Death Note (2017) Review

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Netflix recently released it's adaptation of the anime/manga series Death Note. I grew up watching and reading this story so I was very curious to see how they were going to remake this tale. Of course I figured based off the trailer that it would be a super condensed version of the battle of wills between the keeper of the Death Note, Light/Kira, and L. And I've seen other live adaptations of the anime that fell flat before. So I didn't have high expectations doing into watching this movie.

I don't even know where to begin with reviewing this movie. It was so bad it was comical. From the actors they chose to play the main characters to the lore of the Death Note being ignored for main plot points, it was a total let down. Director Adam Wingard set the movie in America rather than in Japan thus allowing them to cast Nat Wolff as Light and Lakeith Stanfield as L. However, neither actor fits the role or acted poorly in their portrayal. Lakeith's L is so over-the-top it borderlines on parody. While Nat's Light has goofy facial expressions that don't match up with Light's dramatic moments. However, their casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, the demon who sent the Death Note to Light, was spot on. His performance is basically the only redeeming quality about the film. Plus Wingard's direction of keeping Ryuk in the shadows added to the creepy visage of the demon. If they would have recasted the roles of Light and L really should have gone to Japanese actors.

Plus L would never appear on television but in the 2017 version they have him appear right away. Also Light is unsure of his next moves and doesn't have the next five moves already planned out in advanced, which really bothered me because that's a key feature of Light's personality. I get they needed to have the plot advance in one movie, but it goes against their characteristics and really makes the movie an epic fail.

The tone of the movie is also uneven at times. It doesn't do a good job at bridging the real and the unreal together in a way that seems believable. And the movie took creative liabilities in the remake of the story and attempted to leave an open ending for the possibility of a sequel. But let's be honest, the way the movie broke the lore of Death Note it's not a stretch to say that sequel would end in a minute. Plus the battle of wills between Light and L is brief, there's no lead up or cat and mouse game between the two. It's a one move from L then Light's girlfriend Misa taking the Light's Death Note to do the next. And then Light making a move afterwards. And yes, don't get me started on how that should not be possible.

Credit: IGN

Credit: IGN

Actually while we're on that topic, let me rant about that. In the manga/anime, Misa has her own Death Note with her own death god. Similar to how Light has his and Ryuk. Not that it matters as there is a rule about other people borrowing the Death Note. I.E. That they can use it but won't see a God of Death until they are the owner of the note. Which happens after 7 days. So what are the rules of the Death Note since they are briefly mentioned in the first ten minutes of the movie but only three of them are really made clear to the audience, and one rule that is ignored all together for this movie that royally pisses me off:

  • The human whose name is written in the note shall die.
  • The note will not take effect unless the writer has the person's face in their mind when writing the name.
  • If a cause is written down and physically possible, it will happen. If no cause of death is written, the person will die of a heart attack.
  • The note shall become the property of the human world once it touches the ground in the human world.
  • The owner of the note can recognize the image and voice of the original owner. I.E. The god of Death, Ryuk.
  • The human who touches the Death Note can recognize Ryuk even if they are not the owner of the note.
  • The person in possession of the Death Note is possessed by the God of Death until they die. But the Gods of death cannot do anything which will help or prevent the deaths in the note.
  • One page taken from the Death Note or even a fragment of the page, contains the full effects of the note.
  • If you lose the Death Note or have it stolen, you will lose its ownership unless you retrieve it within 490 days.
  • You may lend the Death Note to another person while maintaining its ownership. Subletting it to yet another person is possible, too.
  • The borrower of the Death Note will not be followed by a god of death. The god of Death always remains with the owner of the Death Note.
  • When the same name is written on more than two Death Notes, the note which was first filled in will take effect, regardless of the time of death.
  • The individuals who lose the ownership of the Death Note will also lose their memory of the usage of the Death Note. This does not mean that he will lose all the memory from the day he owned it to the day he loses possession, but means he will only lose the memory involving the Death Note.
  • In occasions where the cause and situation of death is written before the victim's name, multiple names can be written as long as they are written within 40 seconds and the causes and situations of death are not impossible to occur.
  • Once the victim's name, cause of death and situation of death have been written down in the Death Note, this death will still take place even if that Death Note or the part of the note in which it has been written is destroyed, for example, burned into ashes, before the stated time of death.

Technically the movie can get away with Misa using Light's Death Note as she is a borrower of the Note. However, the main issue I have is with the last rule I mentioned. Even if a page with the individual's name written down is destroyed the death is still to occur. Misa writes Light's name down in the movie. Light then writes a way in which Misa dies, the page with his name is destroyed, and he goes into a medical coma but doesn't die. As well as control two other individuals to commit acts in the name of Kira before killing themselves, and returning the Death Note to Light. Based on the rules of the Death Note, this is not possible! Light should be dead by the rules of Death Note. But apparently that was the one rule they decided not to listen to. Instead they decided to change the rule so that if a page is burnt with the victim's name within 48 hours the death is canceled but this is only allowed once... again this isn't an actual rule from the manga/anime. It's one the movie made up so they can allow Light to live in the end. But it leaves off with L debating on writing a name down, and everyone knows it would be Light. Thus making Light dead. And since his name technically was on a note before that note would come into effect again and his heart would stop at midnight as Misa wrote. I only mention all the others because they are the only ones that really come up in the movie though not all of them are specifically stated. Others pertain to Eyes of the God of Death to see how long a person has left and rules pertaining to the gods themselves. Though only Ryuk makes an appearance in this adaptation. And one more that they just stated wrong is that if you lose the ownership of the Death Note, you have 490 days to retrieve it not 7 days. It doesn't ever come up in the movie but is something to note on another rule they changed/got wrong. Also Misa should've been able to recognize Ryuk while holding the Death Note even though she wasn't the owner. However, she never recognizes Ryuk by voice or image.

If the actor for Ryuk makes a reappearance in a sequel I would watch it, but I don't know if I could honestly handle it with Nat and Lakeith versions of Light and L. They just don't fit the characters and really wreck the movie. Then again after the first thirty minutes I started just to enjoy the movie purely for laughing at how of a remake it was. Overall, I just don't recommend this movie. It's so off that it's comically in how poorly it portrays Death Note. Maybe with different actors it could've been better, but that's a stretch.

What is your opinion on this movie? Which adaptation of Death Note is your favorite?

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