7. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
Alternate Title: "Shiny Happy Alien Battling Robots Teen Force 2".
Cigarette intake since viewing: One, but only because of college stress.
Currently listening to: "Magnum Force" by Lalo Schifrin.
The Gist: Teens in mechs beat the crap out of aliens, have personality issues and listen to too much Radiohead... again.
The Experience: One of my unspoken goals with this blog is to champion films that people wouldn't ordinarily go see at the cinema, which is why this week I'm doing this review of a film out on DVD and not burbling on about Green Lantern like every other critic and their dog.
The film in question is the second installment in the ponderously titled Rebuild of Evangelion series, whose persistence in returning to the screen over a decade after the original series ended is matched only by it's increasingly mind-boggling titles and protracted gaps in the release schedule. In an age when sequels have to be churned out every eighteen months to two years to make as much money as possible before the bubble pops, Evangelion's rate of knots between domestic and international release would make a particularly lazy sloth or Duke Nukem Forever look speedy and efficient by comparison; Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance for instance has been sitting around twiddling it's thumbs waiting for an dubbed release for TWO CUNTING YEARS. However, good things come to those who wait, and as with the previous installment, the time taken on the films has been well spent on giving everything the full HD makeover and ironing out little niggles like providing decent ADR material.
The premise I previously described waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in my review of the previous movie still largely fits: "It's (STILL) half past the future... Tokyo 3 is being attacked by the Angels, a race of unearthly behemoths intent on bringing about the end of humanity for… some reason. The only thing standing in the way of this happening is the titular Evangelion Unit 01, a bio-mechanical suit of powered armour which occasionally has a mind of its own, which is piloted by Shinji Ikari, typical teenager by day, agent of NERV and whiny bitch every other waking hour." Normally at this point in the review I'd say that it's probably a good idea to have seen the previous film first, but in Evangelion's case you may as well watch the whole series as well for all the good it will do. Shinji is still you're classic Luke Skywalker-esque fish-out-of-water protagonist, he's still shacked up with his hot commanding officer, his dad's still an incredible asshole, and he's still the only one standing in the way of total annihilation. Same as it ever was.
Whilst the overall arc of the film's story isn't massively different from the series, picking up roughly were the first left off but covering a condensed version of episodes 8-20, one of the main divergences from the original is that Shinji's character progression gets a bit more attention paid to it; whilst he still has all the charisma of a wet lettuce leaf as before, his constant whining has been toned down a bit, making him less of a pussy and more of a cunt.
We also get reintroduced to familiar characters such as serial womaniser/triple-agent Kaji (who, I might add, is responsible for me discovering that chicks dig pony-tails and stubble) and ball-busting Eva Unit 02 pilot Asuka, who likewise has been given a bit of a redrafted (i.e. changed drastically) character arc. Much of the appeal of Asuka in the series was her near-total belligerence towards Shinji interspersed with moments of angsty pubescent sexual tension which served to underpin her fractured personality, stunted emotional development and tangled family relationships. Here, we get precisely none of this, and whilst the post-credits teaser indicates she will inevitably be part of Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Be Serious whenever that comes out, her fate at the end of the second act was a letdown and struck me as being dangerously close to a classic example of Women in Refrigerator syndrome, a bad habit that series overseer Hideaki Anno still hasn't outgrown.
The one genuine case of a completely new character is Mari, another Eva pilot/eccentric young girl who is in the film for all of 5 minutes at the start and 10 minutes towards the end. Whatever we're supposed to know or feel about her is never made clear, other than the fact she's a slightly more approachable (if no less weird) addition to the cast of gawky teens with personalities handpicked from the works of Oliver Sacks. The fact is, at this point, she is little more than fanservice: window dressing for the otakus and fanboys, another hot chick to collect the action figure of or to feature in slashfiction. In a franchise already top-heavy with gender stereotypes and a focus on teen sexuality that would make J.K. Rowling unsettled, it's difficult to find merit in there being even more women to objectify. We also get a bit more of resident nancy-boy Kaworu sitting on things with his shirt off for the lady-boy lovers, so let it be said that this film at least gives equal shrift to both the male and female fanwank demographics.
Still, this much has proven to me that, whilst the sturm und drang of the battles is suitably epic and the visuals are cleaner and executed better than ever, the franchise hasn't really matured in any meaningful way. For every step it takes towards developing the characters imaginatively, it takes two steps back by either remaining too slavish to the original plot or by not giving the characters ample motivation or traceable development. Plus the whole Shinji shower gag that worked in the series and was redone both in 1.0 and now creepily with Asuka in 2.0 is getting a bit repetitive and showing its age. And no matter how much gratuitous cleavage is on display, an uninitiated viewer really shouldn't have to take the online equivalent of a correspondence course to understand what the fuck is going on or why you should care.
BUT the fact that I keep coming back to the well that is Evangelion means that either I am irrevocably incapable of outgrowing my Pink Floyd and anime phase or that there is still something to be taken away from this film series as we reach the half-way mark. It's neither as childish and pandering as the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Ohs of anime nor as mind-numbingly deep and ponderous as Akira or Ghost in the Shell; it's only handicap is its protracted history of fiddling with itself (literally and figuratively). I'm not saying this film will change your view on anime or make you a fan of the series, but it's a strong case for Evangelion becoming a genuine staple of the genre, jailbait T&A and all.
I drank the Kool-Aid, but I'd understand if it's not for you.