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Rated 3.04 stars
by 327 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Final Justice
by Adam Hakari

I've always considered the vigilante film as the cynical offspring of the action genre. It's not easy to take a life, and while Stallone or Schwarzenegger can blow away armies before lunchtime, I admire those productions that ponder if so much blood should be shed at all. I hoped the Death Note series would follow suit and use their fantasy elements to liven things up, but no dice. Such themes are present but barely contemplated, passed over to focus on a game more boring than complex. Death Note II: The Last Name isn't without its quirky qualities, but I'm disappointed it took two movies to tell viewers nothing more than a fortune cookie would.  

Death Note II continues the story of Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a student, who, as the mysterious Kira, can kill by writing one's name in a special notebook. As the film begins, Light has managed to evade capture and even earn a spot on the task force dedicated to bringing in Kira. But the situation becomes complicated when a second Death Note lands in the hands of TV host/wannabe pop star Misa Amane (Erika Toda). After Light takes Misa under his wing, the pair still have their greatest threat to face: L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), the odd, candy-horking detective coming ever closer to catching them in the act. However, as determined as L may be to bring in Kira, Light is equally fixed on covering his tracks -- even if it means relinquishing the Death Note.

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" plays over the beginning credits, one might get the idea that Death Note II is the pilot for some abomination on the CW. Gladly, it's nothing of the sort, for this film actually possesses a brain (though it doesn't always know when to use it). It's a sequel that benefits from not having to set up much; with the struggle between Light and L already established, the story can get to playing out their conflict more quickly. Death Note II really hits the ground running in this department, as the first hour consists of some nice volleying between the pair. Light might have a god complex, but he's no dummy, and L's discovery of where Kira gets his power is a moment to relish. The characters are elevated to the right degrees (Light much more cunning and L increasingly cautious), with Fujiwara and Matsuyama giving tweaked performances to match.

However, for as compelling as Light and L's quarrel is, there's precious little of it to go around. Whenever either party makes a move, the movie spends what seems like forever going over what happened in agonizing detail. Death Note II is full of explaining; characters explaining what they're about to do, explaining what others are doing, and so on. But for all this talking, not much seems to be said. At nearly two and a half hours, Death Note II pushes itself to begin with, but that its core message is so yawn-inducing becomes the real bummer. It gears you up for a big huff about the ultimate meditation on justice and such, only to end on the mother of all whimpers. L is as colorful as ever, but Light still gets shafted out of a real arc; the films would have you believe he's conflicted about his powers. Instead, the dude's been nothing but a jerk from the get-go. Worse yet is Toda's character, who's given a dark backstory but spends most of her screen time in a comically kooky haze.

Although Death Note II: The Last Name is a letdown,  it's not a lost cause. I appreciate the film's overall look, the solid performances, and the twists (the clever -- not arbitrary -- ones). Perhaps fans of the manga will see their beloved tome done justice to in this faithful (albeit compressed) form. Still, for those unaccustomed to the story and wary of bladder-busting running times, little will be missed by passing on Death Note II.

MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)

(Released by VIZ VIDEO; not rated by MPAA.)

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