Despite the negative hype leading up to this Netflix adaptation, I really wanted to give this film a fair chance. I saw the trailer and was relatively unimpressed but I wanted to withhold judgment until after I saw the actual movie. Unfortunately, my instinct proved correct and no one was more disappointed than I.
Synopsis: Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a high school kid who finds in his possession the Death Note, a book that gives its bearer the power to kill any person just by writing their name on it. This is done with the help of a death god, who comes with the package. As Light explores the power of the Death Note, he and his girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) use it to end the lives of criminals and other accused of committing atrocious crimes. As the law closes down on Light, who has assumed the name Kira, a detective named L threatens to reveal his true identity.
I didn’t want to dismiss Death Note entirely because I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, who directed some of my favorite horror movies. Adam brought his A-game to this adaptation of the Japanese manga, anime and later live action movie. And the film was not lacking for his signature gore, 80s themed scoring and unique shots. However, his tricks were not enough to save the movie that was basically stripped of anything that made the Japanese franchise such a success.
The film’s epic failure lies in the cast and the characterization. The rivalry of Light Yagami and L in the original series was one of the best selling points of the anime and the Death Note Live Action movie , and both versions were able to incorporate that into the end product. I don’t know what the hell the US version was going for. Light was supposed to be smart. He should have had a clear sense of purpose, but for the most part, he was only being strung along by Ryuk or his girlfriend Mia, who was as charismatic as a dishrag, sorry to say. The cat and mouse game between the original L and Light was suspenseful as they seemed to be on equal footing, making people root for Light not to get caught quickly to extend the pursuit. The US version of the two characters were also on equal footing. Both were stupid, overly emotional and drowned by their own sense of “purpose” that they basically had no rapport with anyone else.
L was smart and childlike, and while his US counterpart tried to imitate his mannerisms, the added nuances didn’t quite work because he failed to embody L’s eccentricity which made him so likable. Ryuk was scheming in both versions but the original shinigami seemed for the most part, carefree, lulling the book’s owner into a false sense of security. I don’t know why anyone would trust his US counterpart because from the get go, he made no bones about showing his true colors.
All in all, Netflix’s Death Note may not be technically a failure for anyone who has no idea who or what the original characters were. But believe me that this remake was a copout devoid of anything that the franchise was about. A remake is supposed to be a fresh take on a franchise but still retain its basic essence, and this version just took the title and went with it. This is why, even though the actual reveal at the end should have provided the wow factor, but it delivered nothing but relief that the movie has ended. And guess what, I never even raised the issue of the whitewash.