There’s a bit of an unintentional irony that I’m coming back to blogging full fledged and on a regular basis doing a review on a movie that features a death god, but hey – I’d take a chance to blog about Ryuk and his love for apples anyday. 😛
Netflix’s “Death Note” movie was originally one that I wasn’t planning on seeing in any capacity, because honestly – I don’t have a lot of confidence in Hollywood remaking some of my favorite anime/manga/Japanese movie series. (I will still try to convince myself that the “Ghost in the Shell” movie with Scarlett Johannson does not exist. Nor “Dragonball: Evolution” for that matter.) Death Note’s original story was one I enjoyed for what it offered – the cat and mouse dynamic of Light/Kira and L driving the series for me, as well as Light’s lust and immersion in power so great that it consumes him in more ways than one.
I will be talking spoilers for the movie ahead, so far warning before you venture further. If you’re staying on, good – this will take a while. I have…thoughts.
If you are familiar with the original source material, I’m not even going to mince words: this adaptation will make you cringe (I certainly did, several times). It’s a horrible adaptation with very little adherence to the source story. Quite notably, several of the characters names are changed (i.e. Misa to “Mia”), some of the character personalities are taken in the opposite direction – for the worst (Light/Kira isn’t even the charismatic, high achieving, intelligent puppeteer we see him in the original series – this adaptation has him as an outcast teenager making a number of fatal mistakes whom you would TOTALLY EXPECT to be the bad guy. At least the film didn’t try to hide that so overtly…sort of.), and for the level of cultural inclusion it claims to have (*cough* it definitely doesn’t *cough*), the little features we get are just capitalizing on stereotypes against minority groups that just made me shake my head with disgust.
But let’s assume for a moment that you’re someone who A.) isn’t familiar with the manga/anime/Japanese films this series is based on and B.) decide you want to see it for yourself for any particular set of reasons. It would still be a bad film if you called it anything other than Death Note or took it for the story it offers without any kind of outside context. One could say that it was from trying to condense a long series into an hour and 40 minute long film, but it was also that the film didn’t really know what direction it wanted to go. Gory horror film by way of Final Destination? Too little of that kind of gore, though there are notable moments of that towards the beginning of the film. Complex mystery with cat and mouse precision? Too many missteps by the characters and illogical plot progressions for that to be convincing.
Light (Nat Wolff) is an outcast kid who has a police officer for a father and a mother who is no longer living (she was said to have been killed, which is a plot point that drives Light’s character to grief). He’s notably a smart kid who even writes papers for his classmates on the side (until he gets busted after standing up for the girl he likes from afar (Mia – played by Margaret Qualley) during an encounter with school bullies. Light finds a notebook (the “Death Note”), starts perusing its rules, and starts squealing when the Death God Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) shows up. Ryuk gives Light a jarring crash course in how to use the notebook though a series of gory deaths that Light has to witness and hear to believe.
Later on, Light confides the ability of the notebook to Mia, and the two become emboldened in an “us against the world” partnership to take down the criminals all while pursuing a romance (which sadly, the leads have no convincing chemistry to bring that attraction home.) Light and Mia carry on their work as if in the name of being god-like, and they try to call themselves “Kira”. Reason: Light says it means “light” in Celtic and Russian (actually…it doesn’t) and not just to invoke the Japanese word of “god” but also throw off anyone who might suspect that they reside in the States. Way to pass the blame to Japanese society and also inaccurately represent cultures, movie. @_@
Enter “L” (Lakeith Stanfield) – who is said to be a master detective and onto “Kira” based on a series of facts that are all too quickly revealed. What transpires after that is a desperate rush of reveals and twists that would feel thrilling if they had any grounding or investment for the conflict. Plus, the characters just don’t seem to have the knowledge or one-up to really pull off the complexity the film’s trying to sell.
Willem Dafoe was seriously the best part of this – his adaptation of Ryuk standing true to form, character, and providing entertaining moments despite far too little scene time throughout the film. Lakeith Stanfield provided a good performance of L with what material he was given, but even his character couldn’t transcend the banal portrayal of the plot and characterization this movie had to offer. The last third of the film was definitely difficult to watch because of how laughably desperate Light was and forced in his hand to act based on the supposed betrayals of the characters around him. Granted, this is a high school kid with a power that’s much bigger than him, but the film doesn’t even remotely explore the complex and complicated possibilities of that responsbility, opting to steamroll for the sake of having the next visible twist. In the end, it wasn’t a memorable film, with an awkward soundtrack of songs that felt mismatched for setting the tone of the scenes and sequences.
Overall score: 1/5 stars.