Reviewby James Beckett,
Death Note: Light up the NEW world
It's been ten years since Light and L's battle of wits over the Death Notes ended in both of their deaths, and the world is set to be thrown into chaos once again with the arrival of a new set of books into the world. As criminals, politicians, and innocent civilians all over the globe begin to drop dead, a video is spread across the internet claiming to be from the one and only Kira, leading some to believe that Light is still alive. In Japan, a Death Note task force is assembled to put a stop to the madness – the crew of anonymous officers is led by the determined Tsukuru Mishima and joined by L's enigmatic successor, Ryuzaki. The task force learns that the death gods can only have six functioning Death Notes in the world at any given time, which means that they're racing against “Kira” to gather all of the remaining Notes, lest society once again fall to the whims of a self-appointed god of death.
Death Note: Light Up the New World begins with a pitch perfect setup. A beleaguered Russian doctor named Alexey discovers one of the new Death Notes on his way to tend to a terminally ill patient and uncovers its horrible power in an attempt to honor the sick man's request to die. In Japan, a young woman named Sakura is using her own Death Note to go on a cruel and aimless murder spree. When she dies, our main protagonists, Mishima (Masahiro Higashide) and Ryuzaki (Sosuke Ikematsu), surmise that she must have been the victim of yet another Death Note.
Where the original tale mainly chronicled one man's self-deluded quest for world peace, Light Up the New World offers the equally tantalizing prospect of a handful of potentially good and evil people that use the Notes to go to war. Sadly, the engaging and suspenseful sequel to the live-action Death Note duology promised by the first half hour of this movie never fully comes into fruition. Instead, we get a limp rehash of the original story's themes and plot points, bogged down further by serious pacing issues and a wholly disappointing finale.
It's a damn shame, because there's a lot to like in Death Note: Light Up the New World – in a number of ways, it's a major step up from the movies that preceded it. For one, Shinsuke Sato's direction is much more stylish than Shusuke Kaneko's. Those first two films often felt like gussied-up TV-movies in their presentation, but Light Up the New World has the chops of a theatrical crime thriller. The camera work has a real grace to it in some scenes, and the cinematography is beautifully impactful at times. The whole production has the air of a work that's heavily inspired by the likes of David Fincher or Park Chan-Wook, and while Light Up the New World is no masterpiece of direction, its ambition is appreciated.
Also, one of my biggest complaints with the original movies has been rectified. The CGI Shinigami no longer look so distractingly terrible. The ten year gap between these sequels is certainly a factor, but the demons are generally utilized better in this movie. They're lit and modeled in such a way that they seem to be part of the scene with their real-world co-stars, and they're not overused either. Of particular note is the new goddess, Arma, a movie-original character with a wickedly beautiful design – she's the spider-bride queen of the underworld that I never knew the franchise needed until now.
Alas, all of the improvements to this movie's craft can't make up for the woefully lacking screenplay. There's a sixty-minute miniseries out there called Death Note: New Generation that supposedly fills in the story gaps left in the decade between Death Note 2 and this movie, but I can't imagine that they solve all of the film's story issues. Mishima and Ryuzaki are the only two characters who get anything resembling solid characterization – even the main antagonist, a cyber-terrorist named Yuki Shien (Masaki Suda), is barely provided enough screen time to explain his villainous actions. After he mentions that Kira avenged his family by killing their murderer a decade earlier, he's resigned to running around and dropping exposition about the Death Notes until the movie's finale. Even Misa Amane, played again by Erika Toda, is just given a glorified cameo, which hardly seems fitting for one of the franchise's key players.
Because the movie is so busy developing its needlessly complicated mystery surrounding the identity of the new Kira, none of its more interesting ideas are allowed to flourish. The majority of the new Death Note wielders are given almost nothing to do, and the fates of the original movie's characters are either unresolved or hurriedly brushed aside. The movie's third act suffers the most, with a bunch of new twists and reveals making the “answer” to the mystery somehow both stupidly obvious and confusing at the same time. Don't even get me started on the final five minutes, which I can't go into more without spoiling the whole film. Suffice to say, this is the kind of ending that threatens to make everything that came before it feel utterly pointless.
I really wanted to love Death Note: Light Up the New World. The filmmaking is compelling, the actors' performances are mostly on-point, and did I mention how cool Arma the death goddess is? If the script were simply passable, then all of those things might have made the movie worth recommending despite its flaws. But the more I think about the movie's story, the more frustrated I get, because it wastes all its potential in the end. Funimation's bare-bones DVD/Blu-Ray combo release doesn't offer anything more than trailers and a digital copy to sweeten the deal, either. If you're a franchise fanatic, then you might end up getting more out of this package, but I expect most viewers to walk away from Death Note: Light Up the New World feeling profoundly disappointed.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D+
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Improved direction and FX give the movie its own sense of style, CGI Shinigami look exponentially better than they did in 2006, a lot of cool ideas…
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