Death Note 2017 Movie Review: That Was… Different?

Overview:

So Netflix decided to do a live action adaptation of Death Note and decided in the process to Americanise it. I could write a review where I tear this apart because it is genuinely nothing like the original and they’d have been better off just creating all new character names and just saying this was based on the story of Death Note, but that isn’t actually fair to this movie. Yeah, it is nothing like the original. Character personalities, motivations, relationships are all totally different and most could not be favourable compared to the original characters. The characters are Americans for the most part. The whole story here is told in 100 minutes with sequel bait at the end. Got that out of the way. Now I’m going to review the movie.That said, it will be impossible to review this when I am a fan of the original anime without reference to it.

Review:

I really expected going in that I was going to hate this movie. I hoped I wouldn’t, but kind of knew deep down that no matter what Netflix did, I was not going to see it particularly well. I love the original Death Note. I love the clever play between Light and L and how that builds over half a season. I’ve watched Death Note movies before and the short run time always, always hurts the tension and the story. So imagine my surprise when I actually liked this movie. Admittedly, the first watch through I didn’t. I was too busy declaring that none of it was ‘right’ or the way ‘it should be’ but you know, that isn’t exactly fair. So I chucked my preconceptions out the window and watched it again without any thought of what it was supposedly adapting. And you know, there’s actually an all right kind of story going on here. It just isn’t the story fans were hoping for.

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See, this isn’t a psychological thriller anymore. What this movie focusses on is the horror and fear of being given power, thinking your are in control, and then seeing it all spiral horribly out of control. And from that point of view it works beautifully. Yep, Light isn’t anywhere as smart as the Light most people know and love. This character would definitely have benefitted from just having a totally new name and just be another random guy that Ryuk dropped the note for. That doesn’t make him a bad character. He’s an American teenager who has issues with the notion of justice due to his mother’s death and what he perceives as his father’s failings. He’s also seen injustice in the school system with how bullying is dealt with (or not dealt with). When given a taste of power, he uses it and some of his uses are incredibly reckless and not particularly well thought out because he is impulsive.

What this gives us is a much faster plot line. One that doesn’t set up a slow rise in the popularity of a killer who the public give a name to that he then assumes. Light chooses his own name and promotes it through those he kills. He builds a following and he does so quickly and with efficiency that allows us to move right into the phase of Light being pursued by L.

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However, before I get into that I need to address Mia. Mia is both a blessing and a curse to this movie. She provides a fairly decent plot twist, she drives the story forward when it might otherwise stagnate, she allows Light to not inner-monologue because he has a partner in crime more or less from the beginning. However, her own motives, other than apparently she gets off on killing, are never explored. We know nothing of her back story, her history, or anything about her other than she’s a cheerleader and now she thinks she has found a purpose. Also, she makes Light seem incredibly stupid because he basically reveals the note and all its secrets to her because he literally just wants to impress the girl. It is a cheap plot move and while it works at moving us forward you really don’t feel like that was a satisfying way for the story to get kicked into gear.

Basically, this is Mia and Light’s story and how the power of the Death Note changes the both of them and ultimately changes their relationship throughout. The whole L and the police thing is a secondary concern to what is going on with Mia and Light. So if Mia had just been given some decent development, this movie could even be elevated from just all right to actually quite good and yet it never quite manages that because as much as this story wanted to take Death Note in a new direction, it couldn’t quite commit.

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So here is L. He isn’t L as you know him, anymore than Light is the character you know, but he is L. He is in hot pursuit of Kira and he leaves false trails and ruthlessly uses whoever he has to in order to track down the killer. But this is a far more emotive and unstable L (though I guess L was always a little unhinged) and by the end of the story the L we see has lost any ability to think clearly or logically. He is angry and grieving and his actions take on a rashness that we would never have accepted from the anime version, but here is works well because the story makes one fairly critical change early on.

When L goes on TV to goad Kira, Light doesn’t rise to the bait. Light’s core personality has been changed sufficiently that it makes sense for his character to not want to harm the innocent, even if they are calling him out (something this movie maintains throughout its entire run). Because of that change, there’s never really a cat and mouse game between the two. Sure, L is pursuing Kira and he figures out that Light is Kira, but Light’s issues are all around Ryuk, Mia and the morality of using the note itself. That’s where the story and the conflict are. L is basically side story material that may later get development should this ever get a sequel.

I have to say, while I don’t like any of these characters as much as the original cast, and the story is nowhere near as clever or interesting as the original, for a released on TV horror it works relatively well and can certainly keep you entertained for it’s fairly short run time. The deaths are at times an excessively gory and a few of the set ups will remind you of a Final Destination film, but basically everything comes together and the final confrontation and explanation is satisfying enough.

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When it comes to recommending this though, pretty much I recommend it to non-anime fans who like horror. If you’ve already watched Death Note, it is really likely that all this movie will do is annoy you. However, if you haven’t and you like the idea of guy finds book that can kill people, you’ll probably have an alright time with this. That said, given fans of the anime probably aren’t the best audience for this, the writers really should have just committed to new audience, new story and ditched the unnecessary remnants that just serve to clutter up an otherwise interesting plot. As an adaptation of Death Note, this is pretty terrible if you are after the tone or feel of either than manga or the anime. As an American teen horror movie with a bit of a supernatural edge to it, this isn’t dreadful and actually has some quite entertaining moments.

So, I’m surprisingly okay with this movie and wouldn’t mind a follow up. I just wish they hadn’t called it Death Note.


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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35 thoughts on “Death Note 2017 Movie Review: That Was… Different?

  1. Hi,
    I have been bashing this movie from the very beginning. But don’t you think, all the reasons you have given for this movie to be an American cousin of original Death Note are the reason of it being thrashed?
    Regards

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    1. Maybe, but it isn’t necessarily fair to bash it just because it isn’t the same as the original. If you want the original, watch that. This was always going to need to make changes and not all the changes were dreadful. Okay, it definitely could be improved, but as a direct to TV film it wasn’t that bad comparatively. There’s plenty worse out there.

      Like

    1. I really enjoyed their chemistry in the anime as well, but that only really worked because they had half a season to build it in and the movie was never going to have time to do that relationship justice. I kind of like that it didn’t try.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My friend liveskyped this as she watched – and I slept so I woke up to 55 messages of increasing outrage – and well, the impression I got wasn’t favorable. I’d say that you’re right about this having the potential to be another story set in the world of Death Note. But calling the characters Light and L only to fundamentally change them seems pretty foolish.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t really cover it in my rant (since i was still just so enraged) but my biggest gripe with the film was purely that they decided to “adapt” (if you can even call it that) the original story and twist it until it fit some random mold they thought would sell.

    Had this been a story completely separate from the original, their own plot probably would have been much better, since it wouldn’t have to force parts from the original in.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed that it would have been better not to force parts into it. While I don’t mind that they changed it, they really should have just gone further if that’s what they wanted to do. The shame here is that it is neither true enough to the original to satisfy that camp, nor good enough by itself because of the forced content to satisfy those of us who would have happily watched an American horror with a loose connection to Death Note.
      Still, I had enough fun with this in the end, once I got over the fact that it wasn’t Death Note.

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  4. The consensus seems to be they should have called this Death Note: Another and just created its own story of how a teenager finds another Death Note. Make the American kid a loser and not be anything like the genius Light. I haven’t watched it, but a full alternate universe story seems like a safer way to go a lot of the times as to not anger fans.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. #Notmydeathnote – But I totally agree with you too, Kandi; It was watchable, sexed up and a good one for non-anime fans. I can see that it’s totally made for a generalized American audience and, to be honest, i liked the comedic B-Movie feel to it. Our MangaForum Podcast will be doing a full review and discussion at ALCON anime festival in Leicester, chatting to the other fans about various adaptations and the pros/cons and then hopefully posting it online to carry on the chat – So we welcome everyone to chat with us and share opinions!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a fan of the anime series, of course I went in “knowing” I was going to loathe it.

    I actually didn’t. It was definitely odd use of the source material, but I imagine taking any 37-episode TV series and squashing it down into 100 minutes is going to have to cut more than a few corners. For what they did, though, it was fine. They had to move an otherwise slow burn along at a faster pace and to do that they had to take liberties with some of the characters and their motives. I get it and, like you, I enjoyed it more on the 2nd watch. I don’t love it, but it’s fine.

    I was a bit disappointed in the lack of Ryuk, but hey, he was creepy and ate apples so Ryuk is gonna Ryuk. I actually liked what they did with L, though, and thought they captured his absurdity quite well in the first half of the film.

    This is probably the first review I’ve read of the Death Note film that I actually agreed with. Fans are understandably mad, but on its own, I think the film is just fine and I’m interested enough that I’d happily watch the implied sequel whenever that rolls around.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I’ve been reading some really angry reviews of this and while I get not liking the film (because it is different), some of the criticisms have been more grounded in the movie not meeting a personal expectation rather than the quality (or lack of quality) of the film and story.
      I kind of hope this does get a sequel because this could make for a reasonably fun franchise to binge watch with friends one day.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Agreed. They should have changed the title and perhaps even more the names of the characters and to say that it was inspired by Death Note. I guess it wouldn’t have been this bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s interesting to read a different opinion. My dash in Tumblr is filled with lots of hate for it. Reading your post, I guess it’s not just for the majority of the fans of the original source. Nice review!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I hope to see this one the coming weekend. Most of the reviews so far have completely toen the movie apart, so it’s actually nice to see a review that has a different view for it. I’m not usually one that immediately thinks a movie is bad, because it tries to do something else with the source material (I also enjoyed Ghost in the Shell for instance), so I’m going to see what to make of this. Great review! 😀

    Like

    1. I have definitely been reading a lot of hostile reviews about this one and really, watching it as a ‘Death Note’ movie I kind of hated it the first time through. Then I just really tried to watch the film for what it was trying to do, and while it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, its kind of okay and certainly watchable. Entertaining if you are into that kind of teen/horror thing and I am so it worked.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Glad you enjoyed it. Even setting aside the source, I found the film to be poor at best. There were too many dumb moments and bad characterization for me to enjoy it at all. I will say that Dafoe was the best part. While Ryuk was totally different in his portrayal, I felt Dafoe did a great job capturing it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The dumb moments and bad characterisation at times didn’t bother me so much because for a teen based American horror it was pretty average for those elements. And I just like bad horror movies so this was a perfectly watchable film for me and I know I own worse on DVD (Fangs comes to mind).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoy bad movies too, but I felt like this movie promised a certain quality and just didn’t deliver. It felt like somebody really loved the Final Destination series and wanted Death Note to be that. Ended up not working well for me at least.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I completely agree with you, Karandi! Death Note was soo different, from the rules of the book to the characters. However I see it more as a separate movie than “Death Note.” I agree that it would have been better if they named it something else. I’m also okay with it, as long as I keep in my mind that it is not Death Note.

    Liked by 1 person

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