The US Netflix Death Note movie is crap. 3/10. Let’s talk about why!
To note, unless necessary (as in the flaw is the movie relying on you having past knowledge of the anime/manga), I’ll be avoiding comparisons to the source material. It’s obviously worse, everyone has stated this already. I also stand by the philosophy that a filmmaker can make any changes to an adaptation they feel will make the translation to screen more seamless, or them bringing their own artistic endeavours if it is an interesting or compelling change to tell the story they want to tell. I don’t think it worked out here.
Also, not that I think it matters, but SPOILERS AHOY!!!!!!!! I’m talking about the entire movie giving away all the plot details.
-We open with this incredibly silly slow-motion establishing scene of the high school. The first thing to note (outside of how the slow-mo function is more abused here than in a Zack Snyder movie) is the choice to give it this weird 80s aesthetic, particularly in the soundtrack, when the movie clearly takes place in the present day. The only possible narrative reason is to have it reflect the ‘loser high school kid against the world’ trope that was popular in 80s teen flicks. Except the high school setting is only really emphasised in the first act, then largely dropped for the Mia/L stuff with the school more used for setting. It’s a really weird choice only really justified in the director had a similar aesthetic for The Guest and 80s-themed movies and TV shows are in at the moment.
-Light is established writing out people’s homework to sell it off. I guess this is to set up that he’s smart, which will be hilarious once we go into the rest of the film and he’s just the dumbest fucking human being imagineable. I also find it interesting that we open with him selling students forged assignments considering one of the major themes of the story is Light’s moral quandary. I’m not saying forgery is even on the same playing field as murdering innocent people, and Light still is a murderer, I just find the choice odd.
-How nobody else saw the Note fall next to Light is anybody’s guess.
-Light gets punched by a legal adult (they go out of their way to highlight this, AND that he’d get in legal trouble for hitting him), and he gets in trouble for his forgery. I know this kid’s an insufferable prick (even by this point, I hated him), but this is a weird sense of priorities for the administration of this school.
-Light’s mother getting murdered in a hit-and-run, and the guy getting away with it, is just a lazy, overdone trope to justify him using the Note without the moral ambiguity. His mom-pain is not really brought up a lot after he gets his revenge too.
-Some positives: I love the redesign of Ryuk, it’s really effective and makes him a lot more malevolent which was needed for his character change in the movie. Keeping him in shadows was a great choice both in terms of practicality and thematically. Also Willem Dafoe is perfect casting-no disagreements there.
-Less positive are how frustratingly ill-defined Ryuk is as a character. I don’t mind ambiguity, but considering what a huge motivating presence he is in this movie, how he is left so undercooked makes him feel like a McGuffin on standby. We don’t need a clear motive, just an idea of why the fuck he’s doing any of this, or it makes the entire story feel weightless as the inciting incident has absolutely no grounding (and before you bring up that he wasn’t influenced by anything in the original story ‘boredom’ IS a reason!)
-Light screaming like an idiot. This moment has been torn apart enough already, so all I’ll say is holy fuck has Nat Wolff screamed, like, ever in his life?!
-The apple thing is clearly there for fan service, as it’s just really random and strange if you saw this without knowing anything about the original.
-The Final Destination-style kills would have worked better if they were a core concept to the film. Because they focus more on the stuff with Kira, they just feel gratuitous, if well-executed (pun very much intended).
-Light’s first victim is a guy who clocked him eight ways from Sunday and got him in trouble. Light’s second victim is the man who murdered his mother. Nobody makes this INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS CONNECTION until his dad does at the end of the movie. Light only got as far as he did because everyone is stupid.
-And if you think that makes Light smart…yeah, he brings the Note into school, and tells a the first pretty girl who gives him attention EVERYTHING about it just to try to get in her pants. The same girl who was seeing the now-headless bully who got him in trouble, and she sold him down the river. Yeah.
-One of the major themes is morality, particularly when it comes to Light. He is very much against killing innocent people with the Note. But how he figures out who are criminals or not are…his dad’s police files and watching the news. Like, dude, innocent people get caught…
-Also when the plot starts in earnest it’s more of a teen Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing with Light and Mia using the Note to kill people as Kira, creating a positive name for themselves and having separate motivations that eventually drives them apart. This is honestly a really good set-up to play around with the concept of the Death Note (though personally I’d just call them different names to avoid the fan rage, but whatever), but it feels inauthentic because Light and Mia don’t have a lot of chemistry and their personalities are SO different and they’re SO obviously about to burn each other out that it really stretches credibility that they put up with each other. Moreso in Mia’s case, as she seems a little smarter and Light mostly just listens to his dick, but she even goes so far that it’s seriously unbelievable that Light continues to deal with her.
-Light decides to call himself Kira, because it sounds close to killer in Japanese and he thinks that will throw the cops off. L figures out almost immediately that he’s in Seattle. Light is immensely stupid.
-Speaking of L, another compliment I’ll give the film is that Lakeith Stanfield does a really good job trying to replicate the character. He’s the only one outside of Dafoe who really seems to be trying. He is utterly let down by the writing, but we’ll get there.
-L’s introduction scene has him in a club in Japan surrounded by bodies. Most of them appear to be strippers who work there. I guess they were okay to kill in Light’s eyes.
-Several points in the film, Light is talking/mostly arguing with Ryuk, Mia asks him what he’s doing and Light explains he’s talking to Ryuk. This gets old really quickly.
-L, his face covered, challenges Kira to kill him and quickly deduces he needs a target’s real name to do it. Sadly, it’s one of the few times L shows any degree of cleverness in the film.
-L almost immediately starts suspecting Light, but this ultimately gets confirmed when all of the officers on the investigation except for Light’s father get killed. This was later revealed to be Mia’s doing, but it’s mostly stupid as this was a move done to get the cops off their trail and their incompetency nearly confirm to L who Kira is.
-L, for no fucking reason at all, visits Light at a restaurant and immediately starts accusing him of being Kira. Light all but tells him this is the case because he’s too fucking stupid to convincingly lie under even the mildest bit of pressure.
-This is also the scene that convinces Light he needs to kill L. This is mostly for self-preservation, but he almost immediately goes to murder when someone is in his way and it’s not his father. He seems to feel no moral issues with what he’s doing simply because L slightly humiliated him in a private conversation. This moment has no significant build up in terms of characterisation at all, it feels completely natural for Light to do this. Again, it makes his moral whining about killing the other agents earlier a little hollow.
-Light’s plan to get L’s name is to use the Note to possess Watari, get him to call him (there’s too much stupid ahead to dwell on this), find the orphanage L grew up in and pick out his name. He decides he’ll burn this page to save Watari’s life, which he can only do once, because the movie desperately wants none of the bad shit happening to fall on Light’s lap. The best part, though, is that despite you needing a full name to use the Note on someone, Light just writes…Watari. This isn’t a codename. His name is Watari. Wat
-L, realising Watari is missing, goes absolutely ballistic due to the paternal bond he has with him. He orders a search in Light’s house, confronts him in front of his father at his home, threatens him, and has to be restrained in order to stop him from attacking Light. While it’s obviously a traumatic thing and it has been implied already that he is overly dependent on Watari and not all mentally well, his complete heel turn at Watari going missing feels contrived and he loses what little intelligence and conviction he has. It doesn’t feel remotely earned.
-The film ends at prom. Because of course it does. Light and Mia pull stupid faces for pictures which is weird as Light has just been characterised as a sullen asshole or cowardly overreactor throughout the rest of the story.
-After he manages to get back in contact with Watari before the deadline reaches its end, he cannot burn the page and is shot before he reveals what L’s name is. The page missing was Mia’s fault (she stole the note earlier), but considering they needed L’s name to avoid capture, and she has proven to have none of Light’s moral convictions, why didn’t she get Watari to tell her the name to get rid of him? Also, why did he hesitate-he’s being possessed by the Note, he shouldn’t really fear for his life!
-Mia turns into the final villain. She wants Light to relinquish ownership of the Note to her or he won’t be able to burn the page with his name on it and save his own life. Here’s the thing: it was proven that Mia can use the Note herself without owning it because she used it on those cops. The only thing that’s been established by the rules owning the Note seems to let you do is see Ryuk, which is really not worth going through this incredibly risky and convoluted gamble with someone being hunted down and constantly monitored by the cops.
-To further compound this SHE HAD THE NOTE!!!!! She took it from Light’s room to hide it when L raided his house-it’s how she . She’s even the one who tells him where it is to go get it-giving Light ample time to do exactly what he does! She could have just kept the Note and abandoned Light-hell, she could have easily killed him if needs be, the Note falls out of ownership and she can see Willem Dafoe grimacing all she wants then. Mia is a fucking idiot.
-L finally loses the plot altogether after finding out Watari was killed, takes out a space gun (seriously, what the fuck was up with that thing? Were Star Trek guns too blasé for ye?!) and proceeds to abandon all his principles and tries to just outright murder Light.
-The chase scene. I’m not gonna go too much into it because, again, everyone has made fun of it, but goddamn way to undermine any integrity your leads may have had.
-Light immediately breaks down and is going to tell L everything, despite this kind of fucking up his plan to save his own life. He’s then saved by plot convenience.
-Light and Mia meet at the Seattle Great Wheel, which they were shown on earlier. When trying to evade the cops and L. Stuck in a slow-moving ride that you cannot escape from and can easily be surrounded by. You two are perfect for each other.
-Light gives Mia an ultimatum of him or the Note, she chooses the Note. Light says she signed her own death warrant as it was written that she’d die if she took it. But we see later his plan was entirely dependent on Mia taking the Note, to the point where he wrote that in there, so either Light is being extremely stupid or needlessly callous.
-Ryuk says that the deaths written in the note cannot defy physics. Which is why he uses his powers or something to knock over the wheel. ‘Physics’ apparently includes ‘Death monsters that only select people can see’ now.
-Holy shit the slow motion fall from the Great Wheel kills me. it’s so cheesy, silly, and has the worst song choice ever that it almost turns itself around to be amazing. Almost.
-Ignoring how incredibly convenient a lot of this stuff is even for a note book that can seemingly bend the will of reality, Light’s plan is, like, way too clever for him. As in it’s seriously unbelievable he thought it out. He showed absolutely no growth in terms of him being this clever or ruthless, but yet we’re supposed to believe he came up with an idea to get rid of Mia, get rid of L, save his own life, clear his own innocence and end up with him having the Note returned to him in the couple of minutes it took him to get the Note and run into the computer lab.
-The movie still tries to make Light try to look justified in his actions, but he uses a Reddit-like forum he dismissed earlier on as people being able to write anyone in there. I guess he was wrong, because we are made painfully aware that the two that are controlled to execute Light’s plan were monsters. Damn, that’s morally convenient for a guy who just Machiavellianed his girlfriend to her death and gaslit a man whose life he ruined!
-L’s descent is so comical it gets to the point where we end with the implication that he wrote Light’s name on a page from the Note. Fucking ‘eck. None of this feels sufficiently or naturally developed.
-I didn’t watch the inter-credits blooper reel, but it sounds like a really silly way to end a supernatural thriller that mostly took itself seriously.
There’s probably a lot I forgot to add, but being honest I’m late on this train of hate and this is what I got. Let me know if you think I’m being too nitpicky or you had your own issues with the film.
As of now, here’s the best thing to come out of this entire trainwreck of a movie: