February 28, 2023

“Luther: The Fallen Sun” is a New Dawn for the BBC Crime Drama (Review)

Here’s a tip for watching a film continuation of a popular television series, that is probably even better left unsaid: watch the show first.

I watched Luther: The Fallen Sun, which picks up the story of the critically-acclaimed BBC crime drama Luther directly after its fifth season finale (which aired four years ago, in 2019), without having seen any of the show, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it worked for me despite my unfamiliarity with the world and its characters.

Image courtesy of Netflix

To be entirely honest, it’s not that hard to understand — not to mention that some basic research told me everything I needed to know — but what’s missing is that connection that was built up in five seasons’ worth of story for the show’s fans. There are very likely some vital references and character moments that I either missed or did not fully appreciate, but from what I knew, this is a solid continuation of a well-thought-out continuing story.

Idris Elba returns as disgraced police detective John Luther, who starts this story a victim of an unjust imprisonment. This is the work of billionaire/serial killer David Robey (a chilling Andy Serkis), whose elaborate murders have gotten the attention of new superintendent Odette Raine (Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo). Robey baits Luther into a prison break, and lures him into a cat-and-mouse game in which only one can emerge victorious.

The characters and tone feel very unique, but the story itself is quite the opposite: standard and unoriginal, but the production quality ensures that it stands out as a better example of its sub-genre. It’s a dark and twisted hunt for a psychopath (in other words, very BBC) that almost feels like an extended episode of a procedural — which, I suppose, it is.

It definitely doesn’t help my fatigue when it comes to the sub-genre in question: “a murderer employee mental manipulation as their primary weapon in a cat-and-mouse game with a policeman” is something we’ve seen many times — and in that vein, the whole situation stretches the believability of a world that seems otherwise grounded in gritty realism; the villain employs the use of red rooms, textbook henchmen, and organizes coordinated attacks and murders on an unbelievably massive scale. But that’s precisely the benefit of being a work of fiction; it allows the story to grow beyond what may be possible, in service of a larger purpose.

Image courtesy of Netflix

The character of John Luther is an interesting one, clearly well-rounded from years of development on the small screen. He’s a good man, but prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even (or especially) if it means defying the law for as long as it takes. Elba’s gruff demeanor, with a capacity for genuine care, is perfect for the character.

My point still stands: even though The Fallen Sun is accessible to a wider audience (by design, I’m nearly certain), it is almost always beneficial to have a better understanding of a pre-established world before you immerse yourself in it. I can appreciate what I’m seeing on the surface — there are several stellar action sequences, the ending set piece is a solid coda to a well-executed story structure, and the film is generally shot very beautifully — but I am almost positive I would have loved it if I had a deeper emotional connection to what came before.

Luther: The Fallen Sun is playing now in select theaters, and will be streaming on Netflix March 10.

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