Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance
When I watched the first of the four new Evangelion films, You Are (Not) Alone, I was given cause to rejoice. Many viewers thought it was beautifully animated, but it didn't accomplish anything really new. For me, however, it was enjoyable not only for its fabulous visuals and score but also for shoring up some of the excesses of the TV show. The opening few episodes were always the highlight of the series to me anyway, and this new presentation gave me hope that I could not only become an Evangelion fan but also introduce non-anime lovers to the franchise. But what of the next section? Frankly, I got stuck in episodes 6-11 at least three times before I finally finished the TV series. It was a gigantic roadblock for me. Was Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance going to wind up better or worse?
Much like the first film, Evangelion 2.22 streamlines the story and highlights the visuals. It does one better in that some of the most annoying character traits from the original program are lessened and occasionally eliminated, which is a huge plus. I enjoyed it much more than its television counterpart. That said, the material in this segment of Evangelion just isn't as interesting as the first, no matter how you reorganize or trim it. Add to that some wink-wink fan service and the return of the asinine pseudo-theological nonsense the first film avoided, and you have a movie that doesn't quite reach the greatness it desires.
As the film begins, we become very aware that the battle with the Angels is not limited to Japan. We're introduced to a new character, Mari, who's a British Eva pilot who will eventually find her way into Japan. But really, she appears to be something new for the sake of newness, and not much else happens with her. In the meantime, the real fireworks begin with the introduction of Asuka, the self-assured pilot who has no use for anyone but herself. She introduces wrinkles into the relationship between Shinji and the ever-quiet Rei while being the most annoying 14-year-old ever to have walked the Earth. Shinji's already strained relationship with his dad reaches new lows, and he must decide whether he can walk away from being an Eva pilot in rebellion. By the time the credits roll, everything we now know may be ending. Oh, and a whole lot of Angels are blown up most convincingly...which is probably the reason most of us watch in the first place.
While Evangelion 2.22 still looks excellent, I can't say that the filmmaking elements blew me away like they did during the first film. Strikingly, the score isn't up to snuff. Not that the music is bad, mind you, but the first film knew exactly when and where to place the themes for maximum impact. I admit that a good soundtrack can influence me significantly, but I just wasn't feeling it this time. I'm also not quite sure if Mari's character design really fits in with the other pilots, but I can deal with that.
On the plot side, events definitely unfold differently than the series. Having only seen the whole thing once, I'm not the one who can point out what's new and what's moved around in the timeline, but the feel is different. On the whole, I liked it. Yes, it was still too slow, and yes, they tried to cram too much into the film. But I can't fault it for being a whole lot easier to digest than the original. The one exception to this is near the end when a whole bunch of Dead Sea Scrolls gobbledygook starts flying trying to explain what's happening, and the speech makes the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded look coherent and compelling. I wish they would have dropped some of the religious tie-ins, but not for the reasons you might think. I'm not offended by them; I don't really expect anybody in Japan (a country that's 2% Christian) to understand my faith. But nobody, I mean nobody, can interpret the stuff that Evangelion claims, and there's nothing more stupid than a person who speaks in highly elevated language trying to conceal the fact he really knows nothing about what he's talking about. I had thought this stuff had gone by the wayside, but alas. Nevertheless, set that bit of anti-intellectual intellectualism aside, and you've got a decent if overstuffed ride.
Another bit I thought Evangelion had left behind was its fan service. While it was a running joke in the series, the first film had little. Here, it's not overwhelming, but it is disturbing, especially when it all revolves around 14-year-old girls. You have bits where a tiny piece of metal covers nipples or a well-placed object obscures something else private. Admittedly, it's done in such a way that it is vaguely funny. That said, I think it limits the audience that these films could have amongst folks who aren't already fans.
Now that I've gotten some of those problems out of the way, I do want to commend some of the key differences in Evangelion 2.22 for the better, and they're almost all character related. Shinji is no longer a milquetoast. Rei displays bits of personality, even shards of warmth. Asuka, much as I can't stand her, has a few moments where your heart might go out to her. I wouldn't say that this is a kinder, gentler Evangelion; I'd say it's a more relatable one. If the final two films pick up on the mental warfare so prevalent in the last third of the series, I will care more this time around. That's a good thing.
If you are an Evangelion fan, this review probably doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things to you, as you already own the Blu-Ray and the wall scroll and just want to see if somebody else's opinion lines up with yours. On the other hand, if you're weren't really sold the first time around like I wasn't and aren't sure if you're ready to dive back in, I can safely say that the waters are less choppy this time around. I'm a little disappointed that this film doesn't quite live up to the raves I keep reading about it...but then again, I thought that about the TV series too. Unlike my experience with the original, I'm interested to see how they are going to conclude the storyline this time around. I imagine if you set your expectations a bit low, you'll find it rewarding if not the end of the world as we know it. (Besides, I'm sure they're saving that for the last film.)
Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance -- violence (occasionally graphic), fan service and brief nudity, infrequent but occasionally strong profanity -- B+