You know what? It’s been an unexpectedly rough day since I sat down to watch this movie, and I’m ready to kick back with my fanboy hat on. What say you, blog-readers? Can I put on my fanboy hat and geek out about this movie or not? Doesn’t matter, I’m gonna do it anyway, cos today, I saw perhaps the freshest and most vital installment in the ongoing Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise that there has been since it originally aired in 1995. This movie does not “recapture the feel” of watching the series for the first time, it does not replicate the experience of being surprised. It surprises you. It grabs you and it jolts you out of your seat and your consciousness with such vicious force and determination that you are not asked to pay attention–you are told that you will listen and that you will obey. Consider my fanboy hat firmly on head when I say that Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance is the best entry into the franchise apart from End of Evangelion. It’s bright, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s tragic, it’s badass, it’s astounding, astonishing and absolutely magical from start to finish. My objectivity cap is over in the corner, yelling at me about accessibility and if anyone but fans will appreciate this movie. And I’m happily telling that hat to stuff itself.
Rebuild 2.22 picks up nowhere near where the first movie left off, starting with no reasonable explanation on the North Pole with an Eva pilot we’ve never seen before trying to sync to an Evangelion Unit we’ve never heard of–“Provisional Unit-05”, by the way–and complaining on comms about the size of her plugsuit’s chest. It’s far too small for her ample European bosom, you see. The new pilot is Mari Illustrious Makinami (Trina Nishimura), and yes, they expect us to believe that’s really her middle name. Mari is a booster shot in the arm of this aging franchise, and it’s nice to know that even when making what’s ostensibly a direct translation of the series for a new audience, they’re adding and tweaking and modding and changing for the fans (as well as their own personal satisfaction). Mari is a new character, and is thus comparatively unexamined, but more on that later.
The plot, as it started out, comprised the most episodes of the TV series that an individual film in the tetralogy has to adapt. I think it was about twelve episodes total? And instead of going for a straight-up transliteration like the previous movie’s approach to the first six episodes of the series, about halfway through, it starts spinning a new yarn out of whole cloth. I’d hate to spoil it for anyone who reads my reviews to decide if they’re going to watch a cult film, so I’ll do my best not to. However, there are some necessary spoilers here. The twelve episodes of the series are perhaps the closest it ever comes to being a “normal” giant robot anime–featuring weekly fights and slow character development (with occasional clip shows). This makes it both the hardest and easiest to adapt–on one hand, it’s easy to cut the clips. On the other hand, how do you compress twelve episodes worth of plot into a hundred and eight minutes?
The answer, it seems, is by clearcutting the forest that was your plot and choosing only the most vital moments–and changing them to become more vital. Characters are dropped left and right to suit the new abbreviated time frame for the narrative, thus keeping the core cast of kids the focus. Meek protagonist Shinji (Spike Spencer) has to get along with hotheaded lancer Asuka Shikinami (Tiffany Grant) immediately, or they’re toast. There is no individual “Shinji and Asuka” become friends narrative anymore, that story being threaded with “Shinji, Asuka and Rei (Brina Palencia) have to work together or kill everyone” (which I swear is yet another escalation from the original). Subtextual sexual tension across the board is turned into shockingly frank declarations of feelings and affection from all parties. The highlights of this process being Asuka and Shinji’s midnight talk in Shinji’s bed, Rei’s planned dinner party so that Shinji and his father Gendo (John Swasey) can get along again and Misato’s attempt to keep Shinji in her home. Insert shotacon joke.
Indeed, everything that wasn’t absolute gold from the series is gone. The movie wastes no time faffing about–every scene hits an emotional peak or draws you in further or is a gigantic laugh or features some of the most brutal, visceral and altogether unpleasant-to-watch-but-can’t-look-away fighting in the history of Evangelion. There are a grand total of four mech-fights in this movie and not a moment is wasted in any of them. Suspense is crafted, machines ripped limb from bleeding limb, angels torn to shreds and blood flooding the streets of Tokyo-3. Feats are pulled off in these fights that would be utterly impossible in any other context. I don’t know if they finally have the scale of robot-to-building right yet, but I know this for damn sure: I don’t care. I don’t care if they finally got the tiniest of tiny details right, because in going broad strokes with the story, they finally got to the absolute core of what Evangelion is about. And that’s emotions.
The reason this movie feels so great to behold is because all of the emotions are no longer hidden under layers and layers of angst. They’re right there on the surface, exposed with a cursory examination of the face. There’s even a sequence in this movie where the archetypal emotionless girl, Rei Ayanami, has a secret she’s trying to keep from Shinji (while, unbeknownst to either her or him, she’s harboring a major crush). She walks into class, sits at her desk and faces forward. Shinji says hi and she smiles. And she sits there smiling for over ten seconds, just enjoying her secrets and the fact that she’s got Shinji curious.
The choice of who is in the pilot’s seat for Unit-03 is another one of those choices. The kind that can only amplify every emotion in the series and bring it that much further into the 21st century. Thank you, Hideaki Anno. Thank you, Khara Productions. Thank you all for sharing this movie with me. Now hurry up on getting Evangelion 3.33 out on Blu-Ray so that I don’t get the crap spoiled out of it for me. FOUR STARS