Film Review: Death Note (2017)

Jordan Samuel Jordan Samuel
Expert Contributor
September 22nd, 2017

Film Critic and Writer for ComiConverse.com, the Founder and co-host of the official Nerdcast Network Podcast

Death Note (2017) is the second Hollywood attempt at bringing live-action anime to our screens, with Netflix paying the bills. But after the failure of previous efforts, does the strange but popular IP favor in a new format? Find out as Jordan Samuel brings the official review 

Film Review: Death Note 

A young man comes to possess a supernatural notebook, the Death Note, that grants him the power to kill any person simply by writing down their name on the pages. He then decides to use the notebook to kill criminals and change the world, with the help of his classmate, who shares his ideas, but an enigmatic detective attempts to track him down and end his reign of terror.

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Death Note is the creation of both Tsugumi Ohba (story writer) and Takeshi Obata (characters), which propelled to fame during the mid-2000s as it’s dark tone was stepped away from lighter manga. I’ve always enjoyed Death Note (2003) both manga and the later anime series, it was more of an adult show with serious themes.

The whole idea of controlling another person’s mortality was horrifying yet gripping. Despite shortcomings in later issues, the series always stayed relevant in anime culture and even blowing up in the west: spawning its own Japanese live-action movie series.

It’s becoming more common seeing big budget anime pictures with various projects in production (Alita: Battle Angel, Robotech, and Naruto), recently Ghost in the Shell (2017) disappointed audiences and fans with a mixed result. Perhaps this whole new wave of Hollywood adaptations will lead into something good, but all hope vanished with the recent flops.

Japanese movie adaptations were hit and miss, focusing a bit much on being identical to the source material with fans not warming towards these live-action takes on signature characters. the manga ran for 108 chapters and original anime ran for years, with hardcore fans delving into various

So, when it was announced that Hollywood would be developing a US version, I wondered maybe they could do something different? Let’s find out if Death Note (2017) retains the franchise ideas in a new updated version.

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Death Note (2017) is a meandering disappointment, throwing away the intelligent writing and odd characters seen in the original manga- for a failing high school student's movie project this alienating hardcore fans. I was looking forward to the big screen adaptation of Death Note because it could have been an original movie with few changes to the source material.

The final results end up at a quality level comparable to a straight-to-DVD release from earlier years, as upcoming young adult director Adam Wingard (The Guest) gives audiences a mediocre version of the cult Japanese animated series and manga. Filmed without the heart and reasoning, with all the originality thrown out the window Death Note is a barely watchable filler on the world’s biggest streaming service.

Adam Wingard gets his chance to bring a new series to the masses but ends up rehashing the already despised Japanese live-action versions with cringe worthy depictions of beloved characters Light Yagami and L (Keith Stanfield). Death Note is dated in many ways as the teen horror-thriller gets bogged down in convoluted, ridiculous writing with each plot turn is enough bat your eyelids at more grounded storytelling could have elevated this boring adaptation.

The American setting is the reason for the stories downfall, as the Japanese culture is sidelined for boring and less interesting pushed forward with the white-washing taken place in order to sell it with Netflix audiences.

Nat Wolff (Fault in Our Stars) plays the high school oddball Light Turner, who stumbles across a supernatural book which gives its owners a power to kill anybody written in the pages: a plot device which doesn’t truly work in this version. Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is lead onto killing his school bully with the book, after years of abuse from various angles; this is a shameful twist which feels like a mid-tier CW program. I enjoyed the actor's portrayal but it just doesn’t do anything to the story, perhaps a more unconventional cast would have been for the better as the director forgets to give the actor guidance.

Adam Wingard get his chance to bring a new series to the masses, but ends up rehashing the already despised Japanese live-action versions with cringe worthy depictions of beloved characters Light Yagami and L (Keith Stanfield). Death Note is dated in many ways as the teen horror-thriller gets bogged down in convoluted, ridiculous writing with each plot turn is enough bat your eyelids at: more grounded storytelling could have elevated this boring adaptation.

Keith Stanfield is L the highly intelligent skilled detective (who sits on chairs oddly), on the case of finding the Death Note owner Kira (Nat Wolf) and stopping his terrorizing reigns. I wanted to love the characters live-action adaptation, but it just feels like Keith Stanfield’s (Straight Outta Compton) phoning in the role with over the top conversations making fans bow in shame: with Adam Wingard not trying to make his character lovable.

Character Motivations are all over the place-with with L, as his whole aim being to rid a city from the only person keeping it clean Light Turned (despite his dodgy way around). The intrigue is lost due to the bad connection between these rival, a rewrite should have changed the role to be more streamlined around Light Turner because the disbelief of them ever meeting is so present in the movie.

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Light (Nat Wolf) and L don’t have the smart dialogue seen in the anime, with all tension building removed due to both actors being distant on screen: smarter writing is needed to make audiences believe the rivals.

Willem Dafoe is the voice of Ryuk demonic god of death and creator of titular Death Note, who guides Light Turner in using the book with many dangers being highlighted. Dafoe does great in bringing the iconic character to life, being a completely faithful nod to a Japanese anime: I wanted more of Ryuk but the CGI heavy look costs a lot for a smaller budget Netflix release

Outside the terrific and insane Ryuk performance from Willem Dafoe, I finished Death Note (2017) painfully disappointed with the white-washed and boring version of a beloved anime. Adam Wingard was not the man for Death Note due to his over reliance on westernizing the already huge Japanese show with unnecessary additions to the mythos.

Death Note (2017) is a pointless adaptation of the Japan animated phenomena, stripping away from the dark and twisted world with cheap horror gimmicks replacing the source material as actors painfully reenact scenes done better with a pencil.

 

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