Reviewby Justin Sevakis, Nov 24th 2009
Evangelion: 2.0 You Can [Not] Advance
There's a new Eva pilot, a girl named Mari, and she's in the West Bank of Israel, fighting against the third angel. It's a tough battle. She ejects just in time to save herself. Her Eva, the provisional unit 05, is toast. Meanwhile, Shinji is starting to adjust to his new life in Tokyo III. Things between he and his father are starting to warm up a bit. He's started cooking (a necessity, given Misato's slovenly ways), and is becoming friendlier with Rei, who seems quietly frustrated by the fact that she can't live a normal life. Asuka arrives and starts being a jerk to everyone. Kaji takes the kids on a field trip to a laboratory where animals of pre-Second Impact Earth still live in a controlled environment. And the Eighth Angel attacks, allowing the three pilots to gang up on a single angel for the first time. And then, as Asuka tests out the new Eva Unit 03, something really really bad happens: an Angel spawns WITHIN the Eva. The only way to stop this new destructive monster is to destroy the Eva itself, and possibly Asuka along with it. It's up to Shinji to do it, and his father will not take "no" for an answer.
Shinji is laying in bed, listening to his SDAT walkman again. It's a familiar scene, but it doesn't play today the way it did in 1995. DAT was a high-tech digital cassette that had audio geeks excited back then, but in today's world of iPods it seems laughable and quaint. As always, Shinji blankly stares off into space as he shuffles between tracks 25 and 26 again and again. Then, something unexpected happens, and he drops it. As it skids across the floor, something that we've never seen before happens: the player skips to track 27.
There have been changes up to this point, of course. Misato seems less guarded than she used to. Asuka, who graces us with her presence for the first time, doesn't bother pretending to like other people, and regresses into an antisocial pout from the get-go. Rei, less dead-eyed than before, expresses frustration with the medical hamster tunnel that she lives in. Gendo is slightly less icy towards his son, revealing a bit more of how he's used his work as a coping mechanism after the loss of his wife, and has never really recovered.
And Shinji himself has turned into a remarkably proactive, thoughtful young man. Misato can't cook, so he takes it upon himself to cook for the entire household, going so far as to make bento for his entire new extended family (even Rei). He stands up to his father when he's angry. He doesn't even want to run away. He's not scared of the girl(s) that try to bully him. He's closer with Toji and Kensuke (the former of whom is remarkably cooler than before). His kindness is reciprocated; Rei goes to great pains to try to melt the ice between him and his father, and hopes to make him a nice meal as well. Asuka, desperate to make a connection, follows suit.
But once the SDAT hits track 27, we come completely off the rails in this second feature-length installment of Rebuild of Evangelion, the reboot of the mecha series that has inspired never-ending discussion and flame wars between its adoring fans and its firey detractors ever since its release 14 years ago. From this point on, we are deeply in uncharted waters; the rules and ways that dominated the Evangelion we know are gone for good. It seems possible -- probable, even -- that the first installment, which was almost entirely a shot-by-shot remake of the original first few episodes, was a foil meant to lull us into complacency so that this film might shock us that much more when it clubs us in the knees and drags us out back to wail on us for a while.
It hurts so good. In fact, Evangelion 2.0 is as traumatizing to watch as Episode 20 ("Don't rape my mind!") or End of Evangelion. The events of the film are so destructive, it's a miracle that there will even be enough Eva units or enough of Tokyo III left standing to even have another two films in the series. Where the original first half of the TV series had a somewhat monster-of-the-week feel, each battle in 2.0 feels like a desperate fight to the death, and destroying each angel comes dangerously close to being a zero-sum game. Adding to the mystery is a new pilot, a quietly confident girl named Mari, who seems to have no regard for the limits of her own strength or her Eva.
There are moments of great humor, and of great tenderness. Misato's memories of her father play prominently in the hopes she has for Shinji. Rei, having only experienced a life of scientists and test tubes, is shocked and moved by Shinji's kindness towards her. Asuka works up the courage to ask Shinji to be more familiar with her. Gendo and Shinji visit his mother's gravesite. There's a warmness here, a feeling of great affection that wasn't so prevalent in the original, both for the characters and for the world of Tokyo III. Even the SDAT machine, that relic of 90s futurism, now has a special meaning.
But the subtitle of the film is, "You Can (Not) Advance." You can try to aim for a better life. You can destroy yourself putting yourself out there for people you're supposed to love and are supposed to love you back. You can open up to other people, do nice things for them, strive to improve. But in the end, this film is not about happy endings, it's about setbacks. Violent, horrible, rage-inducing setbacks. They are terrifying, they are raw, and they are devastating.
What Evangelion 2.0 brings to the table is far more than a retelling; it features an overarching maturity that was missing in the original. Gone is the hysterical self-loathing, the navel-gazing, the relentless self-defeat in even its narrative structure, and most of the confusing and problematic Judeo-Christian symbolism. (The angels, though familiar looking, aren't even named anymore.) The story that's left is told calmly, with measured pacing and an even-handedness that's unexpected to those familiar with the original. In doing so, it reveals flaws in the original that likely never occured to the viewer initially, but are easy to spot now that they're gone. It's far too early to tell for sure, but at this point it's entirely possible that Rebuild of Evangelion will emerge as the stronger work.
Fans worried that Anno's steadier hand may no longer lead us to dark and horrible places have worried for nothing. He is clearly a more mature man now, so this work features a grounded, deep-seeded anger for the world, for society, for people and their failings that is distinctly new to the franchise, rather than the adolescent angst and self-doubt the original wallowed in. Evangelion 2.0 feels as though the project has been put on mood stabilizers: it's not any happier, but it's more stable and certainly more focused. And in the end, it's a vast improvement. It's no surprise to be attacked by a friend who's a bipolar drama queen. When the grounded, quiet guy snaps, though... THAT'S terrifying.
After the credits finish, a surprise twist (I shan't divulge details) somewhat impairs the film's ultimate impact. But that's fine for now. The teaser for the 3rd film in the series all but ensures an eventual payoff. But god, what a wait this is gonna be...
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Visually stunning and humorous, with improvements to the characters and the story. A kick to the soul.
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