Death Note (2017) Review

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Final Destination with a William Defoe demon.

Death Note (2017): 8 out of 10: A famous 37 episode Japanese Anime that everyone loves gets converted to an hour and a half movie that takes place in Seattle. Yeah, that is going to go over well.

There were three main complaints about Death Note pretty much at the time it was announced. They changed it so it isn’t good anymore (Mostly around the character of Light), you can not tell a 37 episode story in an hour and a half (The Dark Tower complaint), and this is yet another example of whitewashing (the Scarlett Johansson/The Ghost in the Shell complaint).

A quick aside before we get into the meat of this Death Note adaptation (warning mini-rant ahead) The Ghost in the Shell complaints were silly. I recently watched the Ghost in the Shell anime and, strange as it may seem, the character of Major really does look a lot like Scarlett Johansson. It is as if the people complaining had not even seen the Anime they were supposedly defending. (Mini rant over and now back to our review).

The Good

The Good: Strangely enough, the only bit of actual whitewashing in Death Note comes from Willem Dafoe, who, I am certain now, was born to play a Shinigami (Japanese Death spirit). He has a more aggressive role than in the anime (Due to the protagonist Light being more passive) but director Adam Wingard wisely keeps him in the shadows. Which honestly is good advice, no matter what role Willem Dafoe is playing. Would have done wonders for Body of Evidence.

The other winner of the most improved character over the anime is Margaret Qualley as Light’s girlfriend. Channeling Kristen Stewart to such a degree that wives were hiding their husbands, Qualley is easily the second best thing in this adaptation. Her character is so much more interesting than her anime counterpart that there is speculation she is an all-new creation despite sharing a similar name.

Also, say what you want, this is a handsome production with good special effects and a nice supporting cast. It also has a nice Final Destination vibe that adds to the fun in a way the anime sometimes could not.

The Bad

The Bad: The following is true: by the end of the first episode of the Death Note anime, which is all of twenty minutes, Light had declared himself a God. The 37 episode anime moves faster than the hour and a half film that adapts it. But, like the Scarlett Johansson kerfuffle above, people’s perception can differ from reality. People claim the movie is moving way too fast for the material. Who is right? Everyone it turns out.

While the movie may not, at least initially, move faster through the plot than the anime, it certainly feels like it does. It is not something that can easily be put into words, but the plot feels much faster.

Part of this is due to the change of the main protagonist, Light. In the Japanese anime, he was a jock and an assertive guy who used woman and glad-handed with adults. In the American version, he is scared to talk to girls and gets beat up a lot. So for the American version to get to the “I am a God” you have a lot more ground to travel. Invariably, this causes the film to feel rushed even though it is covering the same period of time.

Light’s antagonist L suffers the same fate. We never take the time to see him solve small deductions, so he comes across more as someone who reads through the entire script rather than someone who is figuring things out based on evidence.

The film does seem to skip some of the show your work that is needed to establish these characters. Honestly, it simply is too short and too faced paced. It needed to be longer and take its time, so one event felt more like a natural outcome from another event.

The Ugly

The Ugly: A homecoming dance, really? I have chosen on purpose to not mention one of the weirdest and worst soundtracks in recent memory. I believe it was done on purpose. For what purpose eighties power ballads were ringing in my ear. I am unsure, but there must have been a purpose that I am unaware of. Nobody highlights the most emotional moment of one’s film with Chicago’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” unless there is a secret underlying meaning or perhaps a hostage situation.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Despite some of my concerns above, I enjoyed the film. Death Note is nowhere near as bad as some people made it out to be. Final Destination with a William Defoe demon? Sign me up! I wish it was about half an hour longer to help with pacing issues. This might be a Netflix corporate thing since they also cut the recent Outlaw King about half an hour it really could have used. Overall, a glossy fun picture.

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