I’ll take an adaptation…and review it!
Based on the hit manga and anime series of the same name, Death Note is the latest Netflix movie to make waves. It drew in peoples’ attention from the very first trailer. Some of that attention was good. Unfortunately, due to the cast being entirely American, most of the attention was negative.
Now that it has been released, how does it fair? Is it a loyal adaptation in a fresh new context? Nothing more than an attempted cash-grab with a popular IP? Or is it something else entirely?
Let’s find out.
Let’s start with the positives, L and Ryuk. While L’s character is dumbed down significantly from his manga counterpart, he maintains his quirks. However, the actor, Keith Stanfield, clearly understands his character far more than the director does. He is spot on in all of his mannerisms and really tries to make his lines sound like something manga L would say.
Ryuk is far more active than he should be in the film. Somehow, he now causes all the death’s through a sort of omnipotence. Luckily, you almost don’t notice his out of character moments because of the stellar suit acting, voice acting, and CGI. Easily the best part of the film is watching Ryuk slink about creepily. Someone needs to get this crew to do more CGI suit monsters.
Now onto the negatives. Unfortunately, there are a lot more of these.
Light’s character is completely changed, and not in a good way. He’s a total wimp in this version. He’s smart, but not manga Light smart. Instead of being the most popular and respected kid in school, he’s the most cliché, nerdy, emo outcast that does nothing but enforce the “emo outcast becomes serial killer” trope that American media seems to like. He’s also changed to be much more “heroic” in this version, refusing to kill people on his trail like his manga counterpart did.
Misa, Mia in this American movie, is also quite different. Instead of being obsessed with Light/Kira, she’s obsessed with killing people with the Death Note. She ends up being the actual antagonist of the film and a very poor one at that.
Even the Death Note itself is altered. In the Manga, the rules are simple and pretty straightforward. The basics of what reader’s need to know are presented up front. Any further rules only effect the plot minimally. In the film however they do not present the necessary rules and make up a dozen new ones whenever they feel like it.
Speaking of using the Death Note, I want to use it on whoever thought a pop song about love was appropriate for the climax of the film and on whoever designed the end credits sequence. While it is cool to see how the film was made, it doesn’t fit in this genre since you want to maintain the illusion as long as possible. Essentially the end is a sequel beg and then shows the behind the scenes clips in the credits.
Even if we were to take the manga and anime out of the equation, the film still doesn’t work. The last third and the “romance” destroy the tension and any suspension of disbelief the audience might have had. The filmmakers clearly had potential and talent, but not the time nor the understanding to do the story of Death Note justice.
As an adaptation, I have to give the Netflix Death Note a 2 out of 5. It’s mostly kept from being a 1 out of 5 because of L and Ryuk’s performances.
As a standalone movie, it gets a 2.5 out of 5.
Any suggestions for what we should review next? Please put them in the comments section below.