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Death Note (2017): Worst Netflix Project Ever?

Researcher by trade, curious by nature. Grew up with manga and anime, amongst my favourites: NGE, Berserk, One Piece, Death Note



Death Note is a 2017 movie directed by Adam Wingard and produced by Netflix.

The movie stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, Lakeith Stanfield as L, Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton and special guest Willem Dafoe as Ryuk (voice and CG mask).

The movie is the first American adaptation of one of the best manga/anime (Japanese comics/animation) series of all times, because of both the incredible storyline by Tsugumi Ohba and the intriguing drawing style of Takeshi Obata.

Check out the plot and info on IMDb.

Spot the differences...

Spot the differences...

Characters and acting

In general, the characters are poorly characterised. No psychological development, no credible relationships; they are essentially cardboard cutouts.

Light: He is weak, no charisma whatsoever, no courage, no big ideas. He's essentially Mia's and Ryuk's puppet during the whole movie, and his relationship with his father is the fakest I've seen in quite some time. The 10 final minutes depict everything he should have been to be an interesting character, but it's really not enough to make me like him. The actor's performance is commendable but sometimes the dialogues are so absurd that even his good-level acting cannot save the scene.

Mia: She's quite simply mental, but her character is better designed compared to Light. She exploits Light's attraction towards her to bend him to her will in every step of the way. We could go as far as saying that she is the real Kira, not Light. This is further suggested when she tries to trick Light into giving her the death note, but gets killed in the process. The actress is young and tends to overact in some scenes, but she delivers a decent performance nonetheless, especially in the last scene where she really reacts the way a 17 years-old crazy and angry girlfriend would.

L: Maybe the worst written character of all. He has the highest number of non-credible and hypocritical behaviours. For example, would a genius detective go tell the person he is after that he is after him? When the investigation is only just starting? Would he not be careful in every move he does as to collect evidence and catch Kira without him ever knowing? Not him. And the gunpoint chase is the pinnacle of absurd contradictory behaviour. That and the moment he is about to write Light's name on the death note page. Honestly I didn't like the actor's performance. He looks like a normal person acting like a weirdo, whereas he should just look like a weirdo.

Ryuk: This movie's depiction of Ryuk is quite disappointing. He has lived hundreds of thousands of years, and his highest moment of fun is when Light murders people (in regular ways, not particularly amusing ones). He is more a trickster than a death god. Also, this is a complete waste of Willem Dafoe's talent. What's the point with the CG? He would have been a much better Ryuk if they just put some make up and a coat on him, his facial features would have been perfect for such purpose.

James Turner: Light's father. Despite having a non-credible relationship with his son, he's a credible character overall. Solid principles, focused, determined on opposing Kira since day 1. In the final scene he is genuinely disappointed in his son, but his love for him still shows, as you would expect from a father. He might be the only character I liked. The actor also delivers a good performance, he does a great job in showing the right feelings at the right time

Visuals and picture

Essentially, this movie is (visually) a mix among:

  • A teenage romance movie (the prom, cheerleading, Light and Mia)
  • An action movie (quick camera cuts and movements, dollies, sharp contrasts, flashy lights)
  • Rodriguez-style/Final destination splatter (essentially every death is exceedingly gory)

The director of photography David Tattersall has a pretty good track record (The Green Mile, Star Wars I,II,III etc...) and I would have honestly expected more on this department. Although director Adam Wingard is probably to blame for the confusing picture (he has directed several slasher movies, especially in his early career).

CG is ok, but as I said, CG Ryuk was just a mistake in my opinion.


The film is not good. It has some major flaws and too many convenient plot developments to be an ok movie. But probably the worst thing about it is the soundtrack.

Every track is completely misplaced, makes absolutely no sense and just feels wrong when compared to the general mood of the scene. They are trying to shove "Stranger Things'" soundtrack (that you should buy right now, it's fantastic) in this completely different product. Why? It is wrong in the opening scene, it is wrong when Mia dies, it is wrong when Ryuk destroys detention class. It is wrong. Always with no exceptions.

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Maybe the best example is the ending scene where Kira confesses to his father....and the movie plays "The Power of Love."

The witty fight between L and Light

Light is presented as a nerd who sells math papers to less intelligent schoolmates, but apart from that, nothing throughout the movie suggests that he is a particularly smart kid (except the last 10 minutes), although every other person in the movie seems to be convinced that he is.

He is also a vicious murderer, and needs to be caught.

Enters L, the superdetective trained all his life to have incredible deductive reasoning skills. And Watari sings him a lullaby...what? Also, L must stand for "Litter", he is clearly not aware bins exist.

And finally L confronts Light. With no grounds or proofs whatsoever, he sits at his table and goes "you are Kira". The best thing about the scene is Light acting guilty and If an intelligent person was confronted by the detective looking for Kira, and accused of being him, he would at least assume his house is bugged. Not Light, he just proceeds to shout about the death note and L accusing him in his own house.

The game is afoot. Light’s move.

He writes Watari’s name in the note, and he dies. L loses it. The deep psychological warfare and wits battle Light and L have been carrying out all this time finally climaxes...with an on-foot chase at gunpoint. So intellectual.

The chase ends in an even more witty and brainy way: a random bystander knocking L down with a wooden club. Fred Flinstone would be proud.

In the final scene, L, the guy who catches murderers, contemplates murdering Light. A touch of class to deal L’s character the final blow.

Convenient plot developments (CPD)

  • Light is beaten unconscious when he confronts the bully Danny. If that wasn't enough, Light's pre-compiled math papers mysteriously escape his bag, and end up in front of his face right when some professor is passing by. How did the papers get out of the bag?Also, it's quite convenient that the death note didn't slip out of the bag as the papers did...
  • The professor who watches over Light during detention, while no other student is in detention, conveniently leaves the classroom and Ryuk reveal himself.
  • The next scene cuts to Light and his dad having dinner....wait a minute. Ryuk COMPLETELY destroyed the detention classroom. How did Light get away with it? With the power of CPD.
  • You have a notebook that kills people, what do you do? Kill my mother's murderer and tell its secret to Mia, who I met 5 minutes ago, so that I have a chance with her...if she is a psycho killer. Luckily she is, otherwise this story would have ended with Light in jail way sooner. CPD.
My personal "Death Note black" complete collection. You can imagine why I'm angry at this movie

My personal "Death Note black" complete collection. You can imagine why I'm angry at this movie

Things That Are Just Not Ok

  • When a movie starts with an embarassing opening theme, cheering cheerleaders, football players, and kids smoking least you know what you're up against from the get-go.
  • The scene where Light finds the death note lasts 27 seconds
  • Light throws out the silliest fear cry I ever heard in a movie, while Ryuk uses his special superpowers to destroy everything in the detention room.
  • I cannot begin to explain how it felt to see Ryuk get a clicker pen. He's a death god. With a clicker pen.
  • Is it ok to justify the decapitation of a 18 years old boy just because he is a bully? Also, needless gore
  • Light finds out that he can make people, including his mother's murderer, do whatever he wants before their death. so he kills him in the most boring possible way. Knife in the neck (by the way, needless gore again).
  • Time to choose a pseudonym! Kira is the perfect one, because they will think I'm Japanese and it means light in russian (no, it does not!!!) and celtic (It actually means "dark" in celtic!!!). It means "Rental" in Azerbaijani too. It makes so little sense that i lost a few IQ points by watching the scene.
  • Mia and Light have a few romantic dates deciding the next kills.
  • Mia and Light loudly chat about the death note in a full school corridor.
  • Watari simply cannot be a real name. Also, how is his phone not tapped?
  • The last 10 minutes are the first bit of movie I enjoyed, finally Light showcases some brain matter! Too bad he gets busted by his father 1 minute after he wakes up.

Fidelity to the original media

In this movie there are some major differences compared to the manga or anime.

This would be ok if the movie was cleverly written and the deviations from the original media were justified to make the story more interesting, but this is not the case.

A short, non comprehensive list of the major changes:

  • The characters are much more interesting and well characterised in the manga. I don't want to spoil anything, just get the volumes from Amazon, they are cheap and much more enjoyable than the movie
  • The death note rules are completely messed up. The "page burning" rule around which all the plot revolves is absolutely non-existent. Rather, in the original media the rules esplicitly specify that "Once the victim's name, cause of death and situation of death have been written down in the Death Note, this death will still take place even if that Death Note or the part of the note in which it has been written is destroyed, for example, burned into ashes, before the stated time of death."...the original rules all make sense togheter, you cannot wake up in the morning and mess them all up. They should have stuck to them
  • The storyline is completely different, but this would have not been a problem...they should have just made a proper spinoff, with no Light, no L, no Ryuk..Just the death note and a completely different story. Just my opinion
  • The final message sent by the manga series is completely different, the latter is way more philosophical and profound

Few people know that there are other death note live action movies out there, and in my opinion they are all far better and closer to the original than this movie (although they are still B-movies). They sell for really cheap and I advise you get them.

Final remarks

Netflix has never let me down since today.

They rightfully pride themselves of promoting projects that would never make it to TV or the big screen, but then they make the same mistakes a Hollywood adaptation would...and if this wasn't enough, they removed the excellent anime series from the platform to make room for this movie...

Netflix, please get back on track! Don't risk dying out because of the very things you accused the "big productions" of.

Hope my appeal is well received.


© 2017 Marco Arista


Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on June 07, 2020:

I watched the anime when I was a teenager as well as the Japanese movies. I'm now currently reading the manga. We tried watching the movie but as you said, it was poor at best. Ryuk looks hideous and he has none of the personality that made him likeable in the original. I couldn't get much further past the ridiculous (calling it Final Destination-esque was a perfect description) first death. Just a mess of a movie overall. Some things just don't need Americanised adaptations.

L. Spikes from Florida on September 13, 2017:

I agree the filmmakers probably should have just invested their time in making a proper spinoff. Also, thank you for checking out my Death Note article.

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