At long last, Hollywood got its hands on Death Note, but how does the new remake stack up? Unfortunately, fans of the original manga and anime will be disappointed by the new film’s less-than-glowing reviews, in which critics are calling it “a bad decision on top of a festering pile of bad decisions” and a “lazy, unambitious, forgettable movie.”
Set to premiere on August 25 on Netflix, Death Note, directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest, Blair Witch), is a remake of the hit Japanese manga/anime franchise from Tsugumi Ohba, in which a high school teenager named Light (Nat Wolff) stumbles upon a cursed notebook left by a death god named Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). Knowing that whoever’s name is written will die, Light uses the Death Note to begin a righteous crusade to kill off criminals, as well as his closest enemies.
Criticism for Death Note came early when it was announced a year ago that the new American setting of Seattle would white-wash its protagonist and anti-hero, Light. But based on reviews, white-washing is the least of everyone’s concern. Among the harshest reviews comes from Indiewire, in which David Ehrlich calls Death Note a story “of incremental moral compromises [that’s] abandoned everything but its sense of style.”
“It turns out that playing God is never as simple as it seems. Didn’t we already learn that lessons from “The Craft?” Or from “Bruce Almighty,” for that matter? It doesn’t matter; by the time Light and Mia wind up at the top of a ferris wheel with the future of humankind at stake, you probably won’t know how they got there, and you definitely won’t care where they are.”
IGN is somewhat more generous, grading the movie a “good” score of 7.0. But criticism is still directed toward the film’s “unsatisfying” leads and its “uneven” tone. IGN’s Blair Marnell writes:
“This is not a one-to-one adaptation of the manga,” and the movie only offers partial closure for the story, perhaps leaving the door open for a potential sequel. What’s frustrating is that with better lead performers and a tighter script, Wingard could have made a great adaptation. Instead it settles when it should have soared.”
Polygon’s Julia Alexander is also critical of the new Death Note, in particular towards its stiff dialogue and jam-packed cliches made to satisfy its short 90-minute run time. “Death Note isn’t just a mediocre movie, but it breaks the cardinal rule of being unentertaining,” Alexander writes. “There are a few, sporadic moments where I found myself laughing, but it was out of second-hand embarrassment more than anything else.”
“It crams them into every nook, huffing and puffing to try and ensure none escape. It’s almost impressive just how many clichés Wingard is able to check off the list, all of which culminates with a winter formal dance held in a high school gym, but it’s just another example of the apathy Death Note is soaked in. Stringing together a series of lazy cliches gives the movie some kind of direction to continue moving in, allowing it to approach an untriumphant and unfulfilling end.”
Inkoo Kang of The Wrap is also no fan of Death Note, a film Kang says is a “paycheck collection” for Wingard. Kahn writes:
“[Death Note] forces us to listen to the self-important ramblings of a teenager who thinks he’s got it all figured out. And yet the movie’s biggest failure is its willful agnosticism toward the morality of Light’s massacres. They don’t exist in a complex gray between black and white; they just are.”
The Hollywood Reporter critic Justin Lowe, who also doesn’t think too highly of Death Note, compares the film to Wingard’s better previous efforts, like You’re Next and The Guest, writing:
“Death Note is a far sight tamer than Wingard’s typical horror fare, lacking either the manic terror of You’re Next or the deadly irony of The Guest, for instance. Rather than relying on amplifying typical genre conventions, Wingard methodically lays the foundation to set up this particular Death Note adaptation for a potential sequel, but the outcome is more deliberate than inspired.”
Death Note will begin streaming on August 25.