L: Change The World
[Death Note 3 ]
Genre: Non-Supernatural Crime Procedural
review in one breath
Picking up where the two Death Note films leave off, mastermind L has only 23 days to foil a global plot involving chemical weapons and thereby save the world! At his side throughout are Near, a 6 year-old mathematical genius and Mika, a genetically aberrational school girl. With evil-doers hot on their trail, the clock is ticking as L and his pre-pubescent sidekicks try to isolate the threat and create an antidote to the deadly weaponized virus. This is a spin-off sequel to the Death Note narrative and is directed by "Ringu" director Hideo Nakata.
This is the third live-action film in the Death Note franchise. The first two films, which comprised a continuous two-part storyline were released in Japan in 2006 and internationally in 2008. Both films were directed by Kaneko Shunsuke and based on the popular manga by authors Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.
The original manga by Ohba and Obata is incredibly complex in plots and twists, most of which failed to make it into the original two-part film. This third film, L: Change the World picks up the narrative trajectory where the first two left off and serves to introduce a key character in the manga, Near, a (very) young mathematical whiz who (in the manga) will eventually fill the shoes of the adolescent mastermind known only as "L".
The entire "Death Note" narrative amounts to a complex crime procedural built upon a supernatural premise, that Death Gods (Shinigami) possess divine note books which cause the irrevocable death of anyone whose name is written therein. When the note book accidentally falls into the hands of an over-ambitious high school student bent on creating a new world order, the brightest and best minds enter a strategic clash to save the world as we know it. The tale successfully transcends normal crime thrillers through its use of these supernatural elements against which traditional methods and human effort hold no sway. It also introduces some interesting philosophical quandaries for the audience as they are forced to wrestle with the question of the ends justifying the means when a crimeless, non-violent world is a possible outcome.
I give you all that background because the current film, L: Change the World substantially digresses from most of it. The element of crime procedural is certainly retained, but nothing more. Although both the Shinigami and the Death Note(book) make a brief cameo appearance in the film's first act, they appear nowhere else nor play any role in the entire two-hour tale. Stripped of all reference to the supernatural, L: Change the World offers only a (thoroughly human) crime thriller.
Unfortunately, even in terms of its crime procedural, this film departs significantly from the more compelling aspects of its predecessors. In the original films, a sense of (albeit subdued) thrill arose through the complex interactions of two masterminds, those of Kagami Light pursuing the dark side and "L" striving for the good. It would be no exaggeration to say that the entire two-film narrative revolved solely on these two hashing out plan and counter-plan ad infinitum. In L: Change the World, however, there is no devious mastermind of the Kagami Light sort. Instead, the antagonist here is "K" who though presumably is on top of her game repeatedly flubs and botches her grand scheme. Her flummoxed expression permeates the film as her every "great idea" is easily foiled by the nonchalant "L". Even left to its own devices, her plan is anything but masterful, as the film's conclusion makes all too clear. Audiences will undoubtedly be left wondering whether there was even a chance in Hell her diabolical scheme was going to work.
The director here is Ringu-maestro Hideo Nakata whose recent films have unfortunately been far from genre-busters. Though undoubtedly limited by the parameters of the manga and the screenplay, little if anything in L: Change the World evidences the presence of this highly esteemed horror director. Despite the film's connection to its much more creative and engaging prequels, this comes across as a rather low-action, anti-terrorist crime thriller much like that of Senrigan (minus the psychic stuff but similarly chocked-full of bad accents).
After signing his own name in the Death Note to finally overthrow the (prequel's) plans of Kagami Light, "L" has only 23 days to live before the curse of the notebook visits him. He plans to spend this time wrapping up a few loose ends and relaxing with a mountain of twinkies. But when news reaches him of a weaponized virus released in a small rural village in Thailand, his final holiday is cut short. The sole survivor of the virus is Near, a young boy with exceptional skills in mathematics whose genetic makeup seems to hold the key to an antidote. But first the source of this destructive plan must be identified.
"L" soon learns that the plot was hatched by "K", a rogue operative in L's intelligence group. She has orchestrated the creation of this weapon of mass destruction and now also seeks an antidote so that she and her colleagues can survive what she sees as a purging of the world from the dregs of humanity (much like Kagami Light envisioned a purer, more evolved world order in the prequels). But locating the antidote data proves more difficult than she anticipated, causing her to hunt down the young daughter of a geneticist who may hold the key. By the time K and her mercenaries catch up with her, she is holed up in L's security fortress.
As the number of L's remaining days whittle away, he must conceive a plan whereby he (a) saves the geneticist's daughter and unlocks the secrets she holds, (b) thwart K's diabolical plans of global destruction, and (c) discover the link between the young boy Near and a possible antidote.
While I strongly recommend both the films and anime of the original Death Note narratives, L: Change the World leaves way too much to be desired. Despite some graphic violence, this storyline seems very child-centric and seeks to make the enigmatic character L more human and lovable. The total absence of anything resembling the Death Note or Shinigami is also a glaring deficiency which I suspect any fan of the prior films will be disappointed by.
The rationale for this film seems solely to be the placation of certain fans who have a crush on or unusual curiosity into the character L. The opening scenes are filled with L in thoughtful poses while the music is obviously over-emotional. The entire narrative seems to have the sole goal of demonstrating how thoughtful, loving and human he is. But to be honest, WHO CARES how nice a guy he is? The vast majority of fans coming to see this after seeing the two-part Death Note films are not there to fuel their puppy love or infatuation with the characters. They are undoubtedly there to see more of the same mind-bending struggle between Good and Evil, between unstoppable Death Gods and fragile humanity. Unfortunately this is precisely NOT what they are going to see. What they'll get instead is a whole lotta tear-jerk scenes where pre-pubescent characters strive to find their happy place (which may or may not involve a shiny new toy robot!).
Director Nakata undoubtedly earned his reputation as a pioneer in genre-busting horror with his film based on the Koji Suzuki novel Ring. Unfortunately he is also gaining a reputation for directing craptastic sequels to otherwise popular films. Nakata took certain liberties with Suzuki's story to create a very impressive horror film experience. But when it came time for the sequel to Ring, Nakata thought his own creativity would suffice and thus ignored and contradicted the entire Ring trilogy that Suzuki had created. The result was a hilariously disastrous film which reduced the entire storyline to techno-babble doo dads in what is easily the weakest of all the Ring sequels.
I see the same thing happening with L: Change the World, where key elements of the original manga (for example, uh, the "Death Note" and Shinigami?) are completely bypassed and in their place an incredibly inferior storyline is offered. The tale presented here is in fact Nakata's own and is not based on any of the original manga's storyline. And rather than utilizing the very successful elements which fans will be anxious to see, Nakata opts to (and I quote) "portray L�s human side, which was not shown in the Death Note series". So here we go again! Despite the huge popularity of the original manga and narrative, Nakata envisions fans happily lining up to see his own, unrelated version of the tale. In my opinion this is the second sequel to a major film (based on well-thought out novels/manga) which Nakata completely screws up by overestimating his own creative storytelling and presenting himself as on par with authors whose works have proven themselves with the public.
Viewing Nakata's Ringu 2 with Suzuki's novel in hand will undoubtedly display a far lesser tale in the film. Similarly, I dare say anyone coming to L: Change the World expecting anything resembling the original storyline and creativity are in for the same discovery.
This film is not yet available in a subtitled version but is slated for release in Region 1 format sometime in 2009.
Version reviewed: Region 2 DVD (Unsubtitled).
|Welcome to the subjective de-evolution of a popular manga narrative.||Stabbings and shootings abound, as do writhing, bloodied, pus-filled virus victims in agony.||You'll meet "F" and "K", but "U" and "C" never show up.||One green skull for the mystery of why Nakata again takes something that works well and turns it into his own vision of ineffective mediocrity.|