Our good friend Daddy Warpig isn’t the only one who can be passionately but rationally and analytically disgusted by steaming piles of crap. We at the Superversive team are capable of the same thing, and on that note, I’d like to tell you why the Netflix American Death Note film is an insult to the franchise name, and a black mark on its legacy forever. It’s worse than bad. It’s insulting.
The premise of the movie is the same as the premise of every other adaptation: A Death Note drops out of the sky and is picked up by Light, an exceptionally intelligent but otherwise average high school student. The Death Note gives the holder the power to kill anyone simply by writing their name down. They also get to be followed around by a death god (shinigami, for you purists), the original owner of the note. This one’s name is Ryuk, and he appears in every adaptation, ’cause he’s just that cool (William Defoe as Ryuk in the Netflix movie is one of the few bright spots).
The first place the movie goes wrong is with Light. In the original anime (this is going to be my shorthand for both the anime and manga, since the former is just a direct adaptation of the latter) Light isn’t just smart, he’s a super-genius, more brilliant than every other character in the story except, arguably, L. And this is a story with no dumb characters. His intelligence is god-like.
And Light is also an excellent athlete. And handsome. And great with the ladies. And charming. He’s the classic sociopath – perfect on the outside with the heart of a monster underneath.
In the Netflix movie, Light is smart…for a high school student. He does other people’s homework and has them pay him. That’s smart, I guess. He also stands up to a bully by prissily yelling about how it’s child abuse if he hits them. That’s…not smart. He ends up in detention. Not very Light-like. He has no friends and is a nerd. VERY not Light-like.
In the anime, when Light sees Ryuk for the first time, he’s cool as a cucumber. Oh, a death god? Well, I suppose I do have a notebook with the power to kill people by writing their name down. He doesn’t seem to bother me. Why should I care? Light is stone cold. He assesses threats with the cold-blooded rationality of a predator and reacts to them accordingly. Ryuk might have been scary looking, but when Light deduces he’s not a threat…why freak out over it, right?
This version of Light sees Ryuk for the first time and screams like a little girl crying for his mama. It’s ridiculous and pathetic and very much NOT Light.
Anime Light trusts nobody. Nobody is a “friend”…and nobody is off limits. Light may eventually decide to “trust” you in the sense that he uses you as a pawn because he is convinced you won’t betray him, but this only happens after long and careful planning and deliberation, in the absolute assurance that letting you in on privileged information will directly benefit him in some way.
Movie Light, after using the Death Note to settle a couple of personal vendettas, shows it to a girl (Mia) and tells her what it does.
Was he friends with this girl? Nope.
Does he have any reason to believe she’ll do anything but freak out, and possibly get the Death Note taken away? Nope.
Does he have any reason to believe she won’t try to steal it herself? Nope.
So why does he show it to her?
He has a crush on her. That’s it. That’s the reason. Light reveals that he stone cold murdered two people with an untraceable and unstoppable weapon, because he had a crush on a pretty girl. Movie Light SUCKS.
Where does Light keep the Death Note? Surely in some untraceable spot, somewhere nobody would ever think to look or could stumble onto accidentally?
Anime Light creates an elaborate death trap, ensuring that anybody who doesn’t do the exact set of steps required to retrieve the Death Note from its hiding spot will literally set the entire house on fire and burn everything to the ground. In public he is never stupid enough to carry the Death Note around with him, instead smuggling pieces of paper that he hides in places like secret compartments on his watch.
Movie Light brings it to gym class and reads it on the bleachers, and is promptly spotted. He also carries it around with him, stuffs it inside of a Calculus book (when he doesn’t take Calculus, making it an especially dumb hiding spot), and leaves it lying around. Later in the movie Mia is able to steal several pages of the Death Note. How? Because he left it sitting there. In the next scene a group of FBI agents investigating them commit suicide. Light is too dumb to realize that Mia stole the Death Note, and accuses Ryuk of acting on his own. Light is an idiot. The movie frames the revelation that Mia stole the Death Note as a “twist” instead of an absurdly obvious plot device.
Anime Light will kill anyone, do anything, to avoid being caught – and he will not lose a second of sleep at night over it. He openly talks of killing his own family several times, and while he never has to do so directly he is certainly very much open to the possibility.
Movie Light is essentially challenged on TV by his father: Kill me if you can. Light doesn’t do it, because this version of Light will kill hundreds of people in cold blood but is willing to get caught if it means not killing his father. Movie version of L (more on him soon) immediately and correctly figures out that Light must be Kira (the Death Note killer) for this reason.
Let’s talk about L. In both adaptations L is the detective in charge of the Kira investigation. I’m going to be fair here and say that Keith Stanfield did a very good job here and was easily the best part of the movie; it’s not his fault the writing betrayed him in the end.
The Lind L. Tailor scene is one of the most iconic moments in the Death Note franchise and the moment it became clear how brilliant the plotting really was. It was a ploy by L designed to pinpoint Kira’s powers and location by sacrificing a death row inmate and announcing on live TV that he was in charge of the Kira investigation. It established L’s brilliance, his ballsiness, and the stakes and rules of the game in one awesome game-changing moment.
The Lind L. Tailor scene is not in the Netflix movie. Instead we get a pale imitation where L simply holds a press conference and asks Kira to kill him; when Kira doesn’t kill him, he deduces that this means Kira needs a name and face.
Here again the stupidity of the Netflix movie is contrasted sharply with the brilliance of the anime. In the anime the Lind L. Tailor scene works because L is repeating the broadcast over and over throughout the day – as he says, though apparently he gets lucky and Tailor is caught the first go around. The key here is that it’s not just that he’s looping it, it’s being repeated live, so he can show Kira that he knows exactly when he made the kill. He also DOES NOT USE HIMSELF – that’s the big twist in the scene, that he’s using a proxy.
In the Netflix movie, L goes up and invites Kira to kill him himself, and at a live press conference. When it’s over, he leaves. This defeats the whole point of the scene – he proved nothing! All he knows is that for some reason, Kira did not kill him – he does not have any proof that Kira CAN kill someone with just a name and face. And he risks his own very much NOT expendable life on a hunch with no proof. And doing this would prove nothing about Kira’s location, since he’s already pinpointed him to Seattle. Non-action is not evidence. It’s just not proof against his theory – a very different thing.
Later Netflix L deduces that Light is Kira by having Light’s father – the police chief – give a press conference, live. When he does not immediately die afterwards – as of course he would if Kira had no relation and thus no reason to keep him alive – he uses this as his evidence that Light is L.
…Except L would never be this sloppy. Anime L would NEVER use this scenario to come to a conclusion like that. He would do something rather like he actually did – suspect Light, hide cameras in his house, set a tail on him, and track his movements. What he would NOT do is decide that his investigation is over based on such a flimy deduction. Again – one of the best parts of the anime is that it doesn’t contain moments like that. If Anime L doesn’t have proof Light is Kira, he doesn’t go gunning half-cocked on hunches, which is exactly what Netflix L is doing. And the thing is, if Netflix L HAD set up Light’s room with cameras, Light would almost certainly have been caught, considering how much stupider he is than anime Light.
Later in the movie, L introduces himself to Light and tells him he knows he’s Kira but has no evidence yet. He even takes off his half-mask thing and shows him his face.
Why would L risk his life like this? It’s not explained. There is no reason. L gains nothing from this. When Anime L reveals himself to Light the scene is shocking and dramatic, because up to that point it was understood that L’s big advantage is that Light had no idea what he looked like or what his name was. As the episode goes on it becomes increasingly clear that not only has L not made a mistake or gone off the rails, he has executed a masterstroke, one of the most brilliant moves of the game to that point, effectively evening the playing field against a seemingly unstoppable enemy. Anime L NEVER took unnecessary risks unless he knew the potential gains were massive. Netflix L is careless in comparison.
This, by the way, is the only face to face interaction between L and Light in the whole film. The back and forth battle of wits underpinned with Machiavellian maneuvering that characterized their relationship in the anime? Completely gone.
Later, after Netflix L’s assistant, Watari, is killed, he loses it, grabs a gun, and goes after Light vigilante style…with no evidence, when earlier in the movie he makes a point of saying he doesn’t use a gun to kill people.
Anime L would never do this. First off, L HATES to lose. If Kira somehow managed to get to somebody close enough to L to affect him, it wouldn’t prompt L to give up his values and go running off half-cocked against a suspect. It would be another reason for L to up his game, to further solidify his dedication to the cause and willingness to take even more dangerous risks. But stop trying for answers and instead steal a car and start gunning for somebody? Unthinkable.
And second off…what, exactly, is L hoping to accomplish? I mean revenge, I guess, but then when he first sees Light he tells him to freeze and puts him under arrest…why? With what evidence? He had nothing. No matter how upset L was he’d never do something that rash – in fact, if L was upset he would ESPECIALLY not do something that rash. He would simply double down on his efforts, work twice as hard. Like Netflix Light, if less dramatically, Netflix L is just a lamer version of the anime L. He’s not a “different” interpretation, he’s a worse one.
Light, by the way, is willing to leave Watari alive. When his girlfriend yells something to the effect of “Stop acting all high and mighty because you don’t have the balls to do what’s necessary”, she is absolutely right, and it’s hard not to be on her side. Come on, Light, you’re a predator. You’ve killed over 400 people! Embrace it!
The ending is just a mess. So the Death Note doesn’t just allow you to control people’s actions before their death, it allows you to place yourself into a medically induced coma and fall in specific spots at specific times. Apparently the Death Note can do anything so long as you write “And also, this person dies” at the end of the sentence. L, by the way, finds a page from the Death Note stuffed inside Light’s calculus book. You might recall that Light doesn’t take Calculus. This is how obvious his hiding place is.
The Netflix Death Note is like a Russian doll of bad decisions. It’s just mistake after mistake, one on top of the other, and beneath all of that is the biggest mistake of all: Focusing on the edgy themes and black comedy in lieu of the incredibly deliberate and careful plotting and mental machinations that make up the heart of the original story.
Because beneath all of its death gods and magical notebooks, “Death Note” is a thriller. And when you take that aspect away, as the Netflix movie did, you’re doing more than making a bad Death Note movie. You’re not making a Death Note movie at all. You’re just adding another chapter into the book of generic grimdark fantasies so beloved in this, the dung age.
And you should be ashamed.