This movie’s sub-titled You Can (Not) Advance, so I’ll just appropriate that wordplay right out of the gate and get it done with…
If you have (not) watched the Evangelion show already, you will (not) understand this movie and probably will (not) enjoy it. Reviewing this so soon after Summer Wars actually makes for a conveniently-illustrative comparison because, while that movie was one of the most accessible anime features I’ve ever seen, this is almost aggressively inaccessible. It’s still got plenty of merit--mountains of it, in fact--but if you’re already adverse to the stereotypes anime’s infamous for in America, you are absolutely going to loathe this Byzantine mumbo jumbo.
So, just what the hell is Evangelion 2.0 about? I’ve watched the whole series and all the previous movies, and I’ve read all the in-depth commentary online, and that’s still a question I have to think hard about. Without getting too tied up in the many particulars of this complex mythos, this story is, at base, about a team of emotionally-damaged teens who pilot giant robots to save the world from bizarre aliens.
There. We’ll go with that.
Young Shinji Ikari is ostensibly the best of this group, even in spite of him having a whole host of neurotic hang-ups that would prevent most kids his age from simply reading morning announcements in homeroom. His already-fragile sense of self-worth gets challenged in this installment by Asuka, a new pilot from Germany who’s one uppity over-achiever. If you’re raising the reasonable concern about why volatile kids like these are given the keys to walking weapons of mass destruction, that’s one of several questions that were addressed in the show but left hanging in this abbreviation.
See, Evangelion 2.0 isn’t a follow-up to the series or even a straight remake, but one part of something like an abridged special edition. The creators have finally been given free rein to realize everything that budget cuts, weekly time constraints and TV censorship once limited. Even with digressions and additions, however, this significantly-shorter version is still largely the same, with some sequences’ animation even getting reproduced faithfully to the cel. Everybody in the audience, from greenies to veterans, will be absolutely floored by the sublime imagery, which plays with religious iconography in ways provocative enough to recall one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad midnight movies. You simply can’t see anything like this, anywhere else, and there are moments of pure imaginative power that will awe even the most jaded movie goer.
Though the animation has been upgraded magnificently, I do take issue with the integration of CG models for vehicles, locations and even, sometimes, characters. Animators have been trying at this since the 90s and it still doesn’t work, nine times out of ten. I wish they’d opted to just use these models as references to be drawn over traditionally instead of hoping cel-shading would be enough. Not only would the result be less intrusive, it wouldn’t look as dated in a year.
Of course, I’d gladly suffer the incongruity of those models in place of the other slight, but significant, bad choices made in this picture. Japan, to put it delicately, is a lot more permissive about sexualizing the underage in even their mainstream entertainment. While there was some tongue-in-cheek “fan service” in the show, the needle on the creepiness dial honestly gets pushed up a few degrees into a danger zone here due to how often characters stated to be 16-year-old girls are involved in lingering panty shots and cheesecake with revealing cut-off outfits. Sure, it’s all just drawings at the end of day, but it’s still gross thinking who this specific kind of T&A is pandering to.
Evangelion 2.0 is actually a tricky film to review. As a fan, it feels more like an unusually high-end supplement than a stand-alone feature I can show to uninitiated friends. It hits all the high points of incisive emotion, daring spectacle and cerebral science fiction that so captured my imagination in the first go-round, and some changes actually do improve the narrative. However, I doubt somebody who hadn’t already delved as deeply into the mythos would appreciate it for those qualities (if it all.) The version I saw was sub-titled, not dubbed, and I hope some of my criticisms might actually be resolved in the forthcoming American dub. For one, they should really re-consider the use of a sentimental pop ballad during a climactic battle, as it undercut the tension egregiously enough to elicit real, unintentional laughter from the audience.
On the whole, Evangelion 2.0 has questionable goals as film. If it really was made with the intention of being a more accessible retelling of the story, then it’s soundly failed in that regard. For the long-time fan, this is a worthwhile addition to an ambitious “anti-epic” that’s been so intriguing and frustrating at once. For the neophyte, well… mileage will vary. If you simply want some kickass action and a stream of ideas and images that’s like a modern art gallery flowing through the siphon of the sci-fi blockbuster, then you’ll very much enjoy Evangelion 2.0. for that. However, if you want the proper Eva experience, you should watch the whole show first before even touching this “re-build.”
|Name||Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance|
|US Release||Jan. 20, 2011|
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|Alias(es)||Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance, Evangelion 2.02: You Can (Not) Advance|