When I saw the teaser for the new live action Death Note on Netflix I stupidly got quite excited, as a fan of the anime series, I was hoping it would be to a similar standard. How naive I was. When the film finally had its exclusive release on Netflix, I watched the full trailer and could tell instantly that I was going to be hugely disappointed. I decided then that I probably wasn’t going to watch it, at least not straight away, and that perhaps one day I would watch it as it made its way onto my list of films to see. That list being every single film that has ever been made. So maybe I would get around to it before I die, maybe not.
But then I started seeing people commenting on how terrible it was, and I realised it was a great opportunity to write a review, and as you’ll maybe notice over time, I get far greater satisfaction from writing reviews of atrocious films than I do for films that I enjoy. Maybe that’s a bit fucked up, but the words seem to flow better when it’s from a place of, dare I say? Hate.
Hate is a bit of a strong word, but yeah, you get the gist.
I may be wrong, but I would think that if you are a fan of the anime series, it’s unlikely you are going to like this film. It is so insulting to the original anime, Adam Wingard might as well have sent Tsugumi Ôba a letter telling him to go fuck himself. So, this left me questioning, who the hell was the intended audience?
Nevertheless, as a standalone film, it is also terrible.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the live action film and the animated series.
Firstly, the way Light’s, Ryuk’s and L’s characters have been rewritten for this film does it a huge disservice. All the elements of these characters that made them likeable have been removed, I honestly cannot fathom the thinking behind this. Light’s character in the anime series is highly intelligent, meticulous, cool, calm and collected. If you look at when Light meets Ryuk in the live action version, Light is a petrified child hiding under a table, this couldn’t be more different from the anime. Light’s bedroom is a complete mess in the LA version but is immaculate in the series. In the film Light is weak-minded, petulant and whiney. Another thing that is hugely different from the series is the fact that Light is quite happy to tell the first person who comes along about his exciting new toy, unlike Light in the series, who goes to great ends to avoid anyone discovering the book or the fact that he is Kira.
I also wish to add, the scene when Ryuk reveals himself to Light is a massive rip off the Labyrinth (1986) in which the Goblin King reveals himself to Sarah. The wind blowing everything around, the music. Urgh, it was blatant.
I personally found Ryuk to be a very lovable character in the series, I’m sure there are many who agree. Ryuk although frightful to look at, was the comedic relief, there wasn’t really anything else scary about him. In the film, they sucked all the comedy out of that character, making him serious and intentionally scary. The only positive thing I must say about Ryuk, given the direction they took the character, is that Willem Dafoe was good casting in that regard.
In the series Ryuk drops the Death Note to Earth out of pure boredom, for some reason in the film it has now become a necessity that the book is used by a human, and if Light isn’t up to the job, Ryuk HAS to pass it on. I found this to be such a strange rewrite. Ryuk was an inquisitive creature, he just wanted to see what would happen, he never forced Light to use the book, he was only there to advise, explain and watch. In this, Ryuk is menacing and threatening. I was hugely disappointed to find my favourite character had absolutely no semblance of himself (except for looks and a penchant for apples) in the live action version.
The character Mia, who is clearly supposed to be based on Misa from the series is completely unrecognisable as well. In the series Light finds Misa of great annoyance, and uses her for his own ends. He has no regard for her and only keeps her around as a convenient form of misdirection. Whereas in the film Mia almost takes on a lot of attributes of Lights character from the series, she is able to make the hard decisions, she is comfortable with killing anyone as she feels it is for the greater good, including Light’s own father (although she doesn’t). Much like Light from the series, she is unwavering. LA Light is easily coerced by Mia, is constantly questioning himself and at times seems blinded by love.
Side note: The fact that Mia gets off on the murdering and the scenes that intertwine the Kira murders with the sex scenes. Laaammmeee, and just plain eurgh.
All in all, Wingard has taken a series about two highly intelligent individuals who, in a cool and rational manner, outdo each other in a game of wits that is highly suspenseful and fascinating, and has turned it into two irrational kids who act out of anger and emotions. There is none of what makes the original series interesting, in this film.
Not everyone agrees, and that was the point of it, but in the series, I HATED Light. He had a god complex, he felt he was right to judge and hand out “justice”. I loved L’s character, and was glad to see L finally outwit Light in the end. In the film, L fails miserably, he shames himself and the puzzle pieces are finally put together by Light’s father. The film infers at its ending that L may take things into his own hands out of anger of Watari’s death. In the series L would never resort to this, he believes, without a doubt, that regardless of what happens, it is not right for a person to take the life of another.
So much of this film contradicts the series, one wonders why they made it in the first place, they had a great foundation to build from, but instead they wrote an entirely different film with the only similarity being the names and the Death Note, and even that had many contradictions to the rules in the original. It feels likes Adam Wingard wanted to use the popularity of the series in order to ensure the film would bring in a larger audience but as we can see, all he has done is shoot himself in the foot, as is evident from the IMDb ratings and reviews.
Yet again we see the Hollywood remake something that essentially dealt with some very thoughtful ideas about morality and have turned it into something entirely superficial. I honestly believe the whitewashing is the least of this films problems. It makes sense that they would transport the events into an American setting, so the castings make sense, I feel they tried to account for this with L’s casting. Really, everyone should be more enraged by the fact that they butchered a brilliant story.
P.S. The music was the only plus to this film, so, shame on you Mr Ross for putting your name to this pile of garbage.