Straight to the point, Death Note definitely misses the mark as an adaptation for one of the most well-respected manga/anime series out there. Though it is not the worst movie by any means, this Netflix original film is rather mediocre as a standalone title.
As someone who loves the anime series for its brilliance and memorable moments, I just found this Death Note to lack the oomph factor of its source material.
(Minor spoiler warnings below.)
Creative Liberties Aplenty
When Death Note released its first trailer, there were various controversies. For one thing, the movie is a Western version of a story that takes place in Seattle as opposed to Japan. In regards to casting, there were also accusations of whitewashing many main characters.
Light Yagami became Light Turner, Misa Amane became Mia Sutton and so forth.
From a plot standpoint, this Death Note has a lot of familiar elements from the base story. A mysterious notebook with the power to kill people falls into the hands of Light, the main protagonist. All you need is a name and a face as you write into it to murder. A “death god” named Ryuk always eggs him on to use the notebook.
Light and Mia, who joins up with him early on as his partner and lover, target the likes of criminals and other despicable individuals. They make sure “Kira,” their code name, becomes well known throughout the globe. In their minds, they think purging the bad people will make the world a better place.
Of course, all of this killing prompts a police investigation to search for Kira to find out how these mysterious deaths occur. In particular, Light’s main adversary in the series, L, must use his wits to decipher the identity of Kira for the sake of justice.
So the shell of the Death Note plot is similar to the original. Because it is an adaptation, I realize the liberties are necessary. It is a different interpretation, after all.
I should not expect everything to be 100 percent like the anime series. Nonetheless, what the film does do with the source material is questionable. And at other times, it is downright infuriating as a fan of the story.
For instance, one of the most iconic things from Death Note involves the psychological chess match between Light and L. The nature of Light and L trying to outsmart each other is one of the most captivating dynamics from the main series.
But this film’s depiction of this particular battle is nowhere close to what you would see in the manga or anime. Nowhere close. It is just one case of many examples of poor execution from a storytelling perspective. There are so many moments where I thought the characters were outright stupid and incompetent with their actions. It was borderline comical for me at how absurd some scenes played out.
In addition to that, I hated how the movie glossed over the actual powers and rules of the death-dealing notebook itself. Learning about the capabilities of the notebook was so fascinating in the anime, but the film does not care to explain much of anything.
Death Note is a subpar movie, though it is not a terrible one by any stretch. There are good qualities to its presentation and whatnot. But it fails as an adaptation because it does not even come close to what the source material achieved. As a standalone title, it would just be a so-so, horror/thriller flick that does not leave a lasting impression.
In other words, to be completely honest, this is a film that relies too much on having the name rather than being a decent movie on its own. Without the name, it is basically nothing.
Stick to the manga/anime.
Death Note (the 2017 film) is distributed by Netflix.