By Charles Solomon | Animation Scoop January 16, 2014 at 5:00PM
In Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012), the third installment in his four-feature retelling of his watershed series Neon Genesis Evangelion, writer-director Hideaki Anno pulls out all the stops in an visually dazzling but emotionally unsettling film. You Can (Not) Redo is being shown throughout the country in brief engagements prior to its release on disc in February.
The storyline of the new feature diverges from the original TV program, but pushes the visual boundaries of this dystopic sci-fi epic. The original Evangelion opened in 2015, fifteen years after what was believed to be a giant meteor struck Antarctica, devastating much of the Earth. Humans and the mysterious aliens known as Angels had been locked in a deadly struggle ever since. Scientists at the NERV Center in the fortress-city of Tokyo 3 led the battle against the Angels with the giant cyborgs called Evangelions (or Evas), piloted by psychic teenagers.
As the new feature begins, Shinji Ikari (voice by Spike Spencer), the reluctant, neurotic pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, awakens and discovers he’s been in a coma for 14 years. While he was unconscious, the cataclysmic Third Impact—which he may have triggered in his efforts to rescue fellow-pilot Rei - destroyed most of Tokyo 3. Misato (Allison Keith), Asuka (Tiffany Grant) and his other friends now work for a new organization VILLA, the sworn opponents of their old employer NERV. After Shinji is kidnapped and taken to NERV headquarters, he’s befriended by Kaworu (Jerry Jewell), the only individual who treats him with genuine kindness.
Shinji's dictatorial father Commander Ikari continues to work at NERV, simultaneously plotting with and against the mysterious SEELE cabal and their plan to alter human evolution, which is somehow linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls. He deploys Shinji and Kaworu in the new Eva Unit 13, which requires two pilots, to retrieve Longinus and Cassius, the two lances that impaled the eerie creature known as Lilith during the Third Impact.
As they begin their mission, Misato's forces attack, led by Eva pilot Asuka. Kaworu begins to doubt the real purpose of their mission, but Shinji seizes the lances. Unit 13 transforms and something approaching all hell breaks loose. Kaworu realizes that he is actually the 13th Angel: His presence is triggering the Fourth Impact. He commits suicide in an effort to halt the catastrophe.
Anno unleashes an extraordinary array of visual effects to suggest the scale of the Fourth Impact and its historical/ontological/theological significance. Gravity is compromised, explosions proliferate and the sky fills with rings of color that suggest the atmosphere of Jupiter. Shinji’s already fragile psyche nearly shatters as he witnesses the mind-numbing power he’s inadvertently released. Asuka yanks him back to sanity - and VILLA - as the principal characters prepare for the ultimate confrontation with Commander Ikari, SEELE and the Angels in the next film.
Anno never seemed to know how to end the Evangelion story - he recut the last six TV episodes, then reworked them into the theatrical feature Evangelion: Death and Rebirth (1997). When it failed to satisfy audiences, Anno made a second feature, End of Evangelion (1997). In that film, the remnants of a linear plot dissolved into a protracted collage that suggested animated schizophrenia.
In this new cycle, Anno says he is recreating Evangelion as he initially envisioned it, unconstrained by technological and budgetary limits. Audiences on both sides of the Pacific are waiting to see if the changes he’s introduced will enable him to bring his mystical saga to a satisfying conclusion.
You Can (Not) Redo is not an easy film to watch. Shinji’s alienation and suffering are disturbing. Viewers who haven’t seen the first two films in the remake (or the TV series) will find themselves hopelessly lost; even fans may have trouble following some of the new plot twists. But after the wearying sameness of so many recent American features, You Can (Not) Redo is as shocking and energizing as the slap a Zen master would administer to a student.