A review requested by Bryce Wilson, with thanks for his multiple contributions to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.

So much for redemption. The third and so-far final part of the Rebuild of Evangelion series (the concluding fourth part is overdue with no release date in sight), Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, doesn't merely fail to button up the holes left by Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, it dances around clapping and laughing about how signally it fails to do so, how little it cares if that's what we might have been interested in, and how many brand new holes it's ripping open. It's quite an aggressive little beast on that front. The first two movies, even when they were incomplete, or confusing, or weighed down with too much murky spiritual philosophy, are still ultimately appealing and enjoyable films on their own right, but You Can (Not) Redo finally goes over the edge to become simply frustrating and tedious and damn near unwatchable in stretches. It's a fans-only proposition, and based on the online conversation around the movie, even a healthy portion of the fanbase wouldn't give it the time of day.

This third film - still officially unavailable in North America, though rumors persist of an extended cut showing up one of these days, for sure this time - has the decency to seem merely mysterious and exciting when it starts, though the second those mysteries start to clear up, tit's easy to wish they hadn't. After almost causing the end of humanity but being stopped just in time by a mysterious figure watching the battles between Angels and Evas from the surface of the moon, Shinji is floating, unconscious, in space, still strapped in EVA-01. He's rescued by Asuka and Mari, but not without incident; their approach triggers a drone attack and the first of the film's grandiose action sequences, and thus comes the first point at which You Can (Not) Redo started losing me. Consistently, the action sequences in these films have been the easiest part to like: conceived with great scope, animated with a beautiful mixture of traditional and computer-generated images, and given operatic heft by Sagisu Shiro's rich score, mixing symphonic chorales that all but beg us to be suitably bowled over by the size and severity of the fighting. Sagisu, at least, is still in top form: You Can (Not) Redo has my favorite score of the three movies, richer than anything in Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone and not as undermined by thin, frivolous passages in You Can (Not) Advance.

The action, though, is nowhere near the level of its predecessors. Throughout, the filmmakers' goal has evidently been to create individually meaningful shots rather than show smooth, continuous action sequences linked by clarity and easy continuity, but the fighting in the third film is actively difficult to follow, and in this first battle at least, there's no sense of scale. In the few places where it's possible to track whatever the hell is happening, the action is presented from angles that minimise the size of the Evangelion units, and without any physical context to compensate for it. A movie about giant robot fighting machines, in theory, has to do just one thing right, and...

Back to the plot, though. We'll learn soon, though perhaps not soon enough, that 14 years have passed since the end of You Can (Not) Advance, during which time an organisation named WILLE has come into being in opposition to NERV, and Misato herself is one of its leaders. Shinji is treated with a profound lack of trust by his former friends and colleagues when he's not ignored by them outright, and retreats in the empty misery that's his default mode. At a certain point, he's rescued by Rei, and dropped on the surface of Earth, in the ruins of NERV headquarters, and it's here that he meets a young man named Nagisa Kaworu (Ishida Akira) - the same mysterious figure we've seen on the moon in the final moments of the last two movies. And here we get what amounts to an exposition dump, after two and a half movies finally learning more or less exactly what's going on. What's going on is a slurry of pieces from Genesis and Revelation mixed in a blender. Shinji makes some unbelievably stupid decisions and almost brings about the end of all life for the second time, leading the film's second and distinctly more coherent giant action setpiece.

The chief practical effect of all this is to shortchange the development of the characters (the series' best element to this point) in favor of doubling-down on mythology (which I, for one, would call its worst element). And not only is this the least psychologically acute of the films, it actually works at cross-purposes to what has been best in the two movies preceding it: the hard-earned sense of family and comradeship between the insular, cripplingly depressed Shinji and Misato, Asuka, and Rei. You Can (Not) Redo runs so hard from that, it's almost openly contemptuous of the earlier character arcs. And while the conversations between the hollowed-out Shinji and the kindly Kaworu are interesting - and certainly the strongest part of the film, both narratively, and even, though probably coincidentally, visually - that hardly justifies the zeal with which Anno and his colleagues abandon what had been working so well to that point.

It's a shambles at the level of writing, leaving its characters wrecked in the quest to do something needlessly bold with the mythology, and far too eager to leave plot holes hanging everywhere, possibly to set up the eventual fourth movie, and probably just because being mystifying was more fun than being cogent. At least You Can (Not) Redo looks more or less attractive, though I find the character animation to be the least appealing of the films - it's brighter and sharper, but also more cartoony, almost, with bigger, gaudier expressions. Still, the marriage of animation styles hasn't looked better, and some of the effects animation is legitimately as perfectly executed as anything I have ever seen. That being said, it's telling that the most unique and beautiful sequence is one of the most primitive: a depiction of Shinji's feelings as he listens to Kaworu playing piano that uses line drawings and stills with lots of empty space and a reduced color scheme. In the midst of a bright and busy movie, the calm, reductive style of this sequence stands out, and it looks special in a way that all the glossy, ambitious art elsewhere in the film can't, simply by virtue of there being too much of it.

Looking handsome only goes so far, and it's not enough. This is basically the mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Michael Bay's Transformers that nobody asked for, and which doesn't work much at all. It's visually chaotic and narratively confusing, which is perhaps a marriage of form and content, but not the kind we should be celebrating. The quality of the first two movies is enough to give me some hope that the eventual conclusion is heading someplace interesting, but after the almost uninterrupted joylessness of this one, I can't say that I'm champing at the bit for the fourth part to finally come out.

Reviews in this series
Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (Anno et al, 2007)
Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (Anno et al, 2009)
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo (Anno et al, 2012)