Last week the Death Note Netflix movie was finally released to Netflix. And it was received with "mixed" responses (to say it nicely). But as I promised earlier on, I sat down and took an attempt to watch it.
I nodded approvingly (a few times), I cringed (A LOT) and I literally rolled over the floor laughing at the horribly stupid finale. That's the movie in one sentence. Let's dig a little deeper in what worked and what did NOT work in the Death Note movie.
V reviews: The Netflix Death Note movie
Casting: A mixed bag
This movie caught a lot of flack for the whitewashing of Asian roles and portraying everything in an American setting instead of Japan. I could only sigh at the ignorance of such comments. Come on people, People if you want this in an Asian setting, go watch the Japanese Death note movies. There's like six of them now.
This is an American adaptation, get over it already. Could there have been made more roles available for Asian actors? Yeah, definitely! But we got what we've got.
And what we got is poor. Let's run over this quickly:
- Horrible casting choices: Nat Wolff as Light, Margaret Qualley as Mia and Shea Whigham as James Turner.
Wolff is a B-grade Tobey Maguire. He looks nor acts nothing like Light from the manga/anime (safe maybe the last five minutes). Margaret looks like she would fit right in a high-school movie like Mean Girls, rather than anything related to Death Note. The most out of place character is probably Shea, who looks and acts like he has no clue in what kind of movie he's in THE ENTIRE TIME and he has no chemistry with any other character in the movie.
- Okay casting choices: Lakeith Stanfield as L and Paul Nakauchi as Watari.
Both are clearly good actors who are giving it the best they can. But the script often forces these two to do or say stupid shit. Don't blame the actors, blame the script.
Also, can anybody explain to me how the only Asian actor casted ended up playing the one character that ISN'T Asian in the original story? (*facepalming*)
- Amazing casting choice: Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. I honestly can't imagine anybody else in Hollywood as the Death God and he NAILS it! I get that the number of appearances were limited due to budget constraints; but every scene with Dafoe in it was elevated to a new height.
Pacing: Rush rush rush
The biggest flaw this movie has is that the entire feature is rushed beyond belief. The original series and manga is slowly paced, which is very fitting for a suspenseful thriller. Every chapter, every episode is paced and filled in such a way to keep you on the edge of your seat.
But in this movie everything rushes by you so fast, it's very hard to catch the minor details (apples, marbles, pictures, etc) and it makes the plot details harder to follow to those unfamiliar with the source material. It also has a consequence that things that could've been missed suddenly need to be repeated.
Honestly, this should've been a Netflix (mini-)series. This so more time could be spent on character development and the plot twists.
Image and Sound: Good and bloody awful (respectively)
The overall imagery and cinematography is one of the few things I can applaud in this movie. The overall feeling I get from watching this movie, the angles, the set pieces, etc... it's all good looking and would've made for a good movie (if the rest would've been good). There's a lot of visual clues and hints of events to come for those that spot it.
But the music? Oh my god, it's frigging awful. The overall soundtrack is bad enough as it is (it's like fit for a B or C-level movie), but the songs that are inserted in the third act are not only distracting, they literally made me roll over the floor laughing because they're so horribly chosen and don't fit the mood of the scene AT ALL.
The song used at the Ferris wheel climax is (no joke) Chicago with I don't want to live without your love. The choice is so baffling, it made me laugh non-stop for at least five minutes. The song used when Light explains his plan (The power of love from Jennifer Rush) is equally weird and distracting. And both should be moments that require your full attention. But it does the exact opposite. After the movie ended, I could only think about the stupid music and not about how the movie actually ended. That's the effect the music has on you.
The Screenplay: In need of at least two more rewrites
I need to give the movie some praise: There are hints of a good story in this script. There's a few changes to the source material that either make more sense in the modern US setting or help with Light's motivation to kill criminals.
Let me give you an example. In the manga the sole reason Light starts killing criminals in his Death Note is boredom. No, he literally says so in the first chapter and the chapter is equally named Boredom. But the change that Light is taking revenge for a failing justice system in this movie is kind of a better motivation, don't you think so?
However, for every change to the source material that is good, there's two other changes that are awful or horribly dated in 80s/90s movie cliches.
A few examples: Making Mia a cheerleader (dated cliche), removing Matsuda from the story (he's essential to the story, so why?), forcing Watari to do Light's bidding (HOW? WHY? That's impossible!), skipping out on the Lind L Tailor scene and ruining the follow-up with Light's father (WHY? The Lind L Tailor scene twist is amazing).
Turning Light from a tactical mastermind into a sad duped kid
While I applaud the fact that the creators have tried to make Mia more manipulative herself (rather than be manipulated in the source material), the fact that Light is left as a sad little shell of his manga counterpart is what makes fans of the original rage on the internet. There's a reason why I keep comparing him to Tobey Maguire. He's really similar to Tobey's performance as Spider-Man in the Raimi trilogy (up to and including sad and angry faces).
I could only cringe at the scene where Light rushes up to Mia and says: "I have a Death Note." No really, that literally happens in the movie. He was almost begging her: "Give me attention, I have an object that may interest you!". That is 100% the complete opposite of anything Light Yagami would ever do.
What is missing from the movie
First and furmost, both famous memes are not present. The iconic scene of "I'll take a potato chip and eat it!" is nowhere to be seen, nor is the "All according to Keikaku/plan" line. But I can understand that some higher ups would be opposed to silly lines like that if they don't get the context of the source material and fandom.
But several characters have been scratched from this movie to my surprise. Yes, the absence of Light's mother is explained in the movie. But Light also has no sister in the movie (as if to emphasize that Light is a loner?).
The most surprising absence however is the character of Matsuda (or whatever they would've renamed him). Of all supporting characters, Matsuda is on one end the most sympathetic character (as the bumbling rookie cop that believes in justice), but is an essential audience point of view character. He could be the one that asks the difficult moral questions or helps avoid plot holes by asking typical "how does this work" or "how do you know that" questions.
And he would've fit right in the movie as partner to Light's father, maybe as "the only cop that sides with him", or "too young and inexperienced to judge him".
And trust me, adding a character like Matsuda would've livened up this otherwise dreary and rushed plot. Heck, due to what happens in the final episode of the anime/manga, he's technically a major character. So scratching him from the story is a missed opportunity.
This movie is just another wasted opportunity. And honestly, it could've been a lot better with only a handful of script rewrites. It's like they had to push this through a budgeted schedule and a lot of things ended up suffering because of it.
In the end, it's just another anime adaptation that we can put on the pile of "failed attempts". I wonder what the next one is going to be.
Rating: 5/10. It has traces of a good movie, but doesn't go further than "traces". Skip it, unless you're really interested in how they f**ked this one up.
Until next time, V out.