In the streaming era, what distinguishes a movie from a TV show? Luther: The Fallen Sun, a continuation of writer Neil Cross’s BBC cop drama Luther, is the latest such edge case. A contained two-hour story isn’t new for Luther; the show’s fourth season was only two hour-long episodes. While The Fallen Sun is now in limited theatrical release, the majority of viewers will end up watching it on Netflix (which, weirdly, is not currently streaming the original series), where it premieres March 10. What makes this a “movie-movie” vs. a “TV movie” or just another really short British TV season? If anything, The Fallen Sun feels like a transitional step between what the series was and the movie franchise Netflix clearly wants it to be.
The movie continues from where the fifth season left off in 2019, wherein former DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) was stripped of his badge and arrested. Here, this arrest has been recontextualized; as opposed to just being framed for murder once again, Luther is sentenced to prison due to a dossier containing evidence of all the actual procedure violations the hard-edged cop has committed in his pursuit of justice. The dossier is the doing of the film’s new villain, David Robey (Andy Serkis), a psychopathic tech mastermind who runs an extensive network of blackmail responsible for a missing persons case Luther was investigating.
Robey can’t possibly match Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan (not appearing in this movie, still presumably dead for the second time) as the most compelling villain Luther has faced, and his Black Mirror schtick already feels cliche. Serkis, however, makes the character entertaining through sheer over-the-top camp. One shot of his face is enough to announce “THIS IS THE BAD GUY.” He sings “I’m Coming Out” to a woman he burned alive and frames serial killing as “self-expression”—he’d be a super problematic gay stereotype if not for the fact he’s not actually gay. (He catfishes and blackmails a gay victim, whom Luther expresses empathy for, but the only sexual interests he expresses himself are directed towards women.)
The other big new addition to the cast is Cynthia Erivo as DCI Odette Raine, filling the requisite role of “good cop” trying to solve the same case as Luther, but with concerns about his unorthodox methods. This character type is there to provide some degree of realistic emotional grounding, and Erivo is an excellent actress for the job. The horror she encounters is deeply felt, and the tough choices she has to make are presented with genuine suspense even when you know how things will ultimately turn out.
Beyond these two new characters, the biggest thing Luther has gained in its transition to movie form is a greater emphasis on action sequences. Director Jamie Payne, who previously directed all of Season 5, does a good job with the action, keeping it clear and easy to follow even in moments of chaos. Luther’s big prison break at the end of the first act is a high point, and Robey’s attack on Piccadilly Square in the middle of the film gives the series’ more twisted sensibilities time to shine, while the climactic showdown makes smart use of location. The special effects aren’t always the most convincing, but given the grotesque violence these effects are depicting, maybe we don’t want them to be.
One thing that hasn’t changed since the series began in 2010: Luther is still pure copaganda. Many viewers have grown more critical of media glorifying rule-breaking cops since the last season aired, and sending Luther to prison could have been an opportunity for self-reflection on this issue, but nope. If anything, The Fallen Sun has responded to such cultural criticism with a reactionary stance. Robey’s evil plot plays like a weird caricatured melange of conservative grievances: cancel culture (as a tool for serial killers), safe spaces (for serial killers), and of course abolishing the police (because he’s a serial killer, get it?).
It’s all so ridiculously heightened and impossible to take seriously that it’s easy enough to just compartmentalize the questionable politics while enjoying the film as mind-off entertainment. Nobody watched Luther for serious social commentary or a moral compass—you watched it because Idris Elba is a beautiful man with arguably the world’s best voice ,and you got to see him catch bad guys played by other good actors. On that level, Luther: The Fallen Sun delivers. It doesn’t demand to be seen in theaters, but as a “TV movie” it’s a perfectly fine watch if you’re already onboard with the series. And the ending is especially promising; for all my mixed thoughts on the first Luther movie, I (and presumably most of the internet, based on common discussions about Elba’s career) am fully onboard for the direction they’re hinting at for a sequel.
Luther: The Fallen Sun premieres Friday, February 24th in theaters before heading to Netflix on Friday, March 10th.
Reuben Baron is the author of the webcomic
Con Job: Revenge of the SamurAlchemist
and a contributor to Looper and Anime News Network, among other websites. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndalusianDoge.
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