5 Things Wrong With The Netflix Death Note Movie
Death Note isn’t just among the most popular Japanese anime out there, it’s grown beyond the bounds of its domain to become an international phenomenon. You don’t have to be an Otaku to appreciate the immense depth of this psychological thriller. A unique concept couple with memorable characters and stellar plot twists, all in a relatively grounded world make it an excellent gateway to the world of anime. It isn’t perfect by any means, with the second half of the series often pegged as a step down from the first, but the recent live-action adaptation by Netflix has fans thinking it might not have been the worst thing that happened to the franchise.
To the uninitiated, it might not seem like the worst film in the world, as it holds its own based purely on the concept. Having watched the anime series and the first three Japanese live-action movies myself, I found it hard to see past its flaws, despite my best efforts. In what follows, I explore what I felt were the film’s top shortcomings.
Spoiler Warning: Minor to major spoilers for Netflix’s 2017 live action Death Note film and the Death Note anime series ahead.
Unnecessary Love Story
At this point, it’s become almost a given that if there’s more than a single person in a Hollywood movie, the script is going to at least hint at the possibility of a love affair, especially if there’s any mention of High School. Even though it’s among the oldest Hollywood tropes, writers continue to pivot their stories around it and not just because it sells; it is also the easiest (read: laziest) way to convince the audience of a character’s motivation.The killer notebook’s appearance almost felt like an afterthought
The very first scene of Netflix’s Death Note sees its protagonist share a semi-moment with his future love interest. While this does help move things along a little faster in the scenes to come, it does so at the detriment of the story’s focus. The writers seem to have underestimated the impact of the way the anime went about introducing its audience to the Death Note, instead opting to treat it like every other element in the story. In fact, compared to the aforementioned glance dance between Light and Mia, the killer notebook’s appearance almost felt like an afterthought.
The unnecessary focus on Light and Mia’s romance doesn’t end there, however, as the movie continues to divert focus towards their complicated relationship while Light’s battle of wits with his polar opposite and intellectual equal, the detective known only as “L,” is reduced to a single forgettable scene.
A run-of-the-mill, impulsive teenager instead of a dangerous, calculating sociopath with a god complex
There’s no doubt that Netflix’s Light Turner and the anime’s Light Yagami are two very different individuals. One can make peace with the fact that the studio insisted on using the character’s first name even after stripping him of his original personality. They didn’t make slight tweaks to the character, though, with the end result being far from likeable. Much focus was taken away from his hyper-intellect to the point where he mostly seems like a run-of-the-mill, impulsive teenager instead of a dangerous, calculating sociopath with a god complex.
While the aim here might have been to have the character seem more grounded, that’s not all it did. Taking the intimidating nature of Kira away certainly didn’t help him. His twisted yet unwavering sense of justice remained largely unexplored as well, which contributed to making his motives ambiguous.
Through quite a majority of the film, Light didn’t even seem like his own character, instead coming off as a derivative of his relationship with Mia. To put it simply, Netflix’s take on Kira is a combination of a fairly ordinary teenage boy with ambiguous intent and a twisted teenage girl who – major spoiler – betrays his trust for power.
“L” is For Lackluster
His sense of justice takes the backseat when the going gets tough
There are few characters as revered for their intellect as Death Note’s “L.” The movie does manage to capture the signature eccentricity and intellect of the freelance detective, but does away with calm, calculating demeanor, once again, most likely to make him seem more human. He has the sweet tooth and strange mannerisms of his anime counterpart, but unlike the latter, his sense of justice takes the backseat when the going gets tough. In fact, while it is never confirmed, the movie’s ending does imply that Kira’s hunter is capable of cold-blooded murder – the same brand of vigilante justice that he so strongly condemns at the beginning of the movie.
Most disappointing is the fact that L and his efforts to thwart Kira feel like more of a sideshow throughout the movie with the relationship between Light and Mia taking center stage. Heck, even Light’s father – major spoiler – ultimately figures out his involvement in the Kira murders at the end of the movie, mostly without the detective’s help.
Battle of Wits Not Included
I’ve mentioned this twice before, but I felt it needed a section all to itself – one of the best elements of the anime is the battle of intellects between the vengeful Light and justful L. Of course, a 90-minute movie would be hard-pressed to include more than a couple examples from the anime, but Netflix’s adaptation made no effort whatsoever to go said route. There was a short, face-to-face confrontation for fans to chew on, but it hardly did justice to what defines the rivalry between the two – a complex, nail-biting match of chess driven by clashing ideologies.
Ryuk’s Unclear Motives
In the anime, Light’s shinigami companion is perceived as an oddball, even among his kin. Bored by centuries of watching life play out in the human world, Ryuk grows bored and decides to drop a Death Note to Earth to spice things up. While he seems unable to process empathy, and is clearly interested in Light’s ideology to use the Note to smite evil, if only for its entertainment value, he puts all his cards on the table, making his motive completely clear. He even warns Light about the dire repercussions of using the Note.
Ryuk’s Netflix variant, however, is more of a tenacious devil trying to tempt unwary souls into committing acts of evil than a playful death god on the hunt for a thrill. His backstory remains unexplored, with the only hint of his motives being that he is looking for a “keeper” to use the Note. Why he needs a keeper in the first place is never explained. It is made clear that he has a hidden agenda and is not to be trusted, but that’s all the viewer is ever told.
A lackluster formula entailing an impulsive Kira duo and an emotional L
Certain reviews around the web might suggest that these discrepancies were a product of the movie’s relatively short run-time, and while I do agree that an additional 30 minutes or an hour might have allowed for better character building, it won’t have affected the movie’s lackluster formula entailing an impulsive Kira duo and an emotional L being pawns in a Death God’s games.
It’s clear the studio wanted to take their adaptation in a different direction than the anime or the 2006 Japanese live-action films, though they might have been better off creating a story with all-new characters. The film does leave room for a sequel to tie its loose ends, but with a string of unflattering reviews weighing it down, the studio is likely to think twice about green-lighting a second installment.