Say what you want about the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. The sheer amount of craftsmanship and detail on display, from the design of Tokyo-3 to the intricately detailed support systems for the pseudo-mecha themselves, remains a treat to watch.
However, there is something Evangelion 3.33 gets so fucking incomprehensibly wrong that despite the movie’s confident, thoughtful direction (say what you want about the plot and source material, but Anno thoughtfully raised his middle finger towards the entire audience and you can’t do that without confidence) I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone who loves titan-sized whatever-the-hell-the-evas-are-supposed-to-be stomping around.
For something to look huge – convincingly, jaw-droppingly massive – it needs to be convincingly placed next to something familiar and small.
How in the nine hells are you supposed to tell how big it is otherwise?
There’s this absolutely wonderful scene in the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie that’s a perfect example of this. One of the support weapons for EVA-01 is nothing more than an EVA-sized… gatling cannon. That fires bullets the size of cars.
Shinji hoses down the Angel with a stream of fire. Shell casings tumble out of the gun as fast as he can fire it. And then the shell casings land.
It’s then that you really begin to appreciate the scale of what’s going on. The Evangelion, a skyscraper-sized humanoid hooked up to a power grid that fuels a CITY, is firing a fucking gun as big as it is. And the SHELL CASINGS are big enough to crush SMALL CARS when they land. You start to understand the sheer size of the Evangelion, the world, the size of the weapons that even begin to be effective against the otherworldly enemies, and the like.
This is repeated again in the infamous sniper duel between EVA-01 and the Fifth Angel. The Fifth Angel is always shown with the city backdrop, framing it. The effects and power of the beam it fires are made very clear by the way the structural damage works around it. The slender, pencil-thin beam from the viewer angle seems like nothing, until it hits the mountain and the rock just begins to liquefy around the beam as it burns through thousands of tons of mass to hit the Evangelion at the other end.
Let’s not forget the buildup to this. Trucks and train cars are needed to connect the cabling and infrastructure just for the weapon’s power output. The positron sniper rifle itself has a humongous fuse in place of a rifle cartridge. The sense of scale and the size of everything is reinforced again and again. Humans are dots to the Evangelion, and the Evangelion itself is vulnerable when faced with otherworldly creatures of unimaginable power. The scale of everything is stressed.
Unfortunately, this kind of scale is missing from the third movie. Evangelion 3.33’s climactic battle takes place on a hill of giant skulls, around the giant corpse of a dead god responsible for much of the mass death that seems humanity’s lot in a post-Impact world. To Anno’s credit, it is a pretty fight. However, the sense of scale is almost utterly lost. In this scene, EVA units 13, 2, and 8 face each other down in a titanic struggle that could have been avoided if someone just explained to Shinji what was going on.
If you have two Evangelions fighting each other on a hill of Eva-sized skulls, with almost nothing else for size reference in the frame, we’ve got absolutely nothing to draw our visual frame of reference to. I mean, we know the Evas are big, but we can’t comprehend how big. For all we know, they could be human sized. If we presume the giant skulls to be human skulls, and use them as a size reference (and they are visually indistinguishable from human skulls), the Evas are, what, nine to twelve feet tall? Someone watching would think they’re nothing more than tall, lanky, gangly freakmonsters, easily outclassed in physical mass by something as lightweight as Jabba the Hutt.
I’m just sayin’, Jabba went out like a bitch.
And what makes it more frustrating is that Anno clearly understands how to create a sense of scale in his world. Earlier in 3.33 there’s a wonderful little moment when Shinji walks down some stairs and comes to realize the scale of destruction that’s occurred as a result of his actions in the previous movie. We transition to a faraway shot, a piece of building and stair jutting straight out from a perpetual global ocean of blood red, and we suddenly realize that that insignificant, tiny piece of stair that seemed so large when Shinji was walking on it is just a pinprick, a tiny piece of something larger.
This sense of scale is mirrored elsewhere. For most of 3.33 Shinji’s interactions with Rei Q are confined to a miniscule, limited throwup tent. It’s only when we see the tent from far away that we understand it’s pitched in the shadow of piles upon piles of discarded and forgotten Eva-sized assault rifles.
Last year’s summer blockbuster, Pacific Rim, understood this. The Hong Kong fight in that movie is such a glory because at every moment we are reminded that the Jaegers are huge, and possess physical presence in the world that Del Toro took great pains to crafted. When Gipsy Danger boxes in a Kaiju’s head with cargo crates, we cheer, because we know the approximate size of cargo crates and our brain automatically fills the gaps of how heavy those are and what kind of damage is being done to the Kaiju on screen. When Gipsy Danger picks up a cargo tanker to use as a sword, dragging it across the road, our jaws draw in awe, as we’ve never had the chance to see something on that level of size pick up something we know is that big to use as a god damned MELEE WEAPON. When Gipsy draws back a punch and the camera follows the motion to track all the way to a Newton’s Cradle on someone’s office desk, we understand that the big exists in the same world as the small, and we appreciate how big it is.
Of course, even Del Toro doesn’t get it all right; the final confrontation between the Jaegers and the Kaijus at the climax of the film is held, disappointingly, underwater. Among a bunch of ocean rocks, no less. We’re given no point of visual reference for how big the Kaijus are and how big the Jaegers are, and as such it comes across as watching two things of indeterminate size wrestling about underwater. I think Del Toro is well aware of this failing, and was probably forced to dial down the final confrontation, holding it somewhere deserted and away from areas that required much in the way of detail to cut down on production costs and rendering time.
What I’m really saying, in far too many words, is this: the new Godzilla is bad-fuckin-ass. Go see it.