Death Note (2017)

Because we really needed to talk about this movie three times, because the internet shat itself that hard over it existing.

Yep, I'm giving it a written review. Why? Partially because some folks legitimately wanted me to do one, because surprisingly some people do still read. I know, I was pretty shocked too. The other reason though? Because in the last 24 or so hours I got swept away in a wave of hatred from some rather extremely immature anime fans because I dared to tell director Adam Wingard that I enjoyed his adaptation. The hate wave has reached critical mass, because I woke up to not only a tweet telling me I should die but also multiple messages reinforcing that same desire.

Good thing they don't have a magical death book, I suppose.

Not to mention that they wish me dead while also complaining about how "edgy" this film is trying to be, making it all a sort of irony Ouroboros. Now, I'll be talking about what I like about the film first, then talk about the issues it has, and finally I'll dive back into the mire of yesterday to finish it all off. You dig? Jawsome. So, for a brief synopsis, Death Note is an adaptation of a popular Japanese comics series that got an anime and three Japanese live-action films, meaning it's like the fifth adaptation at this point. It's about a teenager named Light who finds a book almost literally dropped into his lap that has the power to kill whomever has their name written in it. It belongs to a demonic being named Ryuk who basically orchestrated this all out of boredom.

Personally, I think he just wanted to have a sleepover.

Light decides to use to book to kill bad people in the world, because he believes that it's justice. Along the way, he gains a partner in crime in form of popular cheerleader Mia, who he shares the secret with. But as he adopts a persona to take credit for protecting the world from what he sees as evil people, the authorities begin an investigation to stop him, led by the enigmatic private investigator known as L. It's very much both a morality tale while also being a cat & mouse story as two sides both see themselves as in the right. It also has a complicated wrinkle in the form of Light's father, who is a part of the investigation team trying to take him down. It's a very complex story, even in this shortened form, and it has a lot of places it can go. Some of the ways it does go are not for everyone, ranging from too intense to too silly.

For example, the source material came down on the fetishy side in a lot of ways.

Regarding Wingard's version, I really enjoyed the perspective shift it offered from the original setting. In the classic version Light was a dickhead, no getting around it. He did things purely for himself at all times, claiming he had altruistic goals. He killed innocent people to protect himself, had a severe god complex, and felt like a direct reflection of Japanese society's idealized dominant young male. In this new version he feels less like a character and more like an actual teenager. He's smart, like the original, but isn't popular or thought of highly as result of it, because American society tends to tread on brilliance. He tries not to stand out because he knows what happens when you do.

You get knocked out by fucking bullies for trying to help another kid.

Like many young people today, he looks around him and sees bad people constantly getting away with things. He gets knocked out and punished (because he was doing other people's homework) but the bully walks, dictators torture and murder people, rapists and child molesters get to walk among us while their victims carry the scars forever, and racists are wandering around unafraid to share their hate fueled views with us while waving symbols that incite violence. Understandably, like many of us, Light has had enough of sitting and feeling powerless. Now he has this book and he can do something about it. It's a compelling thought, regardless of the version, but it feels very timely that this comes out at a time when we're all more frustrated about society's injustices than we have been in a long time.

Which makes it more than a bit ironic that a black man has come to stop him.

Now, intentional or not, the casting of L as a black man has an impact. He's part of a people who constantly are tread upon for simply being a certain colour, yet he defends the system that perpetuates these problems and takes an adversarial stance against Kira (Light's alter ego), a person who is trying to do something about those injustices. My major complaint for the movie would honestly be that I wanted to see more of L, because Lakeith Stanfield is an excellent actor who truly does feel calmly menacing as the masked investigator. If there is a sequel to this, I genuinely hope he gets far more scenes. Speaking of scene stealers, let's talk about many people's favourite part of the film, Ryuk.

"Hey, I know that guy!"

Even with the large amount of hate the film is garnering, Willem Dafoe as Ryuk is still being lauded as the best part of the film, and while I don't entirely agree that he's the best part, he's definitely a huge plus. Dafoe plays the role well, channeling that creepy tone perfectly and feeling like he truly is this demonic creature that just enjoys seeing the human characters playing their little games of intrigue. The entire cast gives great performances, but his is beyond memorable. The CGI used for Ryuk is also some of the better I've seen recently, serving as a reminder that CGI can be done well.

And that shadows can always be used to great effect.

The major thing that I do really like about this film is that it isn't a carbon copy of the source material. It's easy for fans to demand a complete adherence to the source, but that never factors in how predictable everything can become as a result. I have seen this story multiple times now, written, animated, and acted out in front of a camera. Seeing the same thing again doesn't really appeal to me. I had that fanboy voice in my head screaming at me once too, demanding that things be completely like the source. It led me away from The Walking Dead show for a while, because it detracts so far from the comics. But I got over it. I learned to judge the work on its own merits, not on what it could be or what some irritating voice in my subconscious thinks it should be. Wingard's film delivers a new experience using familiar ideas and concepts, and it was an entertaining experience. And that music, oh man, that soundtrack is just aces from top to bottom. Love me some synth.

Neon coloured lighting too. I also love that. Neon anything, really. Someone come cover me in neon.

Now, while I did really enjoy this film, it wasn't perfect. The length, for example, truncates quite a bit of the story. It works on one level, as it does trim down quite a bit of filler that the source material had, but it also can make the experience feel a bit rushed at times. And sure, on some level it does bother me a bit that Light is a white kid. Do I think he had to be Asian? Hell no. He could've been black, hispanic, or even Native American and it would've still worked. I don't think him being white is really bad or anything, because the skin tone isn't important one way or the other, but it's something that sticks out to that inner fanboy in me. As far as gripes go, that's about it. I already talked about wanting more L, so yeah. I guess we should get to the final bits here but if I can backtrack a bit, I want to talk about our female lead.

Who may be the least sexualized cheerleader I've ever seen in a horror film.

In the original story, her name is Misa and she's a goth-loli pop idol who is hopelessly in love with and devoted to Light. Light, in turn, used her as her sees fit and generally doesn't give much of a shit about her. Because again, Light Yagami is a dickhead. In stark contrast, Light in this film is clearly into her, doing pretty much the only thing he can think of to try and impress her by showing her the Death Note. It says something about him as a character that he sees himself as unremarkable barring this book, something completely at odds with the egotist of the source material. But back to our female lead here, Mia. She, while seemingly having feelings for Light, clearly has more mental instability than he does. She expresses more joy at killing people with the book, even stealing it to kill innocents because she doesn't want to give up her own access to the power via her beau. In a lot of ways, the gender roles are starkly reversed here and Mia is the powerful one willing to make cold calculated calls for her own selfish needs.

All without being turned into a fetish doll for fanboys to fap to.

Now, I love the original and I can tell you right now that the characters in it are all deeply interesting and nuanced. Each one is compelling and none of them feel boring. But I can't sit here and tell you that the original is perfect. It has a lot of problems, most of which can be traced back to the fact that Japan has a very male dominated society and it's impossible for that not to bleed into the works done there. Overall, I prefer Mia over Misa, because here our female lead doesn't feel like a victim being lead on. She has agency and a mind all her own. She's not a bubbly girl desperately in love with a cold calculating sociopath, she's a teenage girl who seems to want more out of life that just being seen as the cheerleader. She wants power and is willing to hurt people to get it, even someone she seemingly loves. It's a far more interesting arc and doesn't feel like a sexist power fantasy where she's the victim of emotional abuse or manipulation.

Once more, Light Yagami is a piece of shit. I won't let you forget that fact.

Which brings us full circle back to the tidal wave of hate, which isn't very surprising at all. I knew as I recorded my video review that I would receive hate. The amount of hate I received over on Twitter was a bit more than I generally garner though, which just hammers home to me just how toxic geek culture has become. We've gotten to the horrible level where if something is even slightly different that geeks will rise up to try and crush anyone who disagrees. Enjoying something geeks hate makes you bad. Clearly you're paid off by the studio, have terrible taste, and should just go ahead and kill yourself. This is what happened to me yesterday and will probably keep happening as today goes on. It happens to a lot of writers just like me. Talented smart people torn down because they shared a harmless opinion. It's stupidity. Callous, hive-mind, knee-jerk stupidity from a mass of people who went into something not wanting to like it.

Screaming immature ranting and blind hatred. Truly, you all make anime fans as a whole look great.

I went into Fant4stic, one of the biggest piles of crap I have ever sat through, wanting it to be good. I held no bias against the film and judged it not just as an adaptation, but as a film. It failed as both. I don't think Death Note did. I think it was different. I think it was an imperfect adaptation that deviated from the source material. I think it reversed gender roles, played with perceptions, and ultimately left us wondering in the end. I think people attacking people on social media, telling them they should die, threatening to kill them, that's what petulant children do. I think we should all be free to have an opinion without being shit on by strangers. I think many things but mostly, I think I'm done talking about all of this. I've got a lot of things going right now and it's time to move on. Later days, bleeders.