Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. (2009/2010)

aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha / Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Break

2011 #65
Hideaki Anno, Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 112 mins | Blu-ray | 15

Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) AdvanceJust over a year since the preceding film made it to UK DVD and Blu-ray, and two years since this was theatrically released in Japan, the second part of creator Hideaki Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy reaches British DVD/BD today. Continuing to re-tell the story originally visualised in the exceptional, and exceptionally popular, TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, You Can (Not) Advance throws in more changes to the original tale than its predecessor, including at least one significant new character.

This is very clearly a second part. It hits the ground running, with no thought for those not up to speed on the characters and events so far. Indeed, there’s perhaps little regard for those who may be familiar with it anyway: certain significant events rattle past, the storyline spewing mysteries via dialogue we barely understand, so dense is it with references and allusions. In some respects that’s realistic, of course — why would characters explain, for instance, the Vatican Treaty to each other when they all know about it — but it might leave the viewer struggling to keep up. It’s not all like that, but there’s plenty of it; and when there’s few answers forthcoming within the film itself, the mysterious references feel even more opaque.

Eva vs AngelFor my money, the first 40 minutes or so of the film are (by and large) the best bits. It opens with a barnstorming action sequence, a great scene for newbies and fans alike as we’re introduced to Eva pilot Mari, who didn’t appear in the TV series. That she then disappears for most of the film, only to make a thoroughly mysterious return later, is one of those explanation-lacking flaws. I’m sure it won’t look so bad once the next two films provide us with answers. Well, I hope not.

After that the film seems to trade one-for-one on character scenes and action sequences: ostensible lead character Shinji and his father have what amounts to a heart-to-heart, for them, in a vast cemetery; Eva pilot Asuka is introduced in another action sequence — different to her intro in the TV series, and I’d say not as memorable, though it’s still visually exciting. This is followed by some of the film’s best sequences: an “everyday morning in Tokyo III” montage is a beautifully realised piece of animation, depicting the commute to work/school under the backdrop of a megacity that can sink and rise as needed, moving into the school lives of our band of awkward misfit ‘heroes’. It’s not readily describable on the page, which is arguably the definition of properly filmic entertainment.

AsukaThen the gang take a trip to a scientific installation which is trying to preserve the oceans and their wildlife. It feels like animation shouldn’t be as effective for such a sequence as, say, the footage in a David Attenborough documentary, but nonetheless it feels extraordinary, in its own way. It also marks itself out with the interaction of the characters on a fun day out rather than their usual high-pressure monster-fighting world. And then it’s back to that world for another impressive three-on-one Angel attack.

I’m loath to say it’s after this that Evangelion 2.22 begins to slip off the rails, because flicking back through it after (the distinct advantage of watching something on DVD rather than in a cinema!) I struggled to find any point where I felt it lost its way or dragged with an interminable or pointless sequence. That said, this is where it begins to get more complicated. Much is made of the international situation, something I don’t recall from the TV series. It’s a neat addition — the world bickering over who has the Evas and how many — but it takes some following at times and the relevance isn’t always clear.

Rei vs AsukaBut it’s all building somewhere. For one, there’s another of the film’s best sequences — certainly, its most shocking, which readily earns the 15 certificate. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone yet to see the film, because it’s one of the plot points that differs from the TV series, but it involves the death of a main character in a brutal, deranged way. I say “death” — they pop up in the third film trailer that runs after the end credits, so there’s more to this yet…

Other than that, it sometimes feels like the story is meandering through thematic points that don’t engage as well as the character and action ones earlier in the film. Again, flicking back through, I couldn’t spot what I felt had slowed it, so maybe it functions better on a second viewing, knowing what ending it’s headed towards — at least one apparently minor subplot is, in its own way, vital to the climax, and the climax is certainly vital: unlike the first film’s ending, which was suitably climactic but clearly with story left to tell, this is a major turning point, a proper cliffhanger. Indeed, after a long stretch of confusion, it’s something of a gut-punch to reach such a dramatic point. I loved it, even if I felt I was missing some of the significance of the five minutes that led up to it.

Watching Third ImpactAnd then, after the end credits, there’s a brief scene that throws another spanner in the works! Double-cliffhanger-tastic… one might say…

Oh, and we get an explanation for why Shinji’s still using a tape player in the near-future (which, you may remember, was a (minor) complaint I had about the last film).

The second new Evangelion film isn’t as straight-up enjoyable as the first. It starts incredibly well, but then it feels like its getting too bogged down in the politics of a world that hasn’t been properly established for us and in the intricacies of some thematic considerations — the latter is especially worrying as it was this that made the ending of the TV series so unsatisfactory, which in turn led to a pair of movies that, frankly, didn’t do that much better. But the ending did cause me to rethink my position a little, and perhaps a second viewing would find the whole film a better structured and more understandable experience.

Tokyo III sunsetIn short, if you’ve always liked Evangelion then you won’t be waiting for me to tell you this is a must-see reimagining; if You Are (Not) Alone was your first experience and you enjoyed it, this is an essential continuation of the story — but be prepared that it’s not as simplistically entertaining. I didn’t enjoy it as much on this first viewing, but it may in retrospect pan out as the better of the two.

4 out of 5

Evangelion 2.22 is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

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