After 26 years, “Evangelion” has finally concluded, and everything is well in the world. It’s been 14 years since Hideaki Anno began revisiting his iconic anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion” with the “Rebuild” films, which started as direct remakes but rapidly devolved into weaving their tale as they proceeded past the events of the original program into uncharted territory.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time completes the long-awaited fantasy trilogy with a daring, messy, upbeat, extremely ambitious, and sentimental film that broadens, completes, and comments on what came before while providing enthusiasts with a perfect end not only to the movie series but to the entire “Evangelion.” Anno has now been able to tell the tale he’s been trying to tell for his whole adult life, a story of healing and growing up, thanks to new technology and the advantage of hindsight.
After the last film’s non-stop suffering, “3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time” immediately reintroduces the primary struggle while underlining that this may be a different sort of story than viewers are accustomed to with “Evangelion.” Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata), Asuka Shikinami Langley (Yūko Miyamura), and the new Rei Ayanami clone (Megumi Hayashibara) continue to operate Evas — enormous humanoid mechas formed of extradimensional creatures known as Angels — but the stakes have changed.
Shinji unintentionally triggered the devastating Near Third Impact event, which stained the whole surface of the Earth blood-red. Second, we shift the action from Tokyo-3 to the streets of Paris, where the troops of the apocalyptic death cult NERV, commanded by our protagonist’s father, Gendo Ikari (Tachiki Fumihiko), fight with WILLE, a resistance movement led by Shiji’s upbeat-turned-stoic guardian, Katsuragi Misato (Mitsuishi Kotono).
Anno and his co-directors, Tsurumaki Kazuya, Maeda Mahiro, and Nakayama Katsuichi, immerse the viewer in a large-scale action set-piece for the soul of the City of Lights, with WILLE attempting to reverse the city’s crimson taint. All that stands between Asuka (Miyamura Yko) and Mari (Sakamoto Maaya) are a pair of Evangelions flown by Asuka (Miyamura Yko) and NERV’s horde of Evas. Take that, “Pacific Rim.” It’s an exciting opening sequence in which the top of the Eiffel Tower becomes the only weapon capable of halting the horde.
The film slows down substantially after the high-thrill start. The opening hour of “Thrice Upon a Time” is a lengthy, contemplative homage to the early episodes of the original anime, which supplemented the fantastic mecha combat with extended stretches of static frames and characters just contemplating their life.
This first act substantially extends “Evangelion’s” universe, revealing how regular people have been living in the 14 years following the Near Third Impact, rebuilding communities and attempting to purify the planet while coping with the giant moon floating above Tokyo and the millions of Evas roaming the Earth. The opening hour of the film acts as the penultimate reprieve before the climactic battle. Still, it also works to unravel our primary trio’s emotional condition and set them on a path to healing.
This first part of the movie dramatically expands the world of “Evangelion,” showing us how ordinary citizens have been living in the fourteen years since the Near Third Impact, rebuilding communities and attempting to purify the planet while coping with the giant moon floating above Tokyo and the millions of Evas roaming the Earth. The opening hour of the film acts as the penultimate reprieve before the climactic battle. Still, it also works to unravel our primary trio’s emotional condition and set them on a path to healing.
Finding their mission, addressing their trauma cycles, and even contemplating a future without combat and Evas, the world around them has progressed and grown up. Yet, the pilots are physically unable to age. Therefore, it seems to reason that the most organic portion of the film, in which Anno depicts the life that these kids should have had in a less harsh world, would be the most reminiscent of a live-action picture.
Anno previously described “Evangelion” as “a narrative that repeats itself.” This enigmatic statement has two meanings: it refers to the existence of the “Rebuild” tetralogy and that the series would most likely continue when Anno leaves. It also implies that it is a narrative about Shinji (and Anno) suffering repeatedly, each time going forward just a little bit. This suggests that the Shinji we meet in “Thrice Upon a Time” is a somewhat different character from the one from the earlier films or even the TV program, just as Anno is different from when he initially set out on this trip.
This film follows many of the same fundamental plot and character beats as the TV program’s last two episodes while gradually making more significant modifications that result in a more cheerful and comforting film than the iconic “The End of Evangelion.” Even characters who were previously relegated to the background are shown a great deal of empathy and compassion in the film. The new Rei clone, who was once essentially an empty shell of its former self, now has a lengthy subplot about learning to appreciate life.
Even Gendo Ikari, the worst parent in anime, gets more screen time than we’ve ever seen from him. This time, the father-son connection with Shinji is essential to the plot, resulting in very emotionally raw moments “Evangelion” has ever placed on the film.
The second part of Thrice Upon a Time” threatens to derail the entire film by dumping enough new concepts and terminology that will keep wiki-obsessed fans busy for years to come but detract from the meat of the tale. Oodles of bombastic action simply add to the distraction, as the picture gets so crammed that it’s impossible to follow, let alone contain.
The CG animation is at its weakest here, with swarms of adversaries dominating the screen but seeming like shadows of the last two movies’ high-stakes, dramatic clashes against the Angels. The worst part about this movie is that many of its combat sequences seem like they came directly out of “The Matrix Revolutions.”
Fortunately, the film rapidly understands that its battle sequences do not need to outperform earlier narrative iterations, and the finale becomes one final look back at the history of “Evangelion” itself. The last fight mixes Anno’s passion for tokusatsu as we relive TV program sequences, ending in an emotional and breathtaking remix of the previous two episodes of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” that plays with animation and provides introspections on characters to heal past wounds and go on.
The film even converts subtext into text and delivers massive surprises that pay off decades of backstory. It is a testimony to Hideaki Anno that, despite an infamously controversial production, he manages to make all of the minor improvements to the plot pay off in the end in a way that feels planned from the start.
The best compliment one can offer to “Thrice Upon a Time” is that it feels exactly like the “Evangelion” tale Anno envisioned all those years ago. This is a tale consistent with all that has come before it while also justifying its presence by offering something vital to the brand — closure. More than just remaking his most seminal work and replacing or reconnecting the past, “Thrice Upon a Time” is the culmination of a one-of-a-kind experiment. A “rebuild” that comments on and enhances the experience of watching “Neon Genesis Evangelion” while telling a compelling and essential story on its own. Whereas many movies finish with a rush of nostalgia intended to leave fans wanting more, this film closes with a reaffirmation of the desire to move out into the world and not look back.
Hideaki Anno’s “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time” is his ultimate healing from the creation of “Evangelion,” bringing closure not just to himself and his characters but to everybody who has ever seen themselves in them. “Evangelion” is finally finished after 26 years, and may it never return. Thank you very much. “Evangelion” as a whole, we bid you farewell. And congrats to all the youngsters who grew up with this narrative.