I cannot say that I have a vast knowledge of Death Note. I have never read the manga. I watched half of the anime. I have seen all 3 of the Japanese movies. So, I do not claim to be an expert or even a big fan. I enjoyed what I have watched, but had not gone out to find more to engulf myself with. Add all of this with the fact that I am generally open to new adaptations, and I entered watching the new Netflix Death Note movie with what I would call cautious optimism. And I did try to keep that open mind for as long as I could. Unfortunately, it was not that long at all.
If you are thinking about making an adaptation, where you are changing the setting and tone, then do yourself a favor and change the characters as well. With this adaptation, the setting has been changed to Seattle. I do not quite know how to describe the change in tone. In what I have seen, it was always a serious, almost somber tone. This movie almost felt like they were going for camp, even gore early on. That may have worked, if they had used different characters. Spoilers ahead.
Light and “L” were still the main characters. Those two characters already have an established characterization. Going against what is established is like swimming upstream. Sure, it is possible to achieve success by doing this, but it is very difficult. Light should be highly intelligent. This movie tries to convince us of this by showing that he sells homework. Which is problematic. Here is a character who is about to kill criminals by writing their names into a journal, and he himself is committing fraud. Light should be above reproach. The entire justification for the character should be that he is capable of judging criminals, and deciding who should live and die. There is no emotion behind it, as emotion would cloud judgement. That is missing from this movie.
Not only is Light not entirely moral, but his first victim is also someone that was not really a dangerous criminal. Just some bully at Light’s high school. The second victim is revenge against the person responsible for his mom’s death. Gone is the inner discussion of how to use this notebook he has found. Gone is the discussion of rules he must adhere to in order to not cross the line of killing someone that does not deserve to die. Gone is any type of subtlety.
I would argue that Death Note is not even about being able to kill people by writing their names in a notebook. To me, it is about the battle of minds between Light and L. The struggle they have trying to out maneuver each other. In this adaptation, that is completely glossed over. It seems like in no time at all, L has easily solved the case. No one comes out of this as looking smart. No moves and counter moves.
And then Light’s girlfriend Mia turns really evil. It is revealed that she is responsible for the deaths of many of the officers that L has following Light. She came into possession of the Death Note by taking it before Light’s room was going to be searched. Now, if Light had been a smart character, he probably should have never let it out of his sight around her after she suggested that he kill his father to protect his identity. At a press conference earlier, his father, who is a detective, spoke out against “Kira.” It was one of the things that L used to deduce who was the killer.
But actually, Mia is probably one of the few things I did not have a problem with in this movie. Willem Dafoe as Ryuk was also alright, although I really did not like the change they made by having Ryuk explain in plain details what to do with the Death Note. I feel like having Light try it out on his own is the better route, but that is just personal preference and not a critique.
But now we come to the ending. I found the ending preposterous. Now, I may have some of the events out of order, as at one point I was laughing pretty hard. (Note, this definitely is never intended to be a comedy.) At some point, Mia wrote Light’s name on a page, but will burn that page, cancelling the effects, if Light gives her permanent possession of the notebook. Light runs to the library, does some searches, and as we find out later, writes down an inconceivable amount of details. A more detailed plan that it is believable that he could have come up with and written down in such a short period of time. Somewhere around there, possibly before, is a parkour type chase between Light and L, two characters who have thus far shown zero athletic skill.
But anyways, it all ends with Mia and Light on top of a Ferris wheel. She demands that Light give her the Death Note. He pleads with her not to take it, but she grabs it. Light is sad, because he also wrote her name in the notebook, saying that she would try to take the Death Note. Why he would write that, and then be sad when it actually happens, is confusing. Light knows that what he writes in the book is going to come true. Why would he think he could change that by pleading with Mia? Anyways, the ride starts collapsing, he grabs her hand, some awful music starts playing, and they fall. She dies after landing on the shore, but Light survives after landing in the water, and the page with his name conveniently falls into a flaming barrel.
Light is in the hospital in a coma for a couple days, and the mysterious killings still happen, so now people are doubting L’s accusation that Light is Kira. It turns out, that this was all part of Light’s plan that he quickly wrote down in the library. Not only was there the stuff with Mia, but he looked up the name of a doctor who was a child molester, or something, and wrote down that he would rescue Light from the water and take him to a hospital, and give him some type of drug to keep him in a coma for a couple days, then kill himself. Light also looked up a second criminal to find the Death Note on the shore, bring it to Light’s room in the hospital, and then kill himself.
That is all preposterous. At no point did they ever do the work of making it seem that Light was smart enough to come up with this plan. Let alone have the time to actually pull it off. Yes, there is a suspension of disbelief than should be afforded to this story, but the creators have to put in the work of building the world in which it is believable that the movie could take place. I do not feel like they successfully did that.
Although, maybe I am just jaded. Maybe I have become the type of fan that I despise. I do not think that is the case, but I would love to hear what someone that has not seen anything Death Note related thinks. I thought I watched it with an open mind, but I am only human. As is, I cannot really recommend that you watch this movie.