×

Film Review: ‘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.

With:

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

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.

Popular on Variety

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)

More Film

  • Dan Stevens

    Dan Stevens Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    “Legion” star Dan Stevens has joined the cast of Netflix feature “Eurovision,” alongside Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan. The British actor, who made his name in “Downton Abbey” and recently finished a three-year run on FX’s “X-Men” spin-off “Legion” from Noah Hawley, will play Alexander Lemtov, a Russian contestant taking part in the [...]

  • THE-SONG-OF-NAMES

    Tim Roth, Clive Owen-Starrer 'The Song Of Names' To Close San Sebastian

    Starring Clive Owen and Tim Roth, Canadian François Girard’s historical drama “The Song of Names” will close the 67th San Sebastian Festival on Sept. 28. World premiering at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival as a Gala Presentation, “The Song of Names” will play out of competition at what will be its international premiere. Hanway Films [...]

  • Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Doc

    Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Documentary ‘The Kingmaker’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Dogwoof has boarded Lauren Greenfield’s “The Kingmaker,” about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines. The hotly anticipated feature doc delves into the disturbing legacy of the Marcos regime and Imelda’s attempts to aid her son’s political career. It will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then screen at [...]

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    Cheng Cheng Films Nabs North American Rights to China's 'Send Me to the Clouds'

    New York-based distributor Cheng Cheng Films has acquired North American rights to first-time Chinese director Teng Congcong’s comedy drama “Send Me to the Clouds,” starring and produced by A-list actress Yao Chen. The company is planning a theatrical release for fall 2019. “Cheng Cheng has always championed films with strong female leads,” the firm said [...]

  • A White White Day

    Film Movement Brings ‘A White, White Day’ to the U.S. (EXCLUSIVE)

    OSLO  —  New-York based distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights to critically-lauded Icelandic drama “A White, White Day,” today’s opening film at New Nordic Films in Haugesund. In a separate deal, sales agent New Europe Film Sales has closed French-speaking Canada with Funfilm and English-speaking Canada with Game Theory. Hlynur Pálmason’s sophomore pic, “A [...]

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content