Just to get it out of the way, I don't have a problem with the idea of American adaptations. My problem is when they make the cast all or mostly white (because apparently American = white), and it happens again and again with these adaptations. (What I find funny is when movies make the main characters white, but have more Asian supporting actors and extra than other movies. "See, we do support Asians in the entertainment industry!") Moving on...
My roommate watches movies with subtitles, so when I first started watching it, I would see text like: "(Suspenseful music plays)". That right there ruined the experience for me because it just threw in my face one of the cliches they brought into it. Then I saw it took place in Seattle (more on that later). Three-fourths in, I learned it was in North Seattle, which was funny because the day it came out was my last day petsitting for my sister in North Seattle, and I left there to go back home to Bellingham. Also, some weeks ago, my sister was complaining about the ferris wheel now on the Seattle skyline, and I was thinking about how movies are now going to include it. Little did I know Death Note would be one of them.
There were some really good aspects to the movie, but they were held back by the sloppy writing and directing. I liked the idea they had with it, but they shouldn't have tried to remake the Death Note we know and love. I think they should have made it into a series with different characters and maybe a different Death God. Face it, people are very snobbish about adaptations. Changing the story as they did will not quell the anger. They also had good reason to maintain certain elements of the anime.
The series and manga were very genre-defying: brilliant, good-looking, charming narcissist comes across a supernatural notebook that brings death to those whose names are written down, only to be pursued by an equally brilliant and bureaucratically powerful agent. It was a game of wits, watching as Light and L tried to outsmart each other. It was suspenseful, but not necessarily because of violence or "time was running out". The audience, like Ryuk, pretty much watches what unfolds, like eating popcorn while reading debates in a comments section that you have no particular allegiance to.
By watching the first episode, you can tell there's something wrong with Light. However, he knows how to shield his delusions of superiority from the outside. With the Death Note, he finally has an outlet. He carries on with his delusions because he doesn't believe he has an intellectual equal who can stop him. In comes L, who is also very calculating. Not only does Light feel threatened, he is put off by L's unwillingness to blend in with the average person. Both characters are prone to emotional bouts, but it only affects their actions to a certain degree.
What does the Netflix adaptation bring us? A gritty, emotionally-driven story about love, (evil) power, and loss. I guess they wanted to make it more "realistic". Their attempt at creating a gritty atmosphere made this movie look like an obscure indie horror. And of course they had to set it in Seattle because it's often so dark and rainy. It's also Hipsterville, which doesn't help the "forced indie" feel. Unlike the anime, this movie played up the supernatural aspect of the story, which further contributed to the cheap horror mood. The anime knew how to balance out reality with the supernatural.
When I looked up Nat Wolff when I found out he was playing Light, he looked exactly like I would expect an American Light to look like. But for the film, it looked like they tried to make him look like Light Yagami, which I thought was odd. Light Turner reminded me of an '80s nerd, in all but looks. The way I watched things unfold, it seemed like Light was just an Average Joe whose tragedy came about from supernatural circumstance, and that he deserved our sympathy. As a character, I didn't feel much for him.
L didn't impress me, but I don't so much blame Lakeith Stanfield as I do with the writers and Adam Wingard, the director. Was he purposefully made unsympathetic? His physical quirks as L badly stood out. It was like he was told to "act like" anime L without actually becoming him. In the anime, L sends curveball after curveball. There was barely anything in this movie that made him impressive to me. His first scene with obscure criminals almost did it. And like the other characters, he was overly prone to his emotions controlling him, and in this case, his rage fueled him for what I think was most of his screentime. Even in this adaptation, we learn he was shaped into becoming one of the best detectives in the world. I seriously would have never guessed that with what we saw onscreen.
Mia, played by Margaret Qualley, was the most likable character, in a mwahaha way. I was suspicious that she would become the one obsessed with the Death Note's power, but I didn't know how she would go about it, which made it interesting. When she threatens Light with death, I thought, "This is the kind of fuckery I've been waiting for!" She was more Light Yagami than Light Turner was. And she's the reason why I felt like this would have been a better Netflix series than a movie.
Of course, being a scary-looking supernatural thing, they just had to make Ryuk into an evil character. It's hard for me to decide whether L or Ryuk was the weakest character in this, if anything, the changes to Ryuk were probably the biggest mistakes this adaptation made. In the anime, he and Misa provide some more of the lighthearted content. Due to their reinterpretation of Ryuk, the mood of the story needlessly changes, and he's no longer that interesting of a character. I liked his response to Light's threat, and he did make some good quips, but all of that wasn't enough to make up for creating an abysmal character.
This wasn't really that streamlined of a review, but like the writers for this movie, I just didn't really want to put in too much work into this, and fuck cohesiveness! Too many details were added to the adaptation (which doesn't work too well with film), so here are some extra things I thought about that just don't blend in anywhere else in my review:
-In the beginning, we learn that Light's mother was killed. I started thinking about him as a Disney princess. After he argues with his father about his mom, he goes up to his room. I felt like he was going to sing a song, in a lilting soprano voice, about how he wants to be swept off his feet and live happily ever after.
-My favorite scene probably had to be when Light was asking his father about L. It was creepy, and it was enjoyable to watch him try to fish out the information he needed.
-I can't stand how Light was so easily able to manipulate Watari. You would think that both L and Watari would be smart enough to realize that Watari is capable of being manipulated by Kira.
-It had so many moments that were cheesy and cliche, like with the music. I felt like it was an MTV special with how much music they played. With the fall of the ferris wheel, they should have taken a hint from Hitchcock.
-Then the ending...as if it wasn't confusing enough, it dragged on. I couldn't believe I still had over ten minutes to watch after the ferris wheel. (Cheesy setup to a sequel.) This was after the first three-quarters of the story was rushed.
-While I didn't mind the idea of using gore and sensuality, it came off as them trying to compete with Game of Thrones. It was more of a gimmick than something that positively contributed to the story.
-It did have some witty lines.
-Why did the high schoolers run from the rain screaming? Isn't this supposed to take place in Seattle?
-The actors themselves weren't bad. But there were scenes where I really hated the directing of the actors.
-I liked the idea of Light thinking the police were after him because they knew he was Kira, rather than his father just wanted him to be safely guarded. Nevertheless, Light's intentions and actions were so confusing. (Sure, he had already written Mia's and the others' deaths into the Death Note, but it still doesn't really make sense.)
-How the hell did Light explain what happened in the detention room after Ryuk destroyed it?
-Why the hell did Light tell someone he barely knows about the Death Note? Is that how kids these days impress their crushes? Nevertheless, I did like the idea of Light and Mia harnessing the power of the Death Note together, I just wish it happened more naturally.
-Unlike the anime, this movie's Death Gods can only be seen by the owner of the Death Note. It makes for an interesting take on the relationship between Light and Mia, albeit this doesn't really go anywhere. Does she believe him because the Death Note is actually real, so it makes sense there is a Death God only visible to the owner? (Do the rules say anything about the Death Gods' invisibility?) Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame did it better with Quasimodo and the gargoyles.
-I liked how when the person who walks in on L and Light in the alley is revealed to be a Kira worshipper.
-The "lesser of two evils" theme was a nice exploration, although it barely went anywhere.
-It seemed like Mia had a boyfriend before Light. What happened to that? Just a normal breakup?
-I can't explain why I liked it, but the right-wrong debate around the discovery of Light doing other people's homework had something to it. By this point, I knew he wasn't Light Yagami, who would have probably talked his way out of detention, but if handled correctly, could have Light Turner into a better character - as in better compared to what we saw in this adaptation.
-I was glad to see that the action-packed trailer wasn't accurate to the mood of the film (although the grittiness, which was also seen in the trailer, made up for that). The action at the end of the film could have worked if approached differently. But muh cliches and cheesiness.
-Loophole? Light could have burned the page his name was written on and not given the Death Note to Mia. Maybe that would just mean she would do it again, and she "knew" that Light wouldn't write her name to prevent that. **I guess it's because she had the page on her. Even so, if Light was desperate enough, could have found a way to get it from her.
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