I recently published a little review of the movie, but I tried to keep out my personal biased thoughts from affecting my review. As I mentioned on it, Death Note is one of those series that I call “foundational” during my teenage years. I read the manga so many times growing up, that I know the story almost perfectly, even now 10 years after having been the most obsessive of fans. And, for the context of this rant, let me say that I never finished watching the anime. Within 5 episodes, I dropped it because I thought it did not do the manga justice. That’s just how obsessed I was. And, as you can imagine based on my opinion on the anime, I absolutely hated this new Death Note interpretation, and it’s because of the same reason as the anime. This movie failed to capture the essence of what Death Note really is. However, unlike the anime, this movie felt as if the writers had never actually read the manga, maybe had never seen the anime, and only wrote this for the paycheck. That’s just how badly they missed the concept of this story.
Let me start with the plot. Jesus, it’s terrible. When it comes to the original story, what made it work was that it is a supernatural detective story. It’s all about a super detective trying to capture this killer who has the ability to kill without any type of physical evidence. That is just rad. On top of that, there’s so many grey areas throughout the story when it comes to who’s right and who is wrong. But, ultimately, Light is presented as twisted by power. But that’s for the character talk. In this 2017 “Death Note,” felt as if they believed the audience was outright dumb. They twisted the story into a teen horror film spit out by the Hollywood school of generic crap. I guess as anyone who uses the Death Note, this film has no soul.
I know a lot of people will argue this film is smart, but that’s a surface “smart” as seen by the Saw film series, one where they expect the reader think the film is smart just because they pull of some illusion tricks like a Las Vegas magic show. For example, Light’s final plot to escape the cops is so convoluted that I argue it tried to confuse the watchers in order to avoid questioning. It’s one of those where you think it was smart because it confused you. But no, it confused you because it was confusing, not smart. They did exactly what any hack writer will do. They wrote in a deus ex machina in the form of death note shenanigans, which is justified because the film complains that the death note has “too many rules.”
Now, this is where I have the biggest issues with the film. In the manga, Light is shown as extremely smart because the death note actually came with very little rules. In fact, they fit in a single page of the death note. The rest of the “rules” are actually more of a limitation that Light finds to his newly acquired powers. He tests them out little by little throughout the story and figures out other things from Ryuk, who is an unhelpful watcher. Therefore, the complaining of the “rules” in the movie is an extreme case of missing the point from the writers. I think they complained because they didn’t understand why there were limitations to the powers. They just saw it and thought, “oh god so many dumb rules.” So, the complaining seen in the movie is more of a “screw you, fans” than anything else. It’s almost as if someone made a Superman movie and then had Superman complaining about how overpowered he was. It’s what haters say, not the fans of the comic.
Moving on though, let’s get into the second big issue with the movie. The characters, once more, are completely misunderstood, or twisted into terrible uninteresting generic flat objects. First, Ryuk’s role was always of a watcher. He was only doing this for fun. He does not control the death note’s killing power, not does he convince Light. Actually, Light kills a lot of people before even Ryuk coming into the game. In this film, Light is some boring character we’ve seen in every other high school film. He’s some loser who gets bullied. But here’s the issue with this guy. Why should we care about him? Because he’s bullied? Well, the dude sells homework to other kids. That’s just an awful trait. Why would I even care? Also, his first victim is his bully. I mean, he literally executes a teenager via decapitation because he punched him. Talk about an awful person. Now, I’ll clarify something. I’m all up for unlikeable characters. I’ll argue that Light in the manga was just as awful. I mean, he doesn’t think much after realizing what power he has. He just kills. But, and this is a big but, he does it out of this incredible sense of justice. He actually wants to make a better world (though eventually the power consumes him). This new Light, however, is just a lame generic white guy with a pretentious hair style.
But I digress. Returning to Ryuk, this film tries to have the Shinigami be a “character” that does things by making him the death note’s dog. They even call him something similar (what is it with this movie insulting what fans love?). And, they try very hard to make Light think that Ryuk is somehow trying to murder him. All of which turns out to be a half-assed fake out when they reveal Mia is threatening to murder Light if he doesn’t continue to kill.
Which gets me to Mia and the rest of the cast. Mia, Misa from the original, is now some high school cheerleader that looks like the girl from Twilight because that’s what teenagers look like nowadays, right? God, this film is just trash. In the original, she was an instrument to show how Light was heartless and willing to use this girl’s devotion as his. There’s even a whole thing where Light makes her sell her remaining life to the death god twice. That’s how much he cared. But, the important thing here was that Misa was obsessed with Kira in a similar way as Harley is obsessed with Mr. J. But, in this movie, she’s just some other person wanting to take the death note. She doesn’t add anything to the movie. She simply adds pressure to Light to kill, which is already Ryuk’s job in this film anyway.
So, we got Light, an guy who is unsure about using the death note, two characters trying to convince him to use it, and finally L, who’s trying to stop him. Now, L was the closest character to the original, but that doesn’t mean jack in this film. Sure, the guy is smart. Sure, the guy is a weirdo. But, the actor felt that he was trying too hard to be the manga L, so much so that he is just odd rather than “cool.” It’s like when you see a cosplayer getting into character at a convention but you know he has basic understanding of the character he’s trying to act like. But what’s the big issue of L as a character? L, in the manga, was a smart level-headed guy. The only way Light beats him is because he forces a death god to do his bidding. It’s such a crazy plan that takes months in the manga. But, in this film, L—wielding a gun—literally chases Light in a ridiculous chase scene. Which, as a side note, why is L using the gun from Blade Runner?
Anyway, L turns out to be an emotional wreck that threatens Light multiple times. Hell, even Light’s father beats L down against the table. So, add that to the issues with characters, and you get a whole lot of, the writers just don’t get it. But, let me conclude with one final point as to why this movie is the worst.
It doesn’t understand the
point of the death note. The whole idea is down to a simple question. Is capital punishment ever justified? That’s it. This is a hot topic anywhere, even in contemporary courts. But, to make this even more fun, the question also adds: what if you could kill them and no one knew?
The point of this series is to tread a morally ambiguous line, following a character as he gets consumed by power. The reason he gets followers is because he doesn’t kill for revenge. He only kills because the other person was a criminal. Yes, there are instances where he kills the innocent, but it’s always to prevent himself from being caught. And, he justifies it as, “if they stop me, they stop the divine justice.” I mean, the whole story keeps asking you, are the criminals victims, or are they criminals that should die? And, it leaves it up to the reader to decide.
This Death Note movie does nothing like that. Light keeps asking L for help, and L keeps refusing because he doesn’t understand what Light is trying to tell him (so much for the best detective in the world being able to put 2 and 2 together, right?). At the same time, the reason he acts is from pressure from two people, two who had no such roles in the original. Therefore, this brings up a question. If this movie is not about the moral ambiguity I mentioned, what is it trying to say?
The answer is nothing. The movie has no idea what to say. That’s why they add convoluted plots and execution scenes. It tries to entertain its watcher in the mainstream way of, “have some explosions and action,” when is should have been smarter.
This is why I hated this movie. I hated this movie because it should’ve been smarter. It had the source material, so what the hell happened? What were the writers even thinking? It’s as if someone took Eragon and called it Lord of the Rings. I mean, they’re just as different, but one is so generic and bland, it was DOA.
I’ll finish with one final thought though. I think the movie is actually trying to say one thing: “Screw you, Death Note fans. This is not for you.”