Well, they can say what they like about being (not) able to redo, with this the third of the four Rebuild films, a whole lot has been redone. We’re a long way from the first in the series’ repetition of crucial scenes from the original here, and in a whole new and interesting continuity.
You Can (Not) Advance finished with a big deviation from the plot of the original – it seemed instrumentality was imminent, until Kaworu showed up with the Lance of Longinus and put a stop to that. ‘I anticipate a good half of 3.0’s length to be given to trauma and suffering and weirdness’, I wrote at the time, and I wasn’t exactly wrong – though what I got was nothing like what I expected.
Fourteen years have passed since then. Shinji, who was about to trigger the Third Impact from inside Eva Unit 1, was extracted, but remained asleep for that long. Asuka and Mari are still piloting Eva, but the three of them seem not to have aged at all as a side-effect of piloting. It is hinted that in the interim Touji joined the other ‘children’, but it is only a hint – though his little sister is now involved in the running of the Evangelion. She does not work for NERV, however. There the most dramatic changes have happened.
Misato and Ritsuko are no longer juniors at Nerv. Instead, they are part of WILLE, set up to oppose NERV and the machinations of Gendou. When Shinji began Human Instrumentality in his attempts to save Rei, many of the horrors seen in the original End of Evangelion’s version of the cataclysm seemingly came to pass, including immense crosses sprouting in a red wasteland and, implicitly, a giant Rei rearing up and having its head fall off. The simple act of trying to save a girl he cared about brought about the deaths of millions and only Kaworu’s intervention with the Lance of Longinus stopped it. Of course, Shinji is ignorant to this at first, to why Misato and the rest treat him like a criminal and fit him with an explosive collar, why they have taken his Unit 01 and converted it into the power source for a huge airship called the Wunder. He is still confused when Rei – some version of Rei – attacks in a new Eva and wanting answers, Shinji goes with her.
He is taken to NERV, now with the sky visible above it. Distant as ever, Gendou tells him he can pilot a new Eva alongside mysterious white-haired boy Kaworu. Kaworu is once again mysterious, gentle, deeply insightful and preternaturally knowledgeable, and takes Shinji under his wing to treat him respectfully in a masterful display of manipulation. They begin to play piano duets in some of the film’s stillest and most beautiful scenes, but part of their bond involves Kaworu revealing the truth – that what has happened to the world is Shinji’s fault. Shinji begins his descent into despair again, and if anybody wants to complain about his whining and angst, I think being responsible for the deaths of almost all mankind justifies it.
Kaworu convinces Shinji that recovering the Lance of Longinus – and also the Lance of Cassius, added for whatever reason and the iffiest bit of Christian mythological esoteria added here – the near-Third Impact will be undone and everything will be happy again. Now, for the plot to work, it must be that Kaworu truly believes this, and is not simply being manipulative, because otherwise his actions stopping the Third Impact in the first place, as well as his heroic, horrific actions once he realises that this ‘Lance of Cassius’ is not there, only another part of the Lance of Longinus, make no sense. He is still everything he was in the original and perhaps more, still oddly homoerotic with his affections, and still acts based on a piece of information that turns out to be critically wrong, but it seems that to make sense of the plot of 3.33 we must accept that he was misled and did not want the ‘doors of Guf’ (slightly iffy but acceptable Judeo-Christian mythology reference) to open or the Fourth Impact to take place. He has essentially become another of Gendou’s pawns.
As ever, the plot is complex and full of bizarre lofty ideas, but everything is presented in an exciting and fast-paced manner, and leads to an interesting cliffhanger with Asuka, Shinji and Rei together again, this time with no Eva units left. The fight scenes, explosions and huge flying battleships are a marvel, and the CG-heavy imagery is stunningly good throughout, even if it’s the human parts that are most interesting. The scale is a little overblown now, post-apocalyptic with advanced technology, and the human heart of this film is kept at a distance knowing Kaworu is not all he says he is. I hope that the next film has a little more humanity, but at the same time I will not be surprised if it is still more harsh and clinical – yet beautiful.