Fuck this movie. Fuck this fucking movie right up its ass. This is the worst. The absolute worst. How terrible the live-action Japanese versions were should have been a big clue as to why this film wasn’t going to work. The insanely over-the-top nature of the anime does NOT translate well into film. So when you combine that with TERRIBLE American writers and a director who clearly has no talent for directing, then you end up with this pile of shit. Yet-another anime adaptation to add to the pile. Can whoever posed the idea of Akira being adapted into American take a fucking clue from this?! They’re all bad! Every last American adaptation has sucked, without a SINGLE exception. Just like every video game adaptation has sucked. When will Hollywood learn? Wait, this wasn’t Hollywood’s fuck-up. This was Netflix’s fuck-up. I don’t have streaming here, but a friend invited me over to see it, and holy shit, it’s bad. I hate when things I love get turned into shitty adaptations, and this was no exception. There is so much to talk about, so let’s get to it.
The plot goes that Light…Turner (fuck that name) has the Death Note given to him by Ryuk. That’s right, instead of Ryuk being bored one day in Shinigami Land and sending the book to Earth not caring who picked it up, in this version he gives it to Light and implies that he is the chosen one. One of the many ways they fuck over EVERY SINGLE character in this film. But instead of seeing this book as a way for him to create a world dedicated to his own personal sense of justice and becoming a genocidal monster in the process, Light decides that he’s going to impress a girl! That’s right, instead of his character being a genius whose sense of morality becomes a twisted nightmare, he’s a pathetic high school loser who wants it is implied is just being used. More on that later. Then we get a dumbed-down version of L who is going to stop him. Who wins? Do you care? If you do, you really haven’t been paying attention.
Nothing in this movie is good, aside from Willem Dafoe’s voicework as Ryuk. Speaking of, let’s go into how every single character is fucked over. So many people are going to say “it’s an adaptation! You shouldn’t compare it to the original!” Yeah? Well then change the fucking name! Light is turned from a genius who decides he is going to become a God under the assumed name of Kira into a pathetic angst-y teenager who is almost-certainly being led around with no agency of his own. Whether it be Mia (their terrible version of Misa), or Ryuk, he always seems to be on someone else’s leash. Did the idiot who directed this even see the anime? Fuck this movie. Light is not some brilliant mastermind. In the anime, he is a calculating genius, who makes every move according to a plot to best the greatest detective of all time. Every relationship in his life is part of a calculation, along with everything he ever does. Part of what makes him so compelling as a character is how his urge to become a god ends up destroying the lives of every single person he touches, and he by the end he laughs his ass off about it. In the film, he’s a pathetic pawn being used by pretty much everyone around him. All of the brilliance of the cat-and-mouse game between him and L is gone.
Oh, let’s talk about L. Do I care that they made him black? Not even a little. What I care about is the fact that they made him so pathetic. I guess the director saw how he is in the anime and took that to mean that he isn’t socially awkward in the extreme and on the autism spectrum. In this film, they decide to him him so pathetic that he has to have a song played to him to fall asleep. This version of the character is pathetic. That’s the only word for it. You never sense this genius mind clouding a sense of detachment, which makes him believing that he is making a connection with Light so tragic. He believed he had found a friend, and at the very end he realizes that he was just being used by Light. In his last moment, he looks into Light’s eyes and sees that it was all a lie, and him and his companion died for it. There are plenty of ways this character could have been 1000X better and been black. The color of his skin had NOTHING to do with how pathetic and stupid this character was. If anything, this actor is very competent. I bet with better writing, he could have sold this a lot better.
Then there’s Mia. A spin on the Misa character from the anime, here they make her out to be something of a force acting on Light, compelling him to do bad things with the Death Note. Because we can’t have any of the morally gray stuff from the anime. Everything has to be clearly black and white. Fuck this movie. The fact that so much of what initially makes Light use the Death Note is to please her just irks me. In the anime, she was an insane groupie of Kira. She was in love with him and would do anything, absolutely anything to please him. To the point that she cut her own lifespan in half to get the Shinigami eyes. But in the end, she realizes that she was used, just like everyone else, and it’s implied that she kills herself. Another of those relationships that were nothing but a tool to Light and nothing more. Can’t have that morally gray stuff in the film. Doesn’t help that this chick acted like she should be in a sitcom. Ugh.
Let’s talk about Ryuk. Do you like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin voice? Well, he does okay with it here, so you can enjoy his vocal performance. But here’s what pisses me off – in the anime, Ryuk isn’t on Light’s side. He isn’t on anyone’s side. When Light’s gambit is up, and he reaches out to Ryuk to help him, he outright says that he won’t. Early on in the series, he helps Light out, not out of a sense of loyalty, but because he finds the game that’s going on interesting and realizes that if he doesn’t tell Light about the security cameras in his room, the game will end abruptly. In the film, he’s painted as seeing Light as the chosen killer, and even compels him to do things. Once-again, you can’t have all that morally gray stuff about Light seeing himself as a god and believing his genocidal rampage as a way to express that. That might make audiences question who is the good guy. We gotta see our protagonist as virtuous at all times.
Oh, and then there’s the book itself. In the anime, Kira’s chosen method of killing is heart attacks. There’s a reason – to show that these people are being killed and it’s him doing the killing. It’s a way to spread the fear all over the world because no one knows who would be killed next. In the movie, the vast majority of deaths are done through these Rube Goldberg machine ways of dying that REALLY make me think back to the Final Destination ways of dying. It’s like the film wanted to show off the gore. Funny, they want to have violent deaths, but no moral ambiguity. The exact opposite of the show, which had very contained deaths, but a TON of moral ambiguity. I guess someone assumed American audiences can’t handle that. Fuck this movie.
As a fan of the anime, this film spits in the face of everything that made it great. But let’s take that away. Let’s pretend that the anime that this director halfheartedly riffed on never existed. This film still sucks. The performances are boring. The motivations make no sense. I’ll give that Light in the anime went from zero to Little Hitler in the span of a few moments. But the series took the time to explain why he had this viewpoint. Plus, there was the moral ambiguity of the battle between Light and L, where the body count gets higher and higher, and the audience is left wondering if either one is a truly good person. In this film, the motivation is that Light is being manipulated by the people around him, with little agency of his own. That’s boring! Give me a reason to care why he’s so evil. L is also a bad character, written to be so incapable of surviving on his own that he has to be taken care of.
I hate this movie, and can someone please make a note somewhere that American adaptation of anime don’t work so we can stop it, already?!
2 out 10