THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS. THE MOVIE IS NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX.
As a huge fan of the manga/anime, I was rather surprised that Hollywood was going to make an adaptation of Death Note. From a recent trend, most live-action media made from anime don’t turn out very good, as evidenced by Dragonball Evolution, the Attack on Titan movies, and The Last Airbender. Unfortunately companies continuously want money and make movies that often betray the fans’ original wishes.
So already the movie starts as a paint in the numbers with the occasional uniqueness. Too soft and too much unnecessary confusing tones that dilute the actual suspense of a moment.
The foreshadowing is not unique and sets a generic tone for the rest of the time, accompanied by rap music that does not fit the original theme at all. Ryuk’s appearance sets a high note with flying colors and the door opening and closing with no conventional answer. A scared Light that cowards away from the sudden appearance of the Ryuk is a nice touch. However shortly after their first meeting, Ryuk begins to take Light’s side all of the sudden. From the beginning, he encourages and persuades Light to do certain things, which brings up the uncanny question as to why he does this.
It’s also a funny fact that they had already killed Light’s mother, leaving him utterly depressed. While this same fact happens in the original manga/anime, this film leaves no exposition as to why and how it happened. It’s simply there for Light’s motivation to “use” the Death Note.
One of the most defeating traits of this movie is that Light is completely naive. He continues to be careless with his actions throughout the film and it is evidenced by his complete irrationality. He openly reads the Death Note in class, and already trusts someone he barely knows with the existence of such a powerful object. He might be a brainiac, but he is most certainly not a logical character. This already creates a distortion between the original source material and the film. In the original manga/anime, Light Yagami is portrayed to be smart, handsome, cunning, intelligent, and with a gentle and increasing godly complex that slowly lead to his ultimate demise. Light Turner bares almost none of these traits, which undermines and underestimates what the character could truly be. In the end, Light Turner seems to just be a typical teen-angst character, having no charisma or ability to turn L’s suspicion the other way.
Mia is arguably the best and only developed character in the entire film. In the beginning, she is perceived as your typical damsel in distress, however her cunning plan is despicable enough that you don’t notice how psychotic she becomes until the Ferris wheel scene during the climax. This psychopathic nature mirrors Light Yagami’s godly complex from the original manga/anime, thus it sets her apart greatly from Misa Amane. Unlike Misa, Mia clearly stands tall on high authority (which is stereotypical of a cheerleader) when Light reveals the Death Note to her. Misa was completely adamant on letting Light decide who’s name goes into the Death Note, but Mia clearly wants a turn and was willing to kill Light just for that turn.
I think that Mia and Light’s personalities basically switched from manga to movie. Which hell, who’s stopping the producers from making Light into a girl and Mia into a boy. It would make the story plot even stronger.
Light’s interactions with his father, James, are less trusting and close at first. However that relationship falls flat during the climax with no further development. During the whole hour and a half, their relationship could have been touched upon so much more, thus making Light a whole different person.
Moving on to L, his behaviors are similar to the mannerism of a quirky detective. Several of his actions pay homage to the original character from the manga/anime, such as slouching, the weird sitting position, and the obsession of sweets. However the homages are all all there is to L. L reveals his face several times, which blurs the “mystery” out of why he keeps it on in the first place or his full facial appearance. Even so, the first reveal was done in a very flat tone, with no real build up leading up the reveal itself. His personality is considered to be bipolar. It jumps around with no middle ground, which does not blend well to his mannerisms. He does not stay calm and very well gets physical when all odds were against him. As such, this is where the line is drawn between Keith Stanfield’s L and manga/anime L. This world renowned detective makes any situation into slapstick hilarity more than action oriented tension.
Ryuk’s role in the entire film is both last-minute and rushed, and seems to be only there for small exposition and banter. He has less dialogue than most of the characters, and doesn’t leave much of an impact. In the manga/anime, Ryuk was very well known for his neutrality, however he continuous decides to pick the side opposite of what Light has picked, from out of nowhere. In the manga/anime, Ryuk does pick a side and kill Light, but that is only supposed to happen during the end where he feels that he’s doing the right thing at that moment. This film had reduced him to nothing but a passerby, only to be seen by Light and not Mia, who has touched the Death Note (even the pages) several times. I really don’t know why they left that important part out. Sorry but not even Willem Dafoe can save this movie now.
This is also one of the most frustrating moments of the film, the changing (or adding) of the Death Note’s rules. Light Turner now has the ability to kill people outside of the United States, a rule that didn’t exist in the original manga/anime. A victim of the Death Note would die the default cardiac arrest, but in this film, it has been reduced to nothing but a “manipulated coincidence.”
The initial plot of the story is heavily changed and really strafes away from the original story. Light not being involved in the case really cuts further evidence of him being Kira, but yet just by sight and no possible input, L exclaims Light has to be Kira without much build up to go with and so the pacing of the movie once again fluctuates from slow, fast, to ultimately being too annoying and confusing. The last quarter of the movie although what seems to be out of character has decent action and a smart plot twist to Mia’s ultimate demise. Light finally using his brain power to actually come one step ahead of Mia, unfortunately. Mia even dies to her own hubris of trying to take the Death Note away.
The psychological aspects of the original manga/anime are clearly thrown out the window and replaced with more action oriented ideas. Overall motifs are also gone. The only thing left is Light is always in the dark and L is always in the light. There are no religious themes or moral dilemmas that the movie wants to propose that might even go deeper into what it had in the original manga.
VERDICT – 1.5/5
This film has content that is trying to be creative especially for the final quarter, but it wants to stick to the normal and cliches for no reason. The pacing needs to take a step back. The tone of the movie needs to pick what it wants and what it doesn’t want. The themes try to be something new, but again are shot down by cliches. The characters are uninteresting and need more substance to make them go deeper. This movie is merely a shell of what the original was. It’s like watching a parody, but not a satirical one but rather a legitimate remaking. Even so, this film fails to deliver to both fans and newcomers of the franchise.