Luther: The Fallen Sun Review: Idris Elba Proves He Doesn't Need James Bond in Wild Action-Thriller

After years of begging for it, the continuation of Idris Elba’s hit detective series Luther has finally arrived. Not only does it manage to give us the continued adventures of the character, but Elba is also clearly using this film as a way to address a larger conversation about his career. For years, fans have been putting him into franchise roles in their minds, pining for the day he might suit up and either play James Bond or a superhero like Batman. What Elba proves with Luther: The Fallen Sun, however, is that he doesn’t need one of those franchises, not when he has this character that he fully owns. That said, he still manages to use the film’s action scenes to confirm that, yes, if asked, he could have done it; he just doesn’t need to.

Elba grounds the movie in his trademark gruffness, maintaining his intense gaze while problem-solving out loud, and sometimes violently; naturally, these are all qualities associated with 007 and the Dark Knight (there’s even a hilarious drone shot of him standing on a building that seems designed to mirror Christian Bale from Christopher Nolan’s movies). For fans of the Luther series, it’s like watching a boxer in his prime climb into the ring – he’s still got it – and for newcomers, it’s a performance that feels lived-in but welcoming. It’s no wonder the people demanded more.

For those that haven’t seen the show, there’s enough of a catch-up that you can watch and enjoy the movie without having watched the five seasons prior, but some big spoilers make themselves known in the opening minutes, a necessity for series creator Neil Cross, who penned the script. Picking up just before the end of Series 5 of Luther, the movie is quick to set up Andy Serkis’ villain and then immediately remind the audience that Elba’s character has been locked away in prison after his years of eccentric crime fighting have finally caught up with him. 

Serkis, though best known for inhabiting motion-capture characters, plays a total freak in David Robey, who is retconned into having a connection with Luther prior to his arrest. It’s a change that might make fans of the show raise their eyebrows, but is handled so deftly, like the rest of the movie’s narrative momentum, that you just accept it because things are moving that quickly. Serkis isn’t doing a bad job, especially when his character could be described as a human version of Gonzo the Great becoming a computer-savvy serial killer; it’s just a larger-than-life, banana-pants creation of a villain that only a quirky goofball could pull off. Flanking Serkis and Elba in the film is Cynthia Erivo as DCI Odette Raine, appearing in a largely thankless role that doesn’t utilize her talents quite like audiences know she’s capable of.

Director Jamie Payne is behind the camera for Luther: The Fallen Sun, having previously directed the entire fifth series of the show. One of the best things that can be said about the film is that it’s not limited by a BBC television budget, thriving on the fact that it can film on rooftops in downtown London and visit gobs of locations. Payne also utilizes his camera in dynamic ways, never letting audiences get a chance to breathe in its bigger action scenes as he seamlessly pieces its haphazard plot together. He excels in this so well that in one scene alone, he might have created the best moment of chaos in Piccadilly Circus since An American Werewolf in London.

Despite the movie not establishing how much time has passed since the Luther TV series ended, subtle clues are provided regarding how other characters’ lives have gone in that time, and Elba gives no indication that the years have passed at all. He seems fresh as a daisy, sharp as ever, like he’s spent no time at all reflecting in a mirror while isolated in his prison cell, surrounded by criminals who want to kill him. This is one of the lingering threads in the film that consistently can pull the audience out, the kind of nagging question as a viewer that causes a short circuit in your brain.

The closest comparison that can be made for Luther: The Fallen Sun in terms of its tone and plotting is the Saw franchise. That’s not to say that there’s an excessive amount of blood and gore; there’s naturally some killing, but nothing like the “torture porn” of that series; rather, it’s in the way that the film moves its characters about and gives them an unbridled freedom that goes unquestioned. Andy Serkis’ villain has unlimited resources to a degree that would make Jigsaw’s supply of tape recorders envious. He also manages to spend the entire film scheming, plotting, and planning, bringing in so many new characters that have been coerced into his design that it becomes comical. Couple that with the police’s ability to be everywhere exactly one second too late and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that this movie is a cousin to those later Saw sequels.

Luther: The Fallen Sun may capture the soul of the TV series by having Elba step right back into character, but it has delivered a film that feels like it’s inhabiting a different plane of existence entirely. Though breathlessly entertaining throughout, it’s hard not to spend the few moments of respite that it allows wondering what you may have just seen on-screen. Once the film enters its big third act, which is built on even more of a galaxy-brain foundation than the 90 minutes that preceded it, it’s hard not to consider that a lot of external forces influenced the look and plotting of something that should have been built up by its own well-established identity. 

There are moments in Luther: The Fallen Sun that will make you hoot, perhaps even holler, and while Elba manages to continue proving he’s that guy, the film itself feels like it was made because of the demand and not because of the passion for the next chapter.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Luther: The Fallen Sun is playing now in a limited theatrical release, and will be streaming globally on Netflix on March 10th.

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