Disclaimer: This reviewer has not read the manga, watched the anime, or anything else except for the most recent movie on Netflix.
Apparently, it’s not increased greenhouse gas emissions that are causing rapid and unpredictable changes in weather. It’s slow-motion montages of teen angst. At least, that’s what Death Note would have everyone believe. As soon as the movie finishes the collage of scenes from Your High School™ set to an existentially slow rock song that serves to begin the film, a book falls from the sky. Our social outcast and unnamed hero picks it up, not at all disturbed by this event, or by the fact that this old and decrepit book has the words “Death Note” written on the cover, and immediately it begins pouring rain and pealing thunder. Death Note may as well have started with “It was a dark and stormy night … ” to achieve the same clichéd sense of foreboding evil.
At the very least, Death Note doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. Our hero, who the audience learns is named Light Turner (Nat Wolff) after he is bullied (of course) and then sent to detention for selling homework answers (of course), is quickly taught the ways of the book. While sitting in detention—in a room with the word “Detention” on the door sign, just like every high school—Light is visited by a spiky demon named Ryuk. This black version of Sonic the Hedgehog explains that writing a name in the book while picturing the face of the person will cause that person’s death. What’s more, Light can even choose the manner of death. Score!
While all of this happening on screen, Death Note presumably wants the audience to be asking themselves “Who is this mysterious figure?” and “What will Light do about this?” and “Will Light kill anyone?” but this isn’t the case. The question that really burns when Ryuk begins speaking to Light about this mysterious and powerful book is, “Is that Willem Dafoe?”
Unfortunately, it is.
Naturally, Light decides to give the Death Note the ol’ college try by writing the name of the school’s worst bully and his means of death: decapitation. Outside, the audience is treated to the Rube Goldberg coincidences that cause this teenager’s brutal and graphic death. Yay.
Death Note proceeds to stroll confidently down the well-trodden paths of every movie in which someone discovers powerful abilities. Light recruits a sidekick/girlfriend, Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), who helps him decide who to kill. Cue montage of Light and Mia killing everyone on the most wanted list around the world, and then getting so turned on by it that they just have to have sex. They go so far as to use the Death Note to make those they kill write cryptic messages with their dying breath exalting someone named Kira. Light chose this name because it is the Japanese word for death, and the Hindi word for light. His cleverness knows no bounds.
The writers of this movie once heard that good stories have conflict, so a new character is thrown into the film to spice things up. A mysterious and shadowy figure joins forces with the FBI to hunt down the mysterious and shadowy Kira. This character goes by the name of L (Lakeith Stanfield). Apparently, L was trained from the tender age of 6 to be the “world’s greatest detective.” What this means or why this matters is really irrelevant, but Death Note seems to think that this constitutes character development.
Light and Mia work to outrun L and the authorities without relinquishing control of the Death Note. Surprisingly, the mass murder of hundreds of people doesn’t do wonders for their relationship, as Mia and Light lose commonality in their ends and their means.
It seems that Death Note would be much more enjoyable to longtime fans of the property. The movie isn’t very compelling, or even good for that matter, for newcomers to the universe. The plot isn’t hard to follow, or laced with allusions to obscure characters and plot arcs, but the originality falls short for those not already on board with the idea. Death Note feels more like a more interactive version of the Final Destination series, instead of the live-action remake of a beloved manga and anime staple.
Featured Image By Netflix