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Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time is an astonishing conclusion to one of science fiction’s greatest works

Evangelion 3.0+1.0

The final film in Hideaki Anno’s retelling of his giant android psychodrama wraps up with a simultaneously epic and intimate coming-to-terms for its hard-traveled protagonists.

Let me start by saying this: Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time is the best film I have seen in 2021 so far. It’s a gorgeously animated conclusion to one of 20th and 21st-century science fiction’s great works. It executes both its quiet, still moments and its grand setpieces with care and precision. The voice cast (who have been playing these roles for decades, going back to the original 1995 television series Neon Genesis Evangelion) and the animation team give the cast an excellently detailed life and liveliness. 3.0+1.0‘s editing—particularly during its extended, tone-jumping climax—is downright sublime.

The imagery? To paraphrase Sam Peckinpah, I will not be forgetting what I’ve seen in Evangelion 3.0+1.0 any time soon. I do not think I could. From a ruined piece of pre-Impact infrastructure twirling in a patch of broken gravity to one of the titular gargantuan combat androids going to work on a swarm of bizarre, disturbing opponents, it’s indelible. Whether familiar or bizarre, beautiful or horrifying, 3.0+1.0‘s imagery is, without fail, flabbergasting.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0
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Here’s the thing though: like Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time is not a film to just plop down in front of blind. It’s the conclusion to the Evangelion: New Theatrical Edition/Rebuild of Evangelion project–a four-film alternative take on the story originally told in the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series and the 1997 theatrical films Evangelion: Death (TRUE)² and The End of Evangelion (all of which are currently available on Netflix, and which are due out on home media at some point later this year from GKids). For folks who’d like to give 3.0+1.0 a shot, Amazon Prime, which is distributing 3.0+1.0 internationally, will also be streaming the first three Rebuild films.

While familiarity with the original Evangelion isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy the Rebuild films, 3.0+1.0 is pulling triple duty. It’s not only the conclusion to Rebuild‘s story, it’s a conclusion to all of Evangelion that has come before, and to creator Hideaki Anno’s time with the series that has defined his career. 3.0+1.0 is a picture with layers, and it’ll play best for folks who know what all it’s digging into.

The density of 3.0+1.0‘s interests does not overwhelm its storytelling, which is as effective as it is idiosyncratic.

Amongst the subjects Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time engages with, sometimes subtextually but often directly? Anno’s fraught relationship with his creation and the public/fandom’s reaction to it, as well as his experiences living with at times severe depression. The joys and perils of creative work. The necessity of human connection, resilience, and doing the work to heal after trauma. Ultraman (which just so happens to be Ultra series super-fan Anno’s next live-action project). The futility of pursuing a perfect life. The humanity of failed parents. The fact that giant horrifying androids built in part to fight logic-breaking aliens are, aside from being potent vehicles for metaphor, really flipping cool.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0
©khara

The density of 3.0+1.0‘s interests does not overwhelm its storytelling, which is as effective as it is idiosyncratic.

After an opening action sequence that pits Evangelion pilot Mari Makinami Illustrious (voiced by Maaya Sakamoto) against a horde of biomechanical creeps from the depths of the uncanny valley, 3.0+1.0 goes quiet. It tracks severely traumatized protagonist Shinji Ikari (voiced by Megumi Ogata), embittered, war-hardened Evangelion pilot Asuka Shikinami (voiced by Yûko Miyamura), and a nameless clone of their fellow pilot Rei Ayanami (voiced by Megumi Hayashibara) during their stay in a place unlike anywhere Shinji and the Clone have ever been—a place where some of them can, to paraphrase Mad Max 2, “learn to live again.”

This sequence recalls the Cuba interlude in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, a moment of stillness, peace, and revelation for people who’ve had all too few chances for all three, but one that must inevitably end. It lays the groundwork for the emotional content of Evangelion 3.0+1.0‘s climax, wherein questions are asked, answers are given, android whale battleships fight, reality goes sideways, and things get thoroughly, gloriously zonked.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0
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The tonal plates Evangelion 3.0+1.0‘s climax spins are so disparate in their feels and speeds that it’s easy to imagine the whole thing collapsing into an anti-reality moosh of incoherence and constant lore-spewing. Anno, working in concert with co-directors Kazuya Tsurumaki (FLCL), Mahiro Maeda (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Katsuichi Nakayama (Millenium Actress), ensures that does not happen. They deploy the same love for methodology, process, and problem-solving that Anno wielded to great effect on Shin Godzilla to keep 3.0+1.0‘s focus on what’s happening, rather than how it’s happening.

The result is filmmaking that retains its emotional consistency. Through 3.0+1.0‘s thrills and terror and some rather excellent jokes, the impact (heh) remains true.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0
©khara

And man, that impact. Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time does not screw around on that front. From text to subtext, it is a deeply moving motion picture, a movie that gets its hooks into the head and the heart in the best way. For folks who love/are fascinated by Evangelion, this is the film of 2021. I am so, so glad to have seen it.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time launches on Amazon Prime on August 13th.

Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time Trailer:

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CategoriesMovies