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Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
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by Jay Seaver

"In many ways, this is (not) an improvement."
3 stars

I didn't think much of the first "Rebuild of 'Evangelion'" movie when I saw it a couple years ago, but there might have been mitigating circumstances - the version I saw was dubbed, and it was the first of a projected four-film series, so it had a lot of set-up to do. This second film, "You Can (Not) Advance" runs somewhat smoother, because it trusts the audience a bit more. Whether it's trusting that the audience is made up of fans who already know what's going on or trusting that they can figure it out, and whether that trust is well-placed, is a trickier question.

As the film opens, humanity is still using giant "Evangelion" devices to defend the earth from attacking aliens, including the leviathans referred to as "Angels" which seem particularly intent on reaching material stored in a base underneath Tokyo-3. The Evas are piloted by teenagers, notably Rei Ayanami (voice of Megumi Hayashibara), the shy pilot of Eva-00, and Shinji Ikari (voice of Megumi Ogata), pilot of Eva-01 and son of Gendo Ikari (voice of Fumihiko Tachiki), the scientist in charge of the defense and part of a larger secret organization. They are joined by Asuka Langley Shikinami (voice of Yuko Miyamura), pilot of Eva-02, a gung-ho teen raised abroad certain that Rei and Shinji were selected for their connections to Gendo while she was chosen on merit.

Many sequels and second parts begin with some sort of recap, or drop in a few bits of dialogue to get the audience up to speed, but Evangelion 2.0 is having none of that. The properties' previous iterations in print and on television were serial, and the films are too, despite the long wait between installments. Hopefully, when all four are completed, the result will be a single cohesive narrative; for now, it means that the movie opens with a scene of a character who is clearly meant to be important but will not be seen again until at least the next installment. The big revelations from You Are (Not) Alone are pushed to the background for now, and the movie ends on something of a cliffhanger (two, actually, once the sequence after the closing credits is factored in). This is clearly a movie and series designed for dedicated fans, who are either going to re-watch the first before seeing this one or have watched it and/or the original Evangelion enough recaps and explanations would just slow them down.

Push the complex mythology back a little, and there's a pretty decent movie underneath. The abrasive Asuka gives the withdrawn Rei and the self-pitying Shinji the necessary kicks in the pants while learning some about connecting with other people herself; it's a straightforward-enough story arc, but it plays out well enough; there's a nice subplot for one of the adult characters, too. And that mythology (in some ways literal; the Angels' name is not completely random) is impressively vast but starting to pull together a little; writer/supervising director Hideaki Anno gives the tale some epic sweep while still grounding it in relatable emotions, and manages to throw in some humor without undercutting the story's high stakes.

The animation is technically superb as well, with the character designs simple but effective. There are some impressive flourishes throughout - little things like demonstrating how an underground city simulates sunrise - and very seldom are there obvious places where Anno and company scrimped (if something on screen is staying still, it's for emotional impact rather than to save money). The integration of digital work with the predominately traditional animation is very impressive; only one object (one of the Angels) really looks like a digital construct in a hand-drawn world. The action is staged very well indeed, no matter whether it's the tremendously fun (but still tense) battle where all three pilots have to work together or the more wrenching sequences near the end).

For all that, Anno's picture still has some serious flaws that might yank non-fans right out while reinforcing certain prejudices against anime in general: The gratuitous T&A fanservice, while often played with a winking bit of self-parody, sometimes works against a film that otherwise wants the audience to take it seriously. A fair amount of what seems like basic information is left out or downright illogical, and thought Anno does manage to throttle back on it fairly quickly, the start of the movie has its share of awkward dialogue and internal monologue and philosophizing. And then, on the other end, what could have been a genuine we're-not-messing-around-here shock is muted because it follows a long, heartfelt conversation that might as well have subtitles saying "I have reached the end of my character arc so now something tragic is about to happen to me".

Though likely utterly bewildering to the person who goes in cold, it's an improvement over the first film, to be sure. What it does well at least hints that when all is said and done, the "Rebuild of 'Evangelion'" series could be a pretty spiffy epic taken as a whole.

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originally posted: 03/06/11 03:10:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 29-Mar-2011



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