It's every 14-year-old boy's dream: You get to command a giant, Transformers-style battle-bot against colossal enemy robots, while Tokyo crumbles beneath your iron feet and all humanity depends on the outcome. Unless you're meek, motherless Shinji, bullied at school and lacking self-confidence, scared of girls and estranged from the mad-scientist father who designed the "Eva" series of robot defenders. Shinji is plucked from school to command Eva 1.0 after a cute schoolmate had bad luck with Eva Zero (the Windows Vista of the giant robot product line). This animated Japanese feature—with three more planned—springs from the '90s TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (available on DVD), and its characters and plot will be familiar to anime cultists. For the uninitiated, the sci-fi mythology is well-plowed, from Star Wars to The Matrix. (The hidden underground city of Tokyo-3 bears direct influence on Matrix Revolutions' City of Zion.) "Why am I here?" wails sensitive Shinji, the unlikely Chosen One. "There is no 'why,'" he's told. "The destiny happened to be yours." That the fate of the Earth hinges on the emotional ups and downs of adolescence is a theme any viewer will recall from their own teenage years. Evangelion 1.0 lacks the sophistication, darkness, and violence of Ghost in the Shell or Akira. It's a tamer work that may improve—through releases 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0—as Shinji starts to shave and possibly acts upon his hormonal urges. The good news: After their live-action Speed Racer flop, the Wachowskis will never get their hands on this franchise.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., July 3–Thurs., July 9. Rated PG-13. 98 minutes.