Quick catch up for anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about: Neon Genesis Evangelion is a famous anime series from the 90s. I like it. Now they’re putting out “rebuild” movies that are essentially a retelling of the series that go off in their own crazy direction. I absolutely loved the second one. This is the third one.
Note that this will be spoiler-free. Let’s get on with it.
I’ve never been a big fan of the idea that remakes or sequels should hew closely to their original, often beloved progenitors no matter what the fans may claim to want. I like to see a familiar story go in directions I’m not expecting. Eva 3.0 definitely delivers on that front, opening with a series of action scenes that make it clear right off the bat that this isn’t the Evangelion you know and love. And yet it feels like a logical progression to the core Eva story, a direction the original series could have easily gone in. A new thematic through-line is established in the opening 15 minutes, one that when you think about it was always there in the background of Evangelion but was never emphasized this heavily. Startling new character motivations and directions are revealed, and I found myself wondering how these people were going to make it through the story intact. Yes indeed, the first half of this film really is something to behold.
The problem is the second half.
When the Rebuild project was first announced it was tentatively suggested that movies three and four would actually be one film. At some point it was decided to cut them in two instead, and the resulting gaping wound was not patched over with particular skill. Simply put, the movie is too short. Character arcs that begin in the first half either aren’t paid off at all or are rushed through such that they lack the impact they should have had. The thematic connective tissue is lost amid rushed world-building and confusing techno-babble. People have accused the film of simply pulling shit out of mid-air and not making a whole lot of sense. That’s true, but no more so than in the original series, the End of Evangelion film or the second Rebuild movie. It’s just that everything is happening at once and none of it has the proper context or set-up so it feels like a string of bizarre events and incomprehensible action scenes. Most movies are a bit too long; this one could have easily done with another 40 minutes and even that might not be enough to save it. The story feels like it was designed to be a TV series instead of a movie.
Does that mean I disliked Eva 3.0? No. I sure had a good time watching it and it’s visually spectacular to a degree few movies could ever hope to top. The closing scene alone is gorgeous enough to almost justify the entire project. But it’s just too short and too truncated and condensed and it’s doesn’t really work as a result.
It’s a real shame because I can see what they were trying to to do, I really can. I understand why all of the creative choices were made and how they tie into the central theme that I think the movie is trying to present. But something clearly went wrong during production and we ended up with a rushed, sloppy mess of a film.
Will the fourth movie salvage things? Maybe. I can see how it could slot in neatly at the end of 3.0 and continue on all the fascinating set-up. I want the full story Hideaki Anno and crew are building here instead of the cliffs notes version.