Luther: The Fallen Sun Review – Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The first movie for Idris Elba’s antihero pits him against a terrifying new villain, but loses some of the show’s small-scale charm.
Developing a successful TV show into a movie is a tricky old business: go too big and you risk jumping the shark; play it safe and it’s slightly more polished business as usual. For the most part, Luther: The Fallen Sun – the first feature-length outing for Idris Elba’s beloved, rule-bending detective – plots a skilful course between the two. But a Netflix-sized upgrade, it seems, can be both a gift and a curse…
Serving as both a continuation of the show and a standalone adventure, The Fallen Sun is surprisingly self-contained, with just enough exposition up-front to ensure that newbies aren’t lost and a handful of references to past cases littered throughout for fans to pick up on.
As hinted at by his arrest at the end of series five, The Fallen Sun sees DCI John Luther (Elba) headed for a lengthy stint in a maximum-security prison for “a litany of vigilante activity”. Luther has one unfinished case on his books, though – the disappearance of a young man named Cameron. With a promise to keep to Cameron’s mother, it’s not long before Luther breaks himself out of jail to go after David Robey (Andy Serkis), a dangerous tech genius and serial killer who’s preying on people’s “shame”.
What’s immediately apparent is how good it is to have Elba back for another run-out in one of his greatest roles, and the actor clearly relishes being back in the grey overcoat of our favourite, Bowie-loving bent copper, proving he’s the real ace up the franchise’s sleeve.
With Luther now both hunter and hunted, Elba gets a chance to take things up a notch – a scene that sees the erstwhile detective threatening to tattoo someone’s eyeball during a rushed interrogation, as the legit coppers close in, shows Elba at his twitchy, brutal best.
He also gets to flex his action muscles more than ever before in this series, whether it’s in a boisterous prison-riot sequence that has a feral Luther taking on all-comers (staged with a close-up intensity by director Jamie Payne so that you feel every punch), or a tense early tube-station knife fight with Robey.
Speaking of the film’s big bad, Serkis’ oddball villain is one of the best we’ve had so far – dare we say the best since Ruth Wilson’s Alice. No, his schemes aren’t the most original (with nods to Hostel, Bond baddies and even Luther’s own rogues’ gallery), nor are his motives particularly well explained, but Serkis sells him with absolute conviction. The first of Luther’s foes to be able to properly go toe-to-toe with our hero both physically and mentally, Serkis’ Robey oozes danger and unpredictability, and elevates the tension in every scene he’s in.
The other main addition to the cast is Cynthia Erivo, bringing star power and gravitas to the role of DCI Odette Raine, the no-nonsense new boss at the Met’s Serious & Serial Unit who’s on Luther’s tail.
In fact, the only returning character from the show (not that there are many left to return at this point) is retired DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), Luther’s friend and former boss. Not only does the film give the quick-witted Schenk’s detective prowess a chance to shine – something arguably lacking in more recent series – but his banter with his old pal also adds some much-needed moments of levity among the typical bleakness, proving that, in his words, “there’s life in the old fucker yet”.
Also returning are the nightmarish visions and set-pieces of writer/creator Neil Cross, who once again manages to weave some real horror into the procedural. Here, he gets to play out his inventive, terrifying scenarios on a much grander scale – including one memorable scene in which Robey causes mayhem in the middle of a packed Piccadilly Circus that immediately counts among some of the franchise’s most shocking moments.
London itself has been an integral part of the show’s success, and the city has never looked better than here. The movie’s increased scope has enabled the filmmakers to block out some impressive scenes in the city’s more iconic, big-ticket locations, as well as the murkier side streets – even if the added shine does take away some of the show’s signature grit.
Unfortunately, it’s when the film leaves London that things start to veer off course, losing some of what made Luther, well, Luther. An overblown third act that transports the action to the Norwegian tundra (for seemingly no reason other than the fact that the budget allows for it) feels jarringly out of place, almost going too big. Sure, the show’s heightened thrills have always flirted with the ridiculous, but the far-fetched finale tries so hard to impress that it loses its momentum, its tension, and even its credibility. (It also does nothing to help those 007 rumours that Elba is so frequently forced to bat away.)
A gift and a curse, then. But despite its flaws, the Luther movie experiment just about works, with its streamlined story proving to be one of its strongest assets — one of the main criticisms of later seasons being that the increasingly convoluted subplots and recurring characters distracted from the investigations themselves. Fans might be disappointed in the lack of callbacks, but The Fallen Sun gives the case – and the villain – room to breathe, which could serve as a good blueprint for further feature-length adventures if Luther is to return.
Luther: The Fallen Sun is in cinemas now. It comes to Netflix on 10 March.