Netflix’s ‘Death Note’ Review

Death Note
Netflix

Despite saying this is a review, it will not be a standard review from me. Let’s just get it out of the way, I believe this movie is about a 2 out of 5, though I could easily understand someone else finding it more enjoyable if they aren’t connected to the source material like I am. Furthermore, this will include spoilers, unlike my other reviews where I attempt for the most part to beat around the bush for people who haven’t yet viewed/played the contents described. Now that we’re on the same page, allow me to get into the film.

Light Turner:

Light
Netflix

Despite changing up names/characterizations of the source material, this is still a similar tale. Had this film separated itself entirely, the only connective tissue being the Death Note and possibly Ryuk, I could’ve seen myself enjoy it slightly more. The final 30 minutes of the film would be hard to excuse in any format however, as it turns the film into a complete rushed clusterfuck, but we’ll get into that later.

Starting with Light Yagami Turner, we enter the film’s most radical departure character wise. Light in the manga/anime is one of the most popular and charming student at his school, seemingly the complete opposite of a person you’d expect to become a mass murderer. That’s part of why it’s so jarring to see that inside Light lies a narcissistic egomaniac who quickly abandons his moral compass once he gets a taste of being a God. Light Turner, while still a highly intelligent student, separates from Light Yagami by not really being popular and definitely not charming. In this universe, his mother was killed in a hit-and-run and he doesn’t have a sister, so it’s only his father at home. There’s an isolation to him instead of being the center of attention like Yagami.

This could be a change to have Light relate more to the people viewing the film as they are much more likely to be a Turner than a Yagami. This leads to another change in his character, in which Light quickly shares the Death Note with someone else in an attempt to fit in/have someone to be in this together with. Light Yagami is smarter than this and never reveals the Death Note, well…not until he is found out by the same character from the film anyway, but it’s under completely different circumstances. I do have a plus for this Light though, as he maintains his moral compass for the most part throughout the entire movie. Yes, his first (particularly brutal) kill is a simple bully, but he believes that he’s in a dream at this point, so it can KINDA be excused. Other than that, he obviously still wants to kill L as it’s his only chance of escape, but he outright refuses to kill the FBI agent tailing him as well as his father, while Light Yagami did the former and definitely would’ve done the latter if forced to.

School Chat
Netflix

On the Kira side of things, Light Turner also makes a change, fitting in more with the Americanized version that is being portrayed. Light Yagami’s killings start to show the police and public in large that this all is more than a coincidence, which is what leads to them referring to this new mysterious Death God as Kira. In this film, Turner purposely makes Kira his alias as he has those he murders begin to write out the name in their blood. This reinforces that Light Turner may want to make the world a better place like Light Yagami wanted, but there’s also a selfishness to his desire. He wants everyone to attribute him directly, at least in the most direct way possible without knowing his true identity.

Light Turner is also portrayed as more of a (putting it bluntly) pussy than Light Yagami ever would’ve been. This ties into his good nature, but also his first encounter with Ryuk leaves him screaming like a girl and desperately trying to escape, while Yagami initially let out a yell and then quickly regained his composure. He definitely makes a lot more mistakes than Yagami too, openly having discussion in SCHOOL HALLWAYS about the Death Note. Turner also monologues a lot near the end of the film about how he feels he may no longer be the good guy in the grand scheme of things since using the Death Note, which is why the film largely changes…

Mia Sutton:

Mia and Light
Netflix

Misa Amane Mia Sutton feels more like the cruel side of Light Yagami than Light Turner does in this film. She’s nothing more than simple cheerleader at first, unlike Misa who was a superstar model that also possesses a Death Note. This quickly changes once Light introduces her to the Death Note though, which is first hinted at when she takes the killing of the bully Kenny with glee. She serves more to goad Light into trying to make the world a better place than Light really does, which is why I say she shares more in common with Yagami.

Misa in the source material first comes into play as a second Kira, who tries to earn the admiration of the real Kira. She’s less discriminate in who she kills and also possesses Shinigami Eyes that allow her to see the name of anyone over their head in exchange for half her life span (The eyes aren’t even a factor in this film, so don’t even worry about that). Due to this, she essentially becomes a tool of Light’s to use in his battle against L. He gives her the guise of being her boyfriend, but Yagami’s cruel nature is simply using her for his own benefit.

Mia and Light 2
Netflix

The best thing I can say about Mia is that she’s the opposite of this and actually ends up being the more conniving one. She handles the things Light is too moral to accomplish: killing all the FBI agents tailing Kira suspects, offering to kill Light’s father, taking out Watari as a loose end, and even writing Light’s name in the Death Note to force him into giving her ownership. If anything, she’s more of a threat to Light than L ends up in the film, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for people watching to see the classic cat-and-mouse game between Light and L.

It results in this film being more a twisted love story, with a short cameo by the cat-and-mouse plotline poking its head in at times convenient to it. It’s an interesting idea to take things, but it just wasn’t for me. It doesn’t help that I don’t really think Margaret Qualley is a great actress either. The montage of Light and Mia making out, having sex, coming up with the Kira moniker, developing their ideals for the world, and also murdering people with the Death Note is laughable and poorly done. It fits in with the film’s interpretations of Light and Mia, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good.

L:

L
Netflix

L, at first, is actually the most accurate characterization in the film outside of Ryuk. He’s still the cunning super-detective that he is portrayed as in the manga/anime, as well as being socially awkward and displaying a strong sweet-tooth. Due to the condensed runtime of the film though, his methods of narrowing down and finding Kira could be seen as very convenient. Sadly, much of the back-and-forth between Light and L is missing, since this film seems more interested in the dynamic between Light and Mia. The awesome power-play in which L first manages to con Light by getting him to kill a proxy on live TV is missing, instead opting to give a press conference calling out Kira. It still results in him confirming Kira needs a name and face to kill, but it’s a lot less engaging.

If you ask any fan of Death Note what their favorite part of the series is, I’d bet most would say the dynamic between Light and L. That’s why it’s depressing to see that this relationship is barely touched upon in this film. Light and L meet quite a few times and I’d say they are some of the best parts of the film (Not including the chase scene, which we’ll get to later). A variation of their diner meeting that happens in the manga/anime also occurs in this film, but no mind games are exchanged and instead Light basically outright confirms he’s Kira to L. This does lead to a cool moment where L explains that he’s not here for a check, but a checkmate, so at least there’s that. He doesn’t just want to confirm Light is Kira, he needs to know how he accomplishes the murders as well.

netflix-death-note
Netflix

Sadly, this is about as far as the cool parts of the Light/L scenes go. Shortly after this, Light realizes he needs to get L off his back for good and uses Watari, L’s assistant and caretaker, as an attempt to obtain his real name. We’ll get more into Watari soon, but this plot development leads to L becoming mentally unhinged and straying extremely far from his manga/anime portrayal. The L of the source material is almost always depicted in a calm manner, it takes a lot to get under his skin. Even when Watari dies in the manga/anime, L displays sorrow, but doesn’t let it get to him enough to compromise his mind. In this film, the death of Watari instead results in L grabbing a gun and becoming determined to put an end to Kira, even if it means killing him. This contrasts the scene in the diner, in which L states he doesn’t even carry guns as he find them distracting, but maybe it’s to show how desperate he’s become.

There in lies the problem though, as L isn’t a character that would allow himself to become desperate. He always has a backup plan due to thinking several steps in advance. I can understand the differences in Light and Mia, but with L being the most faithful of the lead characters to the source material, it just sucks to see him devolve into what he becomes in the final 30 minutes of the film. This is why I would’ve much preferred the only connections to the series being the Death Note itself and Ryuk as it would’ve prevented things like this.

Ryuk:

Ryuk
Netflix

It’s hard to fuck up Ryuk, so luckily the film did a good job with what they had. This is easily the best Ryuk has looked in the Death Note films (The one from the Japanese Live Action films looked like it was made with PS2 graphics) and there’s a menace to him that’s actually make him more terrifying than he’s normally portrayed. In the manga/anime, once Ryuk is done intimidating Light in the beginning, he starts to lighten up more and joke around. This isn’t to say the source Ryuk doesn’t have his dark serious moments (He does end up ultimately killing Light, for example), but I just can’t see the same occurring with the film Ryuk and..that might actually be a good thing?

He’s a lot less helpful and manipulative of Light in this film. He assists in explaining some of the rules of the Death Note, but also doesn’t outright answer a lot of Light’s questions and even lies to him on occasion in order to make things more interesting. This leads to the case where Light believes Ryuk killed the FBI agents when it was really Mia, but due to Ryuk simply replying “What do you think?” when asked if he killed them, it’s easy to see why Light gets confused. Ryuk is just a Shinigami that got bored with killing people, so he decided to let humans have a shot at it. It makes sense in the context of all the mediums of Death Note that he’d simply go along with a development if he believes it’ll result in an engaging result.

The one con that I’ll say about Ryuk is that there simply isn’t enough of him. He’s a large presence in the manga/anime, being in a large portion of Light’s scenes to the point where it’s rare Light is ever by himself. In this film, Ryuk sets Light on the path and then sits back and enjoys the show. You can see him in the background of several scenes observing the moment, but I’d say he probably has about 5 minutes of dialogue total in the film. I feel that the reason he’s so underuntilized is that the film changes the circumstances of being able to see Ryuk. In the source material, anyone who touches the Death Note of a Shinigami can see that corresponding one, but in the film, only the “keeper” of the note can see him.

GenerousAdvancedKagu

Watari:

Watari
Watari

I don’t really have much to comment on here besides the fact that Light being able to write down Watari’s name and it actually working is FUCKING BULLSHIT. Watari is suppose to be a codename for L’s assistant, at least in the source material. Even disregarding that, how is it that his full name is simply “Watari”? It shouldn’t be allowed to work and L should’ve predicted Light would attempt this if Watari’s real name is indeed simply that. That’s all.

The Rules:

Rule
Netflix

The Death Note has several rules attached to it that explain how it is properly used and not used. The manga/anime show that there are quite a lot of them, so basically anything you could think of is covered. The film only mentioned a few basic ones, but it also comes up with completely new ones that counter established ones from the manga/anime. This can be seen as an issue, but it can also be seen as this is simply how the Death Note works in this universe, so take it as you will. I would just like to mention a few of them.

The most drastic change to the rules is the addition of one that claims a name written in the notebook can be void if the page it is written on is burned. This contradicts a rule in the source that states even if the entire Death Note is burned, any name written will still take effect. There IS a rule in the source, however, that states you can void a name if the name is written on multiple pages, which honestly is a simpler way of handling it. It also would’ve prevented part of the crazy ending.

Other changes include:

  • The fact that you can manipulate a person’s actions for 23 days before they die is changed to a much shorter timeframe of 2 days.
  • You can apparently kill a Shinigami by writing their name in the Death Note in the film, while in the source there are only a handful of ways a Shinigami can die, their name being written in the Death Note not being one of them.
  • Anyone who touches the Death Note can’t see a Shinigami, only the owner. In the source, anyone who touches the notebook can see and hear the Shinigami.
  • If separated from the Death Note, a human has 490 days to retrieve it before they lose ownership in the source, while it is only 7 days in the film.
  • Apparently you can not only manipulate humans through the Death Note in the film, but you can also manipulate objects. I don’t recall if there’s a rule against this in the source, but the fact that Light can write “and then the page with my name on it falls into fire” seems like a stretch.
  • It’s not really touched upon, but the implication was that Light would still have memories of using the Death Note if he actually gave up ownership to Mia. This isn’t true in the source as giving up ownership causes a memory wipe of anything related to the Death Note.

The Ending:

L 3
Netflix

I have said that the film overall was about a 2 out of 5 for me. It could’ve very well been a 3 had the last 30 minutes been vastly changed. The first 2/3rds of the film is a decent non-faithful reimagining of the source material, but the dial is moved to 11 when the 3rd act begins. Despite loving Light, Mia writes his name in the Death Note and demands he give up ownership to her or else he’ll die at midnight. While he makes his way to get the Death Note, he takes a stop at the computer lab and writes some names down, which will come into play later with the out-of-fucking-nowhere Xanatos Gambit.

He learns that the police are after him, which he believes is due to them knowing he’s Kira, but it’s actually that his father has sent the police in order to put him in protective custody since L is now insane, though I’m not entirely sure how James Turner would know what L’s up to since they distanced themselves from each other after L got a search warrant for the Turner household. Light then takes off from the school, telling Mia to head to the ferris wheel on the pier they visited earlier in the film. Joyriding L finds Light and proceeds to chase after him on foot in a very over-the-top sequence, including a scene where L vaults off a man’s face in a diner, slamming the man’s face into some soup.

L finally catches Light and shows he’s serious by firing off some potshots. Light is ready to come clean about the Death Note in order to assist L in making sure nobody else can get away with what he did, but a surprise appearance by a Kira supporter results in L being knocked out and allowing Light to escape. Light and Mia meet up at the pier and take the ferris wheel to the top where Light desperately tries to convince Mia not to take the Death Note and just love him. This seemingly works, but it actually doesn’t as Mia then takes the Death Note after saying she did indeed love Light. Since Light had previously wrote Mia’s name in the Death Note and stated that she’d take the Death Note from him in the details, I’m not sure why he acts surprised that she did so, unless he’s not as smart as I give him credit for.

The rest of his Xanatos Gambit then takes place in which the entire ferris wheel falls apart, Mia falls to her death (Not before conveniently ripping out the exact page that Light’s name is on and it conveniently falling into a fire), Light falls into the water, a doctor pull him out and puts him in a coma for two days since he wrote that in the Death Note, a retired mailman takes the Death Note to use for two days and then return to Light before committing suicide…because that was also written in the Death Note, and resulting in Light all fine and dandy because not only is he alive, but the mailman killing while he was in a coma would show L that he isn’t Kira.

Now Light Turner was shown to be smart by the fact that he was doing homework for other students, but the fact that he was able to come up with this elaborate plan in the matter of minutes after being told by Mia that his name was written in the Death Note is crazy (Granted, a lot of what Light Yagami does in the source material is crazy as well). Sadly, things don’t completely pan out for poor Light Turner as his dad finally puts the pieces together and learns Light actually is Kira and that L was right. Meanwhile, L refuses to give up on the Kira case and remembers that Light mentioned a Calculus book that Mia used to smuggle out the page of the note that she used to kill the FBI agents. He heads over to her apartment and find the page, seemingly ready to write Light’s name down, lowering himself to the levels of Kira for justice.

We don’t see what happens, but the fact that Ryuk appears for a final time and starts to laugh at Light, commenting that “Humans are so interesting” seems to imply to me that L indeed gives up his moral compass to kill Light, once again destroying his character. Did I mention that the most inapproriate song (“The Power of Love” by Air Supply) plays throughout almost this entire ending? It’s an absolute bonkers ending, seemingly becoming a parody in the closing act.

Even still, despite me saying that I overall didn’t like the film, I can’t completely say it wasn’t enjoyable to watch. I appreciate the fact that Adam Wingard tried to not only make the setting and characters americanized, but also the theme. If a sequel is developed, I’ll be interested to see where the ambiguous ending actually leads to. Now that this film made it clear they aren’t adhering to all elements of the source material and the next film would be a completely unique story, maybe I could end up finding more to like about it.

 

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Author: alexsobecki

A 22 year old who has learned to love and embrace the right-brained nature about himself. Follow me on Twitter @AlexSobecki

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