Death Note (2017) Review

Alright, so, I’ll start by saying that this is one of those series that I grew up with, so—as you can imagine—I have some very deep opinions on. However, I’ll stick to reviewing this film as it is, putting aside it’s source material because of a few reasons, but primarily because I agree with what the director of the film. Death Note was originally a manga (Japanese graphic novel) series, which eventually got adapted into some live action films in Japan. On top of that, there were multiple light novels created for the series too, and I probably would be destroyed by people were I not to mention that beloved anime adaptation. So, if you want the original version of this story, the real Death Note, read the manga, watch the Japanese movies, or watch the anime. They’re all still there. Sadly, I’d love to transition to my review of the new Netflix version of Death Note with as much positivity. However, this movie, even when forgetting the existence of the other versions is extremely average, which makes this film pale in comparison to all the others in the Death Note family.

Let’s talk plot, which should have allowed the film to become an instant classic. Young Light Turner finds a magical notebook that, as the book complains incessantly about, has too many rules, but it seems to kill people if you write their name and you know their face. Accompanying the notebook, however, is also the very confusing character of Ryuk, a death god who eats a lot of apples but doesn’t do much more as his role is extremely confusing. Light, thinking with the wrong head, enlists Mia, a popular cheerleader in high school, as his partner in crime. Together they go killing people to create a new world order where they are a god called Kira. However, a cunning detective, only known as L, realizes that Kira is just a human, and wishes to stop the deaths around the world.

Now, the plot could’ve been amazing. I mean, the whole idea of Mia and Light working together as crazy lovers while killing people is an amazing one. It worked in Baby Driver, and it worked in many other films. On top of that, the movie’s plot sounds like that of a detective chasing a serial murder, something like Saw or Zodiac. Now, maybe those aren’t the best executed films, but they’re an adequate comparison as to why this film fails. Just like Saw, this film is confused as if it’s a gore fest or an actual detective story. In fact, this film is more like a teen horror movie like the Final Destination series. This confusion as to what the movie wants to be makes it hard to really get into. It just never picks a direction, and that hurts it too much.

The characters do not help the plot at all. Primarily, L is too smart, and Light is too stupid. The film never establishes L as a smart kid. Instead, the only big character traits we see are how he’s willing to bend the rules by selling homework to 15 other students, being extremely impulsive (you can’t argue that showing Mia the power after talking to her for a total of 5 minutes wasn’t impulsive), and lacking any conviction. He fluctuates between wanting to kill criminals and crying out for help. This must have been in order to develop him as a character a little more than just a kid obsessed with “Justice” with a capital like in the original, but it does him absolutely no good. Therefore, this movie runs into a huge problem as I said. How can you expect this average high schooler to beat L in a game of wits?

You can’t because L is too smart. Within minutes of L appearing in the film, he manages to track down Light to his home city, even when Light had attempted to misdirect the killings around the world. And, here’s where I admit a couple of real positive things about the movie. Light came up with the name Kira because it has specific meanings in two languages, and killed many people in those countries on purpose. It was a very smart way to bring in the name from the original series, and I completely bought it. And, the way that L tracks down Light within a few minutes in the movie was just as amazing, bringing some more smart methods from the original series. But, all that said aside, L is incredible as a detective in the film. He even tracks down Light as Kira by the end of the movie’s second act. The only problem he has is proving how he does it. And, that’s where the entire movie goes down the drain.

The third act is horrible. At this point, we have been convinced by the movie that Light is just average, and that L is extremely smart. And yet, we are forced to believe that Light would somehow create a convoluted plot using the very confusing rules of the death note that even the film complains about, in order to escape the police. The big twist about Mia in the movie doesn’t help, as it was extremely predictable that she would betray him. I mean, he trusted this girl in seconds when he’d literally never spoken to her because he was a social reject.

But, I won’t be completely unfair to a movie. I believe that a film lives and dies by just one rule regardless of any critic breaking down the film and claiming its terrible. Was it entertaining? And yeah, it was mildly entertaining. But, there’s a caveat. Do you like teen horror movies and you’re willing to watch a SyFy quality movie like Sharknado? If you answered yes, you’ll enjoy this movie. Just go in willing to let go of logic several times, and enjoy some of the random unexplained gore executions. However, if you want a psychological detective thriller like the original series, step away. Step very far away.

Ultimately, I’d conclude that this movie is mediocre, something you’d expect from a 6/10 type movie. Watch it if you’re a fan of this horror genre. There’s a chance you’ll get a kick out of it and some of the action. It is, after all, a decent-enough film for a random evening. It’s a movie I would watch if it were on TV randomly, or if I had absolutely nothing else to watch.