[Ed. note: This review of the final Evangelion movie, Evangelion 1.0+3.0: Thrice Upon a Time, is being published in accordance with the studio’s review embargo. The film will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 13.]
The tip of Evangelion has arrived — for actual, this time.
Twenty-six years after the TV premiere of Neon Genesis Evangelion (and 24 years after its theatrical alternate ending, The Finish of Evangelion), Hideaki Anno’s seemingly endless saga has lastly come to a detailed. The much-awaited, long-delayed fourth installment within the Rebuild of Evangelion movie collection that retells the unique TV collection’ story, Evangelion 1.0+3.0: Thrice Upon a Time scales the steep emotional partitions constructed by its predecessors, and bloodies its fingers through the climb. Nevertheless it additionally options unusually quiet stretches, which permit for shifting reflections involving the movie’s lead characters, younger mecha pilots Ikari Shinji (Ogata Megumi), Shikinami Asuka Langley (Miyamura Yūko) and Ayanami Rei (Hayashibara Megumi). It’s daring, dazzling, introspective, and infrequently disturbing, which makes it a becoming capper to not solely the brand new movie collection, however to the Evangelion story as an entire.
A sweeping, action-packed opening re-introduces the battle between NERV — now a nihilistic demise cult led by Shinji’s father, Ikari Gendo (Tachiki Fumihiko), a person hell-bent on triggering the apocalypse — and WILLE, the emergent resistance power captained by a stoic Katsuragi Misato (Mitsuishi Kotono). Shinji’s once-upbeat guardian now instructions a battalion led by a pair of Evangelions piloted by Asuka and Mari (Sakamoto Maaya). By this level, 14 years have handed in-world for the reason that Rebuild story started with 2007’s Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. In that point, NERV’s horde of recent Evangelion items have turn out to be indistinguishable from the monstrous, interdimensional “Angels” it was as soon as tasked with defeating.
To thwart them, WILLE assembles fleets of floating naval vessels in more and more complicated formations. (Certainly one of these ships, the Wunder, continues to accommodate Shinji’s former Eva, Unit 01.) Whereas the opening primarily establishes the movie’s war-torn backdrop, it takes the type of a kaleidoscopic tableau, the place the dimensions handily dwarfs the collection’ earlier mecha-kaiju punch-ups. It establishes, as soon as and for all, how unthinkably huge, interconnected, and all-consuming humanity’s creations on this collection have turn out to be. The motion appears spectacular, however feels more and more determined.
At 155 minutes in size — an hour longer than 2012’s Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo — the movie just isn’t solely filled with motion spectacle, it incorporates a vital quantity of downtime. Opening shortly after the occasions of the earlier movie, it immerses the viewers in a world that has been making an attempt to heal and rebuild, as Shinji, Asuka, and Rei develop accustomed to life in a tiny, self-sustaining village surrounded by particles and populated by kindly volunteers. These scenes painting the sort of rustic simplicity and zest for all times which can be at stake, as the specter of a fourth and certain ultimate apocalypse looms. Within the scope of the bigger collection, this transient escape gives not solely hints of the sort of normalcy these little one troopers have by no means identified, however a serene portrait of what their lives may’ve been, in the event that they weren’t sure by damaging circumstances and the whims of merciless adults.
That is the story being advised in literal phrases, however “literal” isn’t the collection’ lingua franca. The Rebuild movies, which started as a reboot of the TV present, have by no means been specific about their connection to earlier variations of the story, however this rural escape appears like a stolen glimpse of a a lot kinder alternate actuality. However after all, as long as Shinji, Asuka and Rei are piloting the Evangelions — whether or not by selection, or as a result of they’re among the many solely ones who can — happiness is barely a fantasy. The movie bides its time throughout these village segments, then begins an prolonged, action-heavy plunge towards a realm of abstraction, amid an infinite crescendo that contorts the collection’ already unsettling imagery, twisting it far sufficient round itself to create one thing fully new.
The character drama underlying the motion packs an emotional wallop. Shinji nonetheless hates himself. In attempting to save lots of the world and the “authentic” Rei, in 2009’s Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, he was manipulated into triggering the apocalyptic Third Affect, and in his determined makes an attempt to undo the injury in 3.0, he almost triggered a Fourth. That cataclysm was prevented, no less than quickly, nevertheless it led to the horrific demise of Nagisa Kaworu (Ishida Akira), which Shinji witnessed up shut. Like in Neon Genesis, Kaworu, an “Angel” in human kind, was the one particular person to indicate Shinji unconditional love, so watching him die and even perhaps inflicting his demise has left Shinji frozen in a second of horrific grief and inescapable trauma as he re-enters the world.
Shinji can not fathom deserving the kindness the villagers present him. For concern of inflicting extra hurt, he can barely make selections. Asuka, who undoubtedly cares for him, loathes him for his indecisiveness and the methods it has harm her, to the purpose that she’s violent towards him, and never within the cutesy, slapstick method seen in Neon Genesis. For followers who’ve lengthy cared for these characters, their continued bodily and emotional torment is extremely exhausting to look at.
These beats really feel acquainted, since they replicate the story advised in Neon Genesis and The Finish of Evangelion, however they arrive with the added layer of Shinji and Asuka having been trapped of their teenage our bodies for the 14-year hole between the second and third movies, as a bodily facet impact of piloting their Evas. That is each a key to Asuka’s frustrations at being unable to maneuver ahead, and the final word expression of Shinji’s arrested emotional growth, which in flip challenges a extra world-weary Misato, who’s torn between defending Shinji like she used to, and saving the world at any value. In the meantime, the brand new Rei — a duplicate of the model in prior movies, who was herself a clone of Shinji’s mom — is an individual refracted a number of occasions over. She lacks a way of identification, so she struggles to beat the identical emotional numbness that continues to plague Shinji. Her journey, although it doesn’t take up an excessive amount of of the runtime, is especially shifting, because it provides essentially the most stark and direct distinction between residing below Gendo’s manipulative thumb, as she did in 3.0, and eventually escaping it.
Freedom, on this planet of Thrice Upon a Time, is a uncommon and beneficial factor. When it lastly seems, it takes the type of little joys and easy pleasures — moments during which different individuals share the burden of existence — and it begins to really feel much more treasured as Gendo’s deliberate cataclysm attracts close to.
Because it seems, Gendo, maybe greater than some other character, is the definitive stamp separating the Rebuild collection from prior iterations. His fanatical deal with “Instrumentality” — the melding of all human consciousness so he can lastly reunite along with his late spouse — has lengthy been an implicit cause for his rejection of Shinji. In earlier conclusions to the story (episode 26 of the Neon Genesis collection, and The Finish of Evangelion), Shinji’s self-actualization, his rejection of Instrumentality, and his want to proceed present had been an implicit rejection of Gendo in flip. However on this movie, their fraught father-son dynamic is a way more central a part of the story. As this battle unfurls, the route taken by the movie feels each acquainted, in its use of impressionistic montages and a wild number of animated aesthetics, and fully novel, due to the concepts and pictures these montages include, and what weaknesses they unearth.
The plot is suitably dense for an Evangelion movie, with lore and mythological ideas changing into related mere moments after they’re launched. The collection has at all times laid its monitor instantly in entrance of the practice, however the logistics behind, for example, some glowing crucifix or holy lance popping into existence are hardly crucial components of the saga. The sudden injection of this stuff right into a given scene is often a operate of Gendo being 10 steps forward of anybody else, because the heroes at WILLE wrestle to wrap their minds round actually hellish ideas simply to maintain tempo.
Viewers might query what these ideas imply for the plot, however an infinitely extra intriguing query is what they imply for a narrative the place characters — even minor ones — are hopelessly outgunned, in opposition to gargantuan symbols of their very own cosmic insignificance. What’s the story of the Evangelion franchise, if not a seek for even essentially the most fleeting spark of human worth within the face of huge, ceaseless nihilism?
Anno and co-directors Tsurumaki Kazuya, Maeda Mahiro, and Nakayama Katsuichi pull off the herculean feat of ending the identical story for a 3rd time whereas additionally making certain that this ending lastly feels definitive. They provide a meta-textual clarification for this finality, one which makes sure prior interpretations of the Rebuild movies barely extra specific. However finally, any makes an attempt to type the Evangelion collection right into a neat chronological canon will possible be futile, and rightly so. Every iteration of the story is, in its personal manner, about discovering methods to maneuver ahead and take care of the ugliness of existence, a story that transcends ones and zeroes every time it warps human flesh and exposes essentially the most susceptible components of the human soul.
With Thrice Upon a Time, Anno figures out essentially the most significant manner for Shinji to confront the cycles of trauma, despair, and self-loathing the place he’s been trapped since 1995, and the place Anno has been trapped alongside him, as he retains repeating Shinji’s story. The reply, it might appear, is for Shinji to lastly strategy his issues head on as an alternative of working away from them. That sounds straightforward sufficient. Asuka has even been handing him that resolution for 2 and a half a long time. However when each motion or determination feels prefer it carries the burden of the world — whether or not it entails getting within the robotic or just getting away from bed — no problem may presumably be extra devastating, and no rigorous self-reflection extra cathartic or affirming.