As a big fan of the anime series, I was genuinely intrigued how they would adapt the series for a live action movie. Considering the original series spans over thirty-seven episodes I realised this would not cover the full story and inevitably would cut some out of the story, but I am glad Netflix’s adaptation would at least introduce this story to a new audience.
This adaptation takes the key elements of the death note series, mainly the book and the creepy death god, and uses some names and relationships from the anime, but not all the characters are quite the same. Death god Ryuk and the private investigator known only as “L” is pretty similar to their animated counterpart. Here is where the character similarities stop though. The main character, called Light, is a departure from the teenage genius fans might expect, and is much more of a normal guy. Whilst he does share some of the same motivations, that genius intellect that always made you feel he was 3 steps ahead is not present as clearly here.
Onto the actual film as a whole, Death Note runs at a break-neck speed. Never giving the viewer time to breathe every scene accelerates the plot and clocking in at just 1 hour and 40 minutes (that’s equivalent to just 5 episode of the series) it feels a bit rushed and hectic at times. As I already knew the framework for the story I was okay to follow along but if you didn’t have any prior knowledge at all I can imagine it would get a little confusing trying to figure out all the rules and the twists and turns the characters go through.
The film could have been cast better, with only really L actor Lakeith Stanfield and the creepy voice of Willem Defoe worth mentioning for their performance. Lead actor Nat Wolff felt like he didn’t quite fit the character for me, and his performance lacked something. the same could be said for Margaret Qualley who played love interest Mia. I wouldn’t go as far to say either gives a bad performance, just neither made the role their own and really commanded the screen.
Director Adam Wingard does a decent job, and I respect the bold move to stray away from sticking to every beat of the anime series. The plot is closer to being an original story within the Death Note world than being a straight retelling of the anime’s story. The film also has a lot of style and looks great, with Ryuk in particular looking suitably creepy, even if he looks a little rubbery when we see him in lighter scenes.
The third act of the movie the tone seems to shift a little towards a standard young adult teen romance film. It is understandable for these themes to creep in considering the age of the characters involved, but I did feel it was a little jarring given the seriousness and dark nature of the source material.
My biggest problems with Death Note all stem from my love for the Anime series. There is a wealth of story for the creators to adapt here, but a lot of it is fumbled and misses the mark that I was hoping for. This adaptation teases fans of the anime at times, hinting at what could have been a very good adaptation if this was spread over an 8 hour live action TV series, which is where I feel Death Note would have found a better home. As a film it rushes through its story, not giving us enough time to really connect with any character. The style is there, but im afraid Death Note’s rushed story left me longing for the anime, when I wanted to be excited for future films.
5/10 – Adaptation misses the mark, watch the anime instead.