Finally saw it and here's my initial, (very) long-winded thoughts in essay format. I'm spoilering it for the sake of you guys' scroll-wheels.
World-building (and World-Destroying) of Evangelion - 1.01+2.22+3.333+(3.0+1.01): This is the Suspension, Beyond Belief
Compared to 3.0, which was notoriously reticent to explain the whys and hows of its newfangled setting, Thrice is dedicated to filling in old underlines. But the delay has colored the viewing experience a shade, making it hard not to feel palpable elation or dread as minute one begins, having over the years remained in suspense to find out what it was we watched a decade ago--no one could say if 3.0 (and Rebuild as a whole) checked out or not, even if they felt more or less sure about their gut instinct. Whether intended or not, part of what watching Thrice means is that 3.0 looms large in mind, almost like a picture-in-picture, new pieces of information grafted back to try and make sense of an entire other film--not a problem in itself, and something that could have potentially been novel if not for the fact that Thrice's infodumps are both rapid-fire and, after all this suspension of what could have been belief, pretty much nonsense. Many have already defended Thrice's rapid pacing in the same way they defended 3.0's inscrutability, as a means to place the audience in Shinji's shoes empathetically; the point is to feel overstimulated. But that excuse doesn't stand to reason for long because while Shinji took a proactive role in 3.0, he's apathetic from minute one of Thrice, though we as an audience are eager to piece things together, and so Shinji's role becomes a tagalong slumped in the corner. Although she's no proxy for the audience, Rei begins to function nearly as well, fresh eyed and reacting to what details the script throws her way, but though the village from her perspective is calm and patient, everything goes as rapid as anything else, including herself when she unceremoniously melts.
Perhaps the calculation was "if we don't dwell on it, the faults won't be detected," or a simple case of script length conflicting with budget and runtime limitations. Nonethless, Thrice begins at a sprint. Back when, distilling NGE's plot into a tetralogy was already chaffing at the runtime, far before there were 14 years of brand new mostly unreferenced chronology. Despite the breakneck pacing, 1.0 & 2.0 were at least heavily grounded in their real-world setting in terms of character; everyone was motivated (or not) by their sense of purpose within rigid bureaucratic structures, there was a sense of realism to the fact they had authorities under which they bristled, and this created instant relatability to their duties, even bridge bunnies or schoolchildren. Montage scenes were spent inside giant silos, metropolitan Neo-Tokyo, environmental restoration projects and a civilian life plagued by the effects of a recent crisis. Come the time-skip the afforementioned was totally laid to waste, and but to replace it nothing that did remain was dwelled on and what retroactive explanation we would ever get, turns out, would occur in 2-3 second glimpses a film later. Ignoring how effective lack of information was (or wasn't) to bring us into Shinji's confused perspective at the time of 3.0, in effect it meant no one was motivated by anything but unrevealed pasts, secret plans and what might have been (who could be certain?) make it up as you go sci-fi magick.
The post-timeskip setting, no longer able to run from light of day, can best be described as scorched-earth in the not strictly apocalyptic sense. The absence of a near-conspicuous pretty much everything, as wrought by the most recent of who can keep track of how many by now Impacts, feels less like an effective premise and more like the hand of the writer reaching down through a black hole, crumpling up every country, and thus any nitty-gritty, perhaps challenging real-world constraint, for the sake of not having to bother. The suspiciously threadbare quality of the post-timeskip setting also turns out to have applied, no surprise, to the characters who inhabited it and the events that occurred therein, as ridiculous as this all along: every world government has collapsed into Gendo on one end and Misato on the other, the nearest comparison to the dramatic effect of which are saturday morning cartoons where no one matters but He-Man and Skeletor et al. Sure the bad guy is always around the corner, about to close in with sinister iron-clad machinations, and maybe the heroes show momentary doubt and a setback or two as they flip a thousand times and run up the side of a building, but the jeopardy and stakes are as much a gesture as the commercial breaks, and we all know how it proceeds.
Everything works and looks as it does just 'cause--sure there's catastrophic near-annihilation of the race, but this isn't really getting anyone down, or at least not enough to prevent them from jiggling their busts and throwing out their hips in super-stylish, immaculately designed sci-fi gear. A lampshade is hung in the pre-credit sequence when the pink bridge bunny gripes about skintight suits, the conceit being that all appearances aside, they must merely need to be skintight 'because science,' neglecting that the designs are half greebles and racing stripes, clearly useless and clearly highlights to emphasize bust, pelvis, etc. in new and unexplored ways. Not even the previously unglamorous and strictly unspecial tertiaries register as mere humans anymore; nerdy male bridge bunnies get plugsuits, and even Gendo has a sleek, sexy redesign. Misato is brooding and tragic while cosplaying in some patchwork recreation of famous anime ship captains, made possible by whoever might be Wille's fashion designer, impossible to imagine as an actual character and not merely the real-life otaku who neglect to pen them. Plugsuits and battle regalia are one thing, but the idea that Gendo spends his time in his drafty, devoid silo ruffling up his hair with bedhead mousse every morning in his bathrom mirror is another. Who cares about looking like they're on the cover of Newtype when the world is all but destroyed? But increasingly outrageous aesthetics and commerce has long since overtaken Eva's enduring qualities as a story, the omnipresence of which Eva Doritos and the Radio Eva fashion line attests to and at a more consistent rate than Eva's presence as a theatrical event. In-universe in Rebuild our hero characters wage war against the devastation of world catastrophe, but in our very own real world the very process through which world destruction occurs is through mechanical warehouses squirting molten PVC into molds of these stylish folks en masse. One imagines a sun-blistered hunter-gatherer 1,000 years from now picking at the ash heap of debris that's become of once first-world nations, finding a smudged figurine of Asuka or Rei (who can tell, the head is missing and the colors faded), what once was a mere lewd 14-year old a new century Venus of Hohle Fels, and deeming it no practical use and throwing it over their shoulder or sticking it into a potato sack to jack off to later.
At least Thrice's opening village brings us back to a lived-in setting; brutalized to the point of what would be considerably reasonable insanity, everyone has become confident, worldly and stern, the village life ideal. Not to be a pessimist and say outright that such an attitude and community is impossible given the setting, it's just that the population number plummeting so low is less significant as a horrible fact and more suspicious as a drafting convenience: just the right size for nothing negative to be organically developing, and thus explored, just the right scope for a purely rhetorical tool, little more than a prop, none other than a snowglobe (what with the spotlight of green against all that crimson), full of hyperbolic grace and generosity, merely to contrast with the toy ship that is Wunder, and its fleet of irrational misunderstanding assholes. Immediately compassionate to Shinji, super welcoming to Rei as an outsider, fresh off the product line of the nemesis though she is, and compared to the typical Eva pessimism, almost like a Hallmark fantasy. But in reality, once the population grows past a certain point, reaches a certain saturation, very real problems are going to rear their head, and not because of limits forced upon them from outside the dome--they'll eventually modernize, industrialize, and pollute--in fact, they could conceivably have all the modern problems of real-world Japan. What then?
Jump ahead a few action scenes to the climax, and when the inevitable Instrumentality occurs, it's treated less as an actualization you might not be ready for and a defiling wisdom you might never recover from, and more like a mcguffin, wielded by Gendo to get what he wants, handed off to Shinji to get what he wants. It's almost like the trajectory the setting takes is from one that's plausible enough to one outright implausible, and then even further into a completely solipsistic platonic realm, but without the maturity or self-scrutiny of a Charlie Kaufman script or any earlier example of the same conceit. Each half of the movie is left suffering from its own different blindness--the village is ideal, there's nothing negative--and Shinji exiles it anyway and transmutes it into modern live-action Japan, but nothing of modern Japan's qualities, positive or negative, are alluded to. We're left divorced from the prior setting but withheld from the new one. The film constantly shifts around what could conceivably resemble anything real and serious, neglecting opportunities at every turn, and instead uses the existence of Evangelion Units themselves as a bizarre scapegoat--all you need do to fix the universe is pull yourself up by the quantum bootstraps, attain total cosmic control, wish away industrial eldritch abominations, and talk everyone out of their secret foibles. The apotheosis of our godhead-dipped Shinji ends up being mundane, the kind of talismanic willful optimism you can find just as easily in the grocery store bestsellers rack, on Oprah, or through a vision board. All questions one might still have--about the setting, about what particular characters may or may not themselves understand--are summarily discarded as obstacles should they risk getting in the way of the predetermined wholesome end. Although much has been made of the "long desired" finality of Thrice, the presence of conventional resolutions only bleeds out and undoes what was once distinct from the narrative; it was interesting in episode 26 and End of Evangelion that there wasn't a final battle, nor a heart to heart between father and son obligated by the trite notion that it must occur no matter what, no matter how genocidal the father, no matter if the absence, omission or subversion could have been more interesting, realistic, effective, novel, etcetera.
The world-building is discarded by Anno through Shinji, but never in the realm of endless internet analysis does something escape the fate of swirling forever in posterity, and the byproduct of Thrice's loredump excretions is, well, exactly that. Before I get a stick and begin poking into it, full-disclosure: lore was not the grand point of Eva for me. It's always been its sense of emotion and its formal experimentation with its medium, the design philosophy and visual storytelling, the (previously) delicate handle on character and setting. But the thing is, with Eva of old, if you did want to focus on the lore, it was rewarding enough to track and felt like it added to the atmosphere if anything. When I did a rewatch recently, me and my viewing partner (who also took an interest to the lore purely as an added extra) felt like in our teasing-out of the big picture that while we ran into places where information or clarity was withheld, there never felt like huge gaps in logic, not in terms of something not working with some effort on our part, and not in things seeming like they were being discarded without justification. It was easy to form a perspective on the lore in a way that dovetailed neatly into the experimental sequences and overall meaning. Seele is there from the start, and although they clearly turn into something different than their initial appearance, they do so with consistent rate & rhythm. The spear is introduced slowly, the way Angels, Evas, Lilith et al function is introduced at a good clip, Human Instrumentality is there since the opening credits, Rei's origins, the origin of Nerv, etc. all have their time. When everything goes down into surreal territory, the sequence of events leading to it track as real events that unfold, even if certain elements are inscrutable or the physics of the spears verges on the ridiculous. The overall nebulous armageddon of it all contributes to the feeling of a difficult and alienating world, even if you can't get a grasp of, say, the Doors of Guf. Nonetheless, the idea of Human Instrumentality checks out as a hard sci-fi premise and Shinji's purely psychological journey that it affords also feels like a solid tracing of something from Point A to Point B. The series and what it presents itself as morphs over time, but it's a morph you can swallow and track.
Now we have Rebuild, where even before the phantasmagoria begins, the physics of the spears out of nowhere apparently function under the whims of human emotion, Misato's ship is capable of transformation in the same 'just because' fashion of Unit-02 morphing into a cat, there's a third, new spear out of nowhere, not to mention a "Book of Life" that somehow explains and doesn't explain Kaworu's loop, which I struggle to understand the workings of (if I don't chalk it up to purely figurative metacontext operating as literal plot device). NGE seemed like you could squint and make sense of the calculus, so long as you didn't get too close to what were maybe some rough rafter beams. But in Rebuild there seem not to even be connecting joints. Case in point, Seele once had the benefit of being an obscure, mystic organization with religious eschatology beliefs and fealty to the arcane, so as to drench the hooey in thick enough shadows. But now all of that has been shouldered onto Gendo the all-powerful (and thus dramatically impotent) plan-wizard. Nothing in NGE compares to the absurdity that he's contrived Rei and Kaworu's interactions with Shinji as a means to lead the plot to its goal, confident that their interactions will give the plan either exactly what it needs or in the worst case can easily be incorporated into anyway. Even Seele talked about compromises, backups and powerlessness on their part. But how is it Wille scrounges for scraps but Neo Nerv can spit out newly-minted tech in perpetuity? At the end of the day, these are just random elements that don't dovetail or fit in with everything else, or at the least have any sense of buildup to their inclusion. NGE set limitations and discarded them, but not to this haphazard extent. Whereas Eva Units once had to operate under the restricting principle that they need connection to a power source, now we can say, thanks to the unending convenience of the timeskip, 'well, they formulated a way to get around that business.' Much like the Nemesis series, the supposition crazy new forms of tech occurred in the intervening years is just an unrestrained excuse to indulge in new designs and action sequence pyrotechnics.
Although a tremendous effort is undertaken to hide the shallow waters at the drama's core with run-on technobabble gobbledegook, the whole of the Rebuilds is basically a long-winded calculus--old elements and rules from the old show are put into new forms, a new "anti-universe" is appended, things melt and transport and woosh by the camera. What suffers most is a sense of character--something, as a result, my review has mostly avoided as well. Things jump ahead, get obliterated, rewritten and propped up for money shots too fast for the characters along for the ride to sufficiently exist, their desires and actions strangled and dragged by plot requirement or snubbed in favor of another color-bomb acrobatic mech romp interrupted here and there by jargon. 1.0 & 2.0 had a lot of shorthand, scenes working as stand-ins for several at once, characters getting folded into each other, etc., yet it was easy not to get lost in the breathless condensation because you had interior reference to the original as you watched and parsed, and perhaps part of the calculation from a scriptwriting sense was to rely on old knowledge as a safety net when glossing over the plot. 3.0 & Thrice feel much the same, but with the huge exception that whatever longer-form material there is to fall back on doesn't actually exist. As a result, each story beat is so preoccupied with justifying itself retroactively, backtracking and playing keep-up, that we never get a foothold until the events which erase the scenario unfold. As one example of egregious narrative expedition, Misato makes a heelturn of taking responsibility within the same scene we're given a 30-second insight into what she's heelturning from anyway. Each moment is too top-loaded, and because so little time is spent living inside the scenario as a time and place, I almost feel in many ways the post-timeskip script often forgets the timeskip even occurred, as strange as that sounds, simply because the characters aren't believable as people who ever lived outside of exposition. There's no moment where they just are, no sense of the gravity to the setting as they've seen it or what it's like to strive from inside of it. When characters do talk, they often say things to each other they should both already know, because they're not really talking to eachother, but the camera.
A setting works or it doesn't, and I'm not sure I can say with confidence that post-timeskip Rebuild even counts as one. It's more like a painted backdrop for the characters to exist in front of in forms detached from anything remotely resembling life or how real people are, and then they're swallowed up in another complete setting change when metafiction (read: Instrumentality) overrides the time-skip and everyone just becomes a symbol or self-reflexive comment on themselves. The problem is that this metafiction is very restricted and reticent to actually stare itself in the face; why not go all the way and have Rebuild question its existence as a commercial property? The answer is likely that the money is greatly enjoyed, and the largest share of audience-goers want the kind of smile from Shinji that disposes of any notion of lasting or forthcoming discomfort. Those who treat Evangelion on par with Schopenhauer would do well to remember that Eva has since become a sizable portion of Japan's overall economy and Anno a real estate speculator. As the saying goes, "systems don't teach you the means to topple them."