It seems like Hollywood has been unable to create a great live-action film adaptation of popular anime. There is a range for the level of quality in these adaptations of course. "Dragon Ball Evolution" and "The Last Airbender" were critically panned while "Ghost in the Shell" received mixed reviews. The new Netflix movie "Death Note" fell more in the range of "Ghost in the Shell" and was not a step in the right direction.

Story

Netflix's adaptation of "Death Note" was directed by Adam Wingard, who has also directed great films such as "The Guest" and "Your Next." In this adaptation of the popular anime and manga, the story centers on a high school student named Light Turner, played by Nat Wolff.

On a windy day, a strange notebook called the "Death Note" falls out of the sky and Light picks it up. He quickly discovers that this notebook belongs to a death god named Ryuk, played by Willem Dafoe, who tells Light that this is no ordinary notebook. With only a name and a face, Light can kill any person he wants by writing their name in the notebook. Light can even go so far as to manipulate the individual's action for roughly 48 hours.

The way that Light kills of certain characters remind me a lot of the death scenes in the various "Final Destination" films. Both use creativity and obscene amounts of gore very efficiently, and it's one positive "Death Note" has over its anime counterpart. Of course, this film is not a straight adaptation of the source material, so if that is what you were expecting going into this movie, you are going to be disappointed.

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This film does make some changes to the source material, but the question we should be asking is, do these changes work? Well not quite.

Pros

It's easy to tear "Death Note" apart for what it does wrong and for what it changes; although, I first want to touch upon what this movie does well. First, let's start by touching on Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. This may well be one of the best casting choices Adam Wingard could make. Dafoe manages to capture the evil sickliness of Ryuk perfectly. Willem Dafoe as Ryuk is easily one of the best things in this movie, and sadly he didn't get enough screen time. The movie should've utilized Ryuk more in the plot, especially since he was such an important part of the anime.

Another thing this film does well is the Death Note itself. It would've been very easy for the writers to stick to the basic rules of the notebook, which is writing in a name and that person dies. However, this film does maintain the intricate rules of the notebook to create clever scenarios, which I appreciate.

Cons

The first problem with "Death Note" is the casting for Light. I can tell that Nat Wolff is a new actor who hasn't truly grown yet because his performance comes off as very wooden. There are moments when he tries to express emotion but they either come off as over-the-top or laughable. The scene where Light first meets Ryuk is a good example of this problem. Nat Wolff portrays Light as being scared but the way he delivers it made me laugh rather than feel afraid. The rest of the cast members do a good job, though they aren't exactly stellar.

I'm also not a fan of the way the film decides to portray the character of L, played by Lakeith Stanfield. Of course, this could just be me upset that they changed his character a lot from the original; however, whenever changes do get made they have to make sense, and these didn't. Instead of being calm, cool, and collective, this version of L is too quick tempered and almost comes off as whiny. This was probably done to give the film more drama, which it doesn't, and it fails to do the original character justice. I realize that L did have his over-the-top moments in the "Death Note" anime, but I feel like this version of L could've been handled better.

Another problem with "Death Note" is the way it ends. It tries too hard to climactic like some big Hollywood blockbuster, but the end doesn't flow well with the rest of the movie. The way the ending handles certain key characters also comes off as awkward too. I don't want to give away too much, but I will say that if the ending had been better, I think this film could've been decent.

Final Verdict

All in all, "Death Note" is not a bad movie. The performances are good, for the most part, the production value is competent, and the film does retain some of the essences of what made the original material great. I can tell that this was made by people who were fans of the original "Death Note" and wanted to do the source material justice. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by studio influences and the need to appeal to a wider audience, which explains the disappointing ending. If you are a fan of the original anime, you are going to be underwhelmed with this one. If you're simply a newcomer to the franchise, then you may find more enjoyment in this film. At the very least, I hope that this movie will at least get more people interested in watching the anime.