Reviews: Death Note 2017

Meh.

So, I had seen the new 2017 take on Death Note that can be found on Netflix. My thoughts? Well....it's not bad. It's not good, but it isn't complete garbage either. I haven't read the manga or watched all of the anime series, so I can't really say how faithful it is to its source. As a movie on its own...it's alright. For one, this film takes place in Seattle, where Light's last name is changed to "Turner," and whatever. It starts off like how you'd expect; a young man discovers a notebook upon which anyone could die if their name was written into it. And Light decides to start a crusade against criminals, using the guise of "Kira" to keep his identity hidden.

For the most part, the movie was decent. The concept of a Death Note was interesting, but it wasn't really delved on much. For one, you can control someone for a short time as long as you burn the page they're written on; once that is done, they are free to live another day. There are also many more rules behind the Death Note that are really complicated to understand as you're not given much time to digest them, but the idea at the very least is intriguing enough to allow one to continue watching.

As for characters. I'll be frank with you all: Nat Wolfe sucked as Light. He lacks any of the charisma and brilliance the original incarnation had, and he comes off as being more idiotic in his planning rather than being ahead of the authorities. In some scenes, Nat's performance seemed to be off...he really came off more as a brat than a mastermind. That's not even getting into how he screams like a little girl when he first met Ryuk. Willem Dafoe does a pretty good job as the apple-loving Shinigami. He's terrifying, yet devilishly comedic with his quips. Margaret Qualley plays Mia Sutton, the film's version of Misa Amane. There is a big twist behind her character, but I'll leave it secretive. Though besides Dafoe, the other actors didn't do that much of a good job. It probably had to do with the script, but I digress. Actually, L's actor was also pretty good, but I could probably say that you wouldn't like any of the characters when this film is over. Really, Light takes on the mantle of Kira because his mother was killed in a hit and run, and yet the film never gives you a reason to care about that.

So in short, as a stand-alone film, it's passable. However, if you are a massive fan of the manga, anime, or light novel series, you'd probably want to skip this one as it does chip away anything that remotely resembles its source material.

What it is and What it Isn`t

I`ve watched the TV series of Death Note, which I liked. I've read the manga, which I liked. I've seen the three Japanese adaptations, which were all utterly terrible. I even read the first spec script for a potential American version, which was somehow even worse. Finally a much maligned American version gets a belated release on Netflix. I'll tell you what it is and what it isn`t.

What it is is a good movie. It condenses the lengthy cat and mouse detective game from the original manga down into a smaller, more personal story arc, hitting some of the main beats of the original whilst making it its own story. The story is that a teenager called Light Turner is handed a magic note book that kills whoever's name he writes in it. He and his girlfriend decide to make the world a better place by killing all the criminals they can write down, but it isn't long before their actions catch attention of a mysterious detective, known only as L.

What it is not, is faithful to the source material. That isn't a problem for me in the slightest. In fact, one of the reasons the Japanese live action adaptations were so terrible is that they tried to be faithful, even going so far as to make its human actors look and behave exactly like the cartoon characters, and that's not going to work well in a story as self-serious. Fans of the original manga and anime might be put off by this decision, but I think it was the best possible thing the movie could have done, not getting bogged down in trying to exhaustively match what becomes an extremely complicated chess game between two genius assholes. It did not need to include the dramatic potato chip eating or homoerotic foot massage scenes (sorry fans, those aren't in it).

I think it is mostly successful at capturing the spirit of the manga, and even manages to improve on some of the characters. For instance, the implicit misogyny of the manga/anime is gone, with Light's girlfriend, Mia, actually being a bit more involved this time around; she's set up as a sort of Lady Macbeth character who is still as crazy as the original, but not a stupid bimbo. L is by far the best though, played here as a perpetually exhausted, super intense guy who is also very emotionally invested. You're not watching some smirking super computers try to corner one another, you're watching smart people who are mad as hell.

In terms of faults, I'd say the music choices can be a little too on the nose. The death scenes are ridiculously gory, like something out a Final Destination movie, and also there's this nagging detail that the police seem to be armed with the guns from the sci-fi movie Blade Runner, which is as distracting as it is inexplicable. Other than that, it is an interesting little drama with some new twists for the fans, and a smart enough story to engage newbies to the franchise.

Hardcore fans will probably hate this movie.

But I just thought it was average (maybe subpar) at best. No, this isn't a faithful recreation of the original Death Note. A good chunk of the main cast (sans James/Soichiro) shifts away from their manga counterparts in terms of character and personality, some farther than others. Alas, even Ryuk, while played to near perfection by Willem Dafoe, was a bit of a departure from the quirky, neutral party Shinigami that we all know and love, and loses his more humorous personality in favor of pure villainy and malice (which isn't too far off from his TV drama counterpart, granted). And then of course we have Light, a psychotic Villain Protagonist who was rewritten to be a more sympathetic and (slightly?) humane anti-hero. This is something that will definitely tear a rift within the fan community. Should he have stayed a maniacal bastard like in the manga, or is it actually interesting to see such an abhorrent character portrayed in a more likable light? That's for the viewer to decide. For me, it's a mixed bag.

In terms of story and pacing, I will say that the first 30 minutes were pretty messy; the intro and everything that followed just went by way too quickly. First minute of the film? Light already finds the Death Note. No time for character establishment, and no explanation as to why or how it happened. Light and Mia's romantic relationship? Established within five minutes of the film (it felt like they had sex on the same day that they officially met!) Kira's rise to power and the global worship that followed? That all happens in a quick little montage. Within thirty minutes, my faith in the film diminished, but once L hit the scene, then things started slowing down at a manageable pace, and that's when I felt the film started to pick up.

I'll stop here so I won't go into spoiler territory, but I will say that as an adaptation of Death Note, it had the bare skeleton of the plot down, but as a whole, it's an entirely different beast. It's not so much a psychological thriller as it is a standard supernatural action flick with a lot of high school cliches, some over-the-top gore, and weird soundtrack choices thrown into the mix. For that reason, people expecting a faithful adaptation will probably be disappointed. Heck, some fans will probably pretend that this movie never happened. However, putting aside the drastic departures, I did find myself enjoying this movie for what it was, a marginally decent action movie with a twist here and there, it just wasn't Death Note. It wasn't that great, but hey, I enjoyed watching it.
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