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The movie picks up just some time after where it left off from the last one but it starts off with fast and hard with a battle between one of the new Eva units exclusive to the remake movies and the third angel. This Makinami Illustrious character is very much a female bespectacled version of Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fame as her battle tactics really don't follow any strategy other than shaking off the damage, attacking head on and having fun.
After that's done we're treated to the scene where Shinji and Gendo meet at Yui's grave and this is the scene where the difference between the Shinji in these movies and the Shinji in the TV series becomes apparent through a subtle gesture on his part. That one simple gesture that he did in these movies shows how much more of a positive character this one is than the original one. Also, this is the point where you know things are going different this time around.
I'd rather not go into depth about what happens from here until the unit 03 shows but things basically go the same way the anime did with several scenes thrown in there to flesh out the characters. Asuka is slightly more mellow and much less shrill than her TV counterpart while Rei steadily becomes more and more human as the movie goes on. Even Gendo somehow seems to be more fatherly, with much more still not very obvious, in this incarnation than any other official one that I've seen. These changes make it so much easier to sympathize with the characters and also strengthens many scenes in the latter part of the movie regardless of whether or not you actually like the characters themselves.
The real divergence point comes up in the form of the new pilot selected to test out unit 03. Like I said, the new depths that were developed in Asuka's character made her a much more likeable character so when it came down to the Dummy Plug vs Unit 03 scene, it was much, much more powerful than the original one. What made it more horrific than it should have been was the children's song that played while unit 01 tore unit 03 inside out culminating in a brilliantly stretched out scene of unit 01 grinding munching down on unit 03's entry plug.
It then returns back to the series for a little bit before the final battle in the movie begins. We're treated to an awesome scene where Makinami hijacks unit 02 and goes berserk on the newest angel along with unit 00 armed with a nuclear missile sans the launcher. They fail, unit 00 gets absorbed by the angel and Geofront turns into the wasteland. After seeing what had transpired while he was in the shelter, Shinji makes his way to unit 01's cage and gets back on the horse just in time to stop mission control from being destroyed with a point blank laser. Shinji takes it outside and tries to subdue it when the power runs out.
This is where you really see the difference is this Shinji, this is where he refuses to stop and forces unit 01 to move for him in some never seen before "Awakened" mode that grants his unit the strongest AT field so far along with eye beams. I kid you not, beams of energy shoot out of unit 01's eyes and takes down the angel so he can rescue Rei by somehow transforming it into an Eva sized Rei through sheer determination. It's no wonder why people have been saying that the movie has been taking notes from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The once whiny and scared Shinji had grown into a real man with the balls to get what he wants. It makes for one of the most heartwarming and intense scenes so far and all those fleshing out scenes finally pay off here.
I have to say that this was an excellent movie and I liked all the changes they've made to the plot and characters. The mind screwiness is toned down along with all the angst that franchise has been famous for and what we get is an Evangelion with a better overall balance between characterisation and plot. They even managed to fit in some rather charmingly I myself couldn't help but be reminded of the Evangelion: RE-TAKE doujin series while I was watching this as there were several scenes that paralleled it. I'm even wagering that Hideaki Anno picked up the doujinshi at one point and it inspired him to come up with the Rebuild movies. I mean both featured the characters with more well rounded personalities, both were handled much more optimistically and both played the idea of their events being repetitions of the original series. Who among those who have read RE-TAKE didn't feel that Rei's dinner plans didn't mirror Asuka's marriage plans in the doujin? Seriously, this just has to be based on RE-TAKE.
I'm definitely looking forward to the release of Rebuild of Evangelion 3.33 Quickening but sadly I expect that'll be sometime in mid 2012 since these films seem to be going by a two year gap between movies. In any case, I hope Anno delivers some more of this awesome shit he's shoveling onto the silver screen since the sales for the movies are record high. The finale of the "original" plot will end with the next film and the fourth movie is supposedly a further extension of the events after that - getting RE-TAKE vibes again. Oh well, RE-TAKE or not, more awesomeness seems to be in store for us in the next one. After all, Kaworu impales unit 00 and stops Third Impact in time so what else can I expect but awesomeness?