Friday, September 20, 2013

A Review of Neon Genesis Evangelion 3.0: You Can (not) Redo

At , I was lucky enough to get into the screening of the highly-anticipated third film in the Eva rebuild, You Can (not) Redo, and couldn't believe how much the film fell flat on its face. Though, in Gendo's case, there was a nice pair of new shades to fall flat on, which were probably highly anticipated in 1987. For those of you who don't know, Neon Genesis Evangelion, in its original incarnation was a TV series started in 1995, done by Hideaki Anno and studio Gainax. Both Anno and Gainax are known for highly influential film works, but also for just as much controversy, and Eva is the forefront of that, time and again. The first two Rebuild films were going well, but this one, for whatever reason, took a swift deviation from the plotted trajectory and, unfortunately, failed to deliver. Evangelion follows Shinji Ikari and several other fated young people who pilot bio-mechanical giant robots after a calamity called "Third Impact" destroyed all but a few main cities in the world. If you believe voice-actor-turned-scholar Crispin Freeman's interpretation, the three main characters represent an Ego, Id, and Superego all fighting against a certain force; in my assessment, that's Shinji's inferiority complex. In America, the show's either loved or hated by its viewers, and I take the liberty of assuming from my conversation with other fans that that's because they either feel the inferiority complex or don't. Still, the show continues to top "most influential anime" lists by fans and professionals alike. Yet, when the last few episodes of an otherwise solid series turned into a confusing, unsatisfying ending even for the fans that "got" the show, the studio addressed complaints by adding two films to the canon in 1997. These were Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion. Some viewers were still unsatisfied by the explanation and ending of these movies, which were, for the most part, a chop-shop-job retelling. For many years, that was where the issue lie, sleeping, outside of derivative and side-story manga. But the creator and studio are still going strong, and so in 2006 they began the "rebuild." The "Evangelion Rebuild" is what it says it is -- a "rebuilding," not a "retelling" or a "reboot." The story is told anew, using some old pieces of animation (that were truly impressive for the time period) and main plot points, while adding new characters and, up until now, making things clearer. I'm a fan of the previous two movies: they kept the best of the old animation and took the epic aims of the show full in hand, delivering well in story, animation, directing, acting, and sound score.In the third movie though, we get little of that innovation. Redo clearly had effort put into it, there's no denying that. But, it felt oddly empty, which is especially shocking given that it's been three years since the last film. Let's start with the basics: The animation in this one is solid; it's complicated and complex, and the coloring is good. The film has a few technically challenging camera angles and animation sequences, too. But, these were not close to the level or number of the previous films; they felt like an afterthought. CG graphics are over -- and poorly -- used: the colors don't match, and the shading is often plain. There's a lot of simple expanses in the backgrounds, too -- empty rooms and vast oceans and the like. While that is normal for Eva, it's not quite pulled off. You end up looking at how empty the scene is visually, rather than feeling a shiver of how appropriate the emptiness is for the scene's content. Still, the majority of construction issues lie within the story itself. Fourth Impact came at the end of the second movie, and it was a rapturous event in all senses of the word, both to the characters within film and to the viewers. But instead of starting from there, the third movie skips time -- lots of it. Eyepatch Asuka makes her appearance, and while that's amusingly swashbuckling (the film starts on a ship too), it's punctuation in a fragment sentence. In general, the more complex a movie is, the more scenes it has. This movie has four major scene segments -- the opening battle, Shinji and Misato arguing, Shinji and Kaworu's semi-captive montage, and Shinji and Kaworu trying to recover the spears out of Lilith. That's an incredibly small amount for a film an hour and half long, and it makes the film feel like a train of thought that wasn't properly explored. The opening battle is inordinately long; it's not even that fun in the grand scheme of Eva opening battles. Shinji and Misato argue for a long time, but they are completely detached from reality. The end just sort of ends, and the major issue -- the arrival of the 13th angel -- lacks any explanation and, when it is resolved, feels hollow. The character building is weak, to my great disappointment; it left a lot of the other people in the theater scratching their heads. The strongest part of the film in any respect is a hilarious but incredibly homoerotic sequence of scenes with Kaworu, him teaching Shinji about the value of life through meaningful interaction with others. And that sequence I will always love; I'm a sucker for a smooth operator and the film certainly benefited from the humor. But, that's about the extent of anything emotionally gripping. And even those scenes, often, move just a tad too fast for the emotional content to really hit you. For instance, we get the new girl, Mari Makinami, who at the end of 2.22 brought glasses, librarian-like women, and pink plug suits all to the fore for the first time, in the most promising of new characters Eva's seen in a decade. She proceeds to have no character development for the rest of the film. Neither does anyone else, though -- Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and Misato all end the film in the exact same mindset in which they began, with no new revelations, making the desolation at the end of the film feel more like a mid-way point than an ending with a conclusion. The whole movie feels like it was supposed to be one of Shinji's famous out-there dream sequences that showcase his fear and powerlessness, but it wasn't. In a phrase, this is a film that had a lot of promise and used little of it. Eva's up to its old tricks . . . but for what? With no slated release date yet, Part Four is our last part to finish this rebuild. The show will go on, but can we just forget this part happened?
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