"It all comes back to the movie’s subtitle: You Can (Not) Advance. The characters in the movies are making a concentrated effort to improve themselves. Through a combination of downtoning their faults (while still exhibiting them) and showing some progress in resolving those faults, the characters in the Evangelion movies are decidedly more competent and mature than their TV counterparts. Asuka’s insolence is downplayed and she comes to a degree of understanding with Misato and Shinji with a bit more ease. Rei shows more human-like behavior and takes a slightly more active role in her relationships with Shinji and Gendo. Even Shinji has improved, with his impotent cowering coming off more like rage and frustration with the world than sheer fear and simple daddy issues.
Despite all of these personal improvements, and despite the manifestation of Mari Sue, everyone ultimately fails. Asuka is overwhelmed by an Angel and nearly dies. Mari is throttled and Rei is devoured. And while Shinji pulls off a remarkable feat and channels his frustrations with the world in order to ascend to godhood and save Rei from the belly of an Angel, he gets his ass handed to him and his soul sent back to reality with one swipe of the Spear of Longinus.
Everyone’s failure comes from an outside source far beyond their control, unlike the TV series where failure ultimate came from their own faults.
The TV series explored the way people can be their own worst enemies, while the movies seem to be hitting on the idea that you can have everything in the world and still be subjected to terrible things. You can compare it to Job’s trials or the “dismal tide” of No Country for Old Men or Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
This is one of the reasons why I think the Evangelion are working so awesomely. They’re playing the same notes as the TV series and hitting many of the same narrative points, but the heart of the story is completely different. I wish more adaptations (book to movie, manga to TV series, whatever) were like this: Getting at the same ideas while hitting on completely different stuff at the same time."
Edit: a little mess up that will be fixed in the near future i.e. summer. sorry about this.