyuki; main mechanics design, Ikuto Yamashita; casting, Kanako Arima.

With

Voices: Spike Spencer, Jerry Jewell, Tiffany Grant, Allison Keith-Shipp, Trina Nishimura, Kent Williams, John Swasey. (English dialogue)

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  1. anna says:

    is this on dvd now. trying to find it

  2. Zack says:

    Also I’m a huge fan of evangellion I own the series on VHS and 1.0 and 2.0 on DVD and in my opinion 2.0 was a masterpiece (left me in shock and awe with my mouth hanging open) so 3.0 is probably going to be great

  3. Zack says:

    What’s the fun in fully understanding a movie with one view? The great thing about the anime that this company makes is the complexity (FLCL, gurren lagann, Eden of the east) you can watch them over and over and get something new each time which goes along great with the beautiful animation. I wouldn’t say the story being a lot to take in is a bad thing but more of a good thing if I completely understand the movie in one go I probably wouldn’t ever watch it again … You shouldn’t give a review downing a movie for its intelligence it makes people doubt yours

  4. Josh says:

    Another negative 3.0 review? Awesome! This just make me even more excited to finally see this film! I love it when Anno screws with his audiences, strangely enough. I love seeing people get worked up over this film. It’s almost like they actually thought that Evangelion would make sense this time around. What fools. I was a bit worried there for a little bit, both 1.0 and 2.0 seemed very simplistic, a bit too simplistic for my personal tastes. After all, I don’t watch Evangelion simply for the run of the mill (but admittedly awesome) giant robot action. I watch for the WTF. That said, I’m really excited to see the character of Kaworu in this film, I felt that his character didn’t get nearly as much screen time he deserved in the original series, and I’ve heard from many people who’ve seen it that 3.0 does a much better job with his character. And bring on Final already! I really hope we don’t have to wait all the way until winter 2015 for it like it was rumored.

  5. Kamille says:

    This 3rd part was simply terrible. =/

  6. Alter says:

    I agree when I was at the premiere last night. Eva 3.0 is a visually and auditory renaissance, very beautiful. However, it’s just that. The story line is filled with Shinji’s whining and denial then goes to a short burst of self-assurance before he breaks down again. None of the preview sequences at the end of 2.0 didn’t appear, which is such a major letdown because that that preview alluded to a complex and equally stunning visual journey.

    Hopefully that was a preview for the 4th movie because 3.0 leaves much to be desired.

    • Space Sweeper says:

      While I don’t agree (I unabashedly love the film on the same level as those that precede it), I do understand your disappointment. I’m not sure what happened with the 2.0 preview, I can only come to the conclusion that they were flashes that filled the gap between films due to the absence of Shinji.

      What I’ll directly disagree with however, is the implication that this wasn’t as complex as the rest of the Rebuild series has been- it’s technically the most complex entry so far, as going into almost entirely unexplored territory causes it to be naturally. In fact, a lot of the film’s complexity comes through the visuals and thematic tie-ins and progressions from the Neon Genesis loop.

      Personally, I consider it a bold and beautiful piece of filmmaking– which is why, since it’s continuing an already established material and intentionally breaking from it (Neon Genesis), it’s bound to be controversial. I hope any further viewings you may have fare better for your enjoyment.

  7. bill smith says:

    No FKousac you are the one that is juvenile. You are obviously to immature to handle the movie.

    • FKousac says:

      No–most are incoherent childish pap. There’s one or 2 decent Japanese cartoons, but certainly not this kiddy crap.

      • Zack says:

        Maybe learn something about “Japanese cartoons” then I’ll listen to you but judging by the fact you don’t even call them by their name (anime) I can see you don’t know jack. Go watch the blood series or deadman wonderland or high school of the dead then come back and say it’s for kids

  8. FKousac says:

    More typical juvenile Japanese cartoons. Only the youngest of children with the shortest of attention spans will enjoy this film or any remotely akin to it. Some day, Japanese cartoons will grow up.

    • Priss says:

      Just how American cartoons are sooo grown-up and mature with their piss and poop jokes, amirite?

    • illusion2526 says:

      I am not sure that I could think of it at juvenile either. Several of the items addressed in the movie are hardly of a juvenile nature. As one that teaches religious education to both juveniles and adults, I can say that some of the content of the movie that was of a religious/spiritual nature, is definitely something that the average juvenile could not fully understand nor appreciate. Were there scenes from the movie of a more juvenile nature? Yes, yes there were, but there were also many layers that are of an adult matter that require a philosophical and spiritual review that the juvenile mind is not quite awakened to yet. Upon leaving the screening last night, I had conversations with strangers regarding the symbolism and meaning behind such scenes, and the discussions and debates that we had were definitely beyond those that I have had in the classroom with juveniles.

    • Johnny says:

      Or maybe you should. There’s plenty of Japanese animation that is “Adult” but it’s a medium that can also have kids stuff as well. I’m not sure why you think it needs to grow up when it can be what ever the creators want it to be.

  9. ShadowPred says:

    I also gotta comment that the Wunder isn’t a spaceship as it’s stated in this review.

  10. ShadowPred says:

    “As a narrative, “Evangelion 3.0″ may make you feel your brain is turning into goat cheese.”

    I don’t even understand how this is possible, and this is coming from someone who had trouble understanding the first half of EoE. If anyone has seen the prior material, hell, even the first two films prior to this latest one, there’s no way that you can’t understand what’s happening.

  11. What a woefully inadequate review. Gives the series a bad name where it deserves none; it was downhill and drooped in shallow misunderstanding from “the moony psychobabble mythology of this Emo/Mecha epic”. Of course it would help if an articulate fan was reviewing this, and I understand the desire to review it for the average viewer, but let’s face it- the average viewer isn’t going to bother going to see this, much less one who hasn’t seen the prior films/series.

    If I may review this particular review, it’s a disingenuous representation of truly beautiful filmmaking. I don’t think I’ve seen an American critic review an anime film that isn’t by Hayao Miyazaki without a hint of snarky irony. This is why it’s important to select guest reviewers if your outlet is so inclined to review something like this.

    • D says:

      I am and always will be an Eva fan, but yeah, ‘moony psychobabble’ hits the nail on the head for Evangelion. ‘Substitutes obfuscation for complexity’ is quite accurate as well, especially for this movie.

      If I have one major bitch about this movie in particular, it has to be the sense of scale for the machines. NERV has always had ridiculously oversized everything, but it seems a bit out of hand here, like Rei’s shack that seems to be miles from anything but old machinery. Also, the Wunder, it’s a gigantic beast of a ship, but it has no feeling of mass, it clicks and clinks like a plastic desktop model.

      Another bitch, this movie spends way too long on activate-the-device montages, even for Eva, it’s too much.

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