The western Death Note live-action film has finally dropped on Netflix. After months of anticipation and fan speculation, we can finally dive into this thing and see if it was worth all of the ire and derision.
Having seen the anime series back in the day, but never having read the manga, I’m at least familiar with the basic premise and general themes of the Death Note franchise. And the film gets the story elements set in place right.
Light Yaga–sorry, Light Turner–is an average teenager who comes into possession of a book called the Death Note. The book has the power to kill as long as the person holding it knows the name and face of the target.
‘Did you do your homwork?’ ‘No.’
The Death Note has had many holders over the years. The death god, Ryuk (who looks ridiculous, but at least Willem Defoe turns in a decent voice-acting performance), is the one who guides the holder.
Light tests out his new powers on a resident school bully, choosing decapitation as the method of death. What follows is a Final Destination-style series of unbelievable coincidences that end with said bully’s head being thoroughly demolished.
Uh, you guys packed the parachutes right?
This sequence had me laughing (as did almost all the death sequences, which occur in a similar manner). I don’t think it was unintentional though.
The film runs through the bare basics of the plot from the manga, highlighting Light’s attempts to make the world a better place by choosing criminals to add to the Death Note. He meets Misa Ara–sorry again, Mia Sutton–who becomes his girlfriend. Light adopts the pseudonym “Kira,” (the Japanese pronunciation of killer, the movie is quick to point out) and the two go on their crusade against criminal scum.
You must be this undead to ride the ferris wheel
Mia takes a much more skeptical and proactive role in the film, but I still preferred her story arc from the original much more.
Mia and Light’s escapades lead to Kira being investigated by Light’s detective father and the eccentric “L.”
L’s character is great in the manga and anime, where his strange quirks fit into the world. In live-action, it looks out of place and ridiculous. You can almost feel actor Lakeith Stanfield’s awkwardness as he’s forced to crouch on chairs and eat handfuls of candy to fill a fan service checklist.
The movie succeeds at keeping one of the central concepts of the original story intact: there are no good guys. But unlike the original story, there’s no real retribution at the end. The film is also missing all of the cat-and-mouse mind games between L and Light that made Death Note so exciting in the first place.
Cheer up, for goodness sake
So in the end, what do we have here? Basically, it’s another Western property that’s sucked the soul out of the source material (I’m looking at you, Ghost in the Shell). It’s not as bad as it could have been, but it’s not good either.