Following the success of the anime adaptation of Castlevania, Netflix could have also broken the trend of awful live action adaptions of anime. Instead their American adaptation of Death Note is nothing more than a by-the-books high school thriller that is devoid of everything that had defined the series.
It’s safe to say that Netflix and director Adam Wingard were too dependent on the hype surrounding Willem Dafoe playing Ryuk that they forgot to focus on the rest of the movie. Or there were so much pressure that the creative team decided to play it safe and just use familiar tropes of the genre. Regardless, this film is just Death Note in name only.
To understand why Netflix’s Death Note is such a poorly done adaptation, one needs to first understand the philosophy behind the source material. The anime series examines the age old question of “dose the end justify the means” along with the concept of defining justice and dose power corrupt. All of that is absent in the film adaptation while a few pseudo moments are shoehorned in to compensate for the lack of a true philosophical discussion.
This is Not Justice!
Netflix’s Death Note could have gone in any direction and it had no obligation to be a re-imagining of the anime series. Instead that was the route choose but they try to be different with over the top gratuitous violence and over complicated kills that make the film look like a Final Destination knock-off. Kira is suppose to represent quick and swift justice (hence heart attacks) but the film presents a Kira that is just showboating to the world.
From the start, the biggest challenge is wanting to actually like Nat Wolff performance as Light Turner but this is impossible as he is nothing like Light Yagami from the anime. Yagami was cleaver and had a goal while being likable from the start before he started crossing some unethical lines. Turner on the other hand is first using the Death Note for revenge, then to pick up the first girl he meets, next it’s about fame, then finally it’s sort-of about making the world a better place. It’s also important to compare motivation factor of Ryuk, in the anime he dose it for giggles while in the film it’s never actually explained.
Other liberties taken was transforming Misa Amane from an annoying Jar Jar Binks-like love interest into the more cunning Mia Sutton. This was a likable character from the start but would evolve into someone unlikable before being revealed as the sort-of villain of the film. Not helping this change is the fact that Margaret Qualley performance feels more like a budget Kristen Stewart.
Next is the story behind the hunt for Kira, which has been completely watered down with the task force reduced to simply L, James Turner (Light’s father), and maybe a few randoms who don’t matter. The cat and mouse game between L and Light has been replaced by a petty pissing contest between the two with a series of dick moves. Meanwhile, James Turner lacks any of the traits that made Soichiro Yagami memorable while the only thing original about the character is that he is not an alcoholic cop named Murphy.
Finally it all comes down to the ending, a moment that could have redeemed the film in a brilliant matter only to double down on the cliche in the laziest way possible. Not to give away too much but it’s a maybe happy ending. Also there is some half-ass attempt at philosophy by showing how L and Light differ in seeking justice.
Redemption for the Wicked
Yes, Death Note is an awful adaptation but there are a few redeeming moments. The obvious being Willem Dafoe playing Ryuk, who was obviously the best choice for the role and gave a flawless performance. When you think about it, the best way to enjoy the film is by fast forwarding to every moment that he has an onscreen appearance.
The other redeeming factor is Lakeith Stanfield as L, who brings a different take on the character but also keeping many of his notable charm. While the story was poorly crafted, Stanfield did the best he could with role which demonstrates the quality of his talent.
So why should anyone take the time to point out the films few positive moments? Because of this simple tweet:
James Wong: Wow I messed up with Dragon Ball Evolution!
Adam Wingard: Hold my beer! pic.twitter.com/yXGd8ODbGs
— 8Bit/Digi (@8bitdigi) September 2, 2017
Death Note is a better live action adaptation of an anime than Dragon Ball Evolution, but its real easy to be an improvement over a dumpster fire. In the end, the film is an insult to fans of the anime while other viewers will just see it as a Final Destination knock-off.
Final Score: 2/10