3 out of 5 stars

Debuting in 2010 on the BBC, Luther was atypical of British crime dramas. There had been similarly bleak genre entries, from Prime Suspect (1991-2006) to Cracker (1993-2006), but Luther was uniquely less realistic as a police procedural and more informed by the anything-goes nature of comic-books and horror movies. It also didn’t hurt that its eponymous hero, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), was someone of questionable morals during a period when anti-heroes were incredibly popular, and this one was being played by a charismatic actor about to breakout beyond his US success in The Wire (2002-08).

Over the ensuing nine years, Luther sporadically produced five series of various lengths, totalling 20 mostly well-regarded episodes. It was clearly a passion project for Elba himself, who’s also a producer, even if his Hollywood career often meant long delays to him returning to the role. A movie was often mooted because the series felt so informed by the likes of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995), so Netflix has wisely decided to distribute Luther: The Fallen Sun to continue the story in a more grandiose fashion.

Series 5 ended on a note that complicated the likelihood of Luther returning ever again, with the man himself being brought to justice for his unlawful methods. The Fallen Sun can’t ignore being pushed into this creative corner, so here we find an incarcerated Luther being tormented by inmates before getting drawn back into action after being goaded by a serial killer called David Robey (Andy Serkis) he failed to catch before his imprisonment. It’s not long before Luther’s organised a jail break with the help of a corrupt guard and former associate, becoming a fugitive whilst simultaneously trying to assist his retired boss Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) and replacement DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo) in stopping Robey.

The Fallen Sun is business as usual for Luther, playing no differently than how a truncated sixth series would have looked. The only differences are the higher production values and increased budget allowing for more impressive set-pieces (most notably a scene of mass suicide and car crashes in Piccadilly Circus) and location shooting in snowy Estonia. In terms of the storytelling techniques and ideas being presented, creator and writer Neil Cross delivers two hours of prime Luther with all the hallmarks of the TV series; there’s another loathsome villain who melts into crowds without arousing suspicion, paranoia over social surveillance and the horrors of the Dark Web, and maverick Luther going to extreme lengths to catch another sicko.

Luther is arguably best-remembered for the twisted nature of its killers and the distasteful kinks to their villainy. The Fallen Sun’s best elements play into those aspects of the show, with David Robey a millionaire city trader who uses technology to blackmail ordinary folk into doing terrible things. This angle is the most interesting part of the film, as we’re all a little anxious about the chance of smart-speakers being hacked to listen into private conversations, or that some online freedoms and embarassing activities become become known to friends and family. Blackmail is an enduring motivation in thrillers, but demonstrating how easily modern tech could be used to manipulate people into committing crimes or suicide is genuinely frightening.

Andy Serkis is a wonderful choice to play Robey because he’s both normal-looking and yet slightly unnerving when lit appropriately. His babyface is always a curled lip away from looking terrifying, and this dichotomy was famously utilised when portraying the competing psyche that lived inside of Gollum for The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) trilogy. Serkis has a lot of fun tapping into this larger-than-life baddie, complete with a Bond villain’s lair that coincidentally evokes an icy landscape recently seen in No Time to Die (2021).

Idris Elba is, of course, the driving force behind this story. It’s enormous fun seeing a disgraced Luther operating from a weaker position while on the run from the authorities, and yet given room to manoeuvre by the cops because they grudgingly know he’s their best chance to find Robey. There will be times when you can’t help rolling your eyes at some of the unprofessionalism that happens, but Luther often played fast and loose with reality and was never a series to take entirely seriously. Luther is basically a cape-less Batman prone to standing around on London skyscrapers looking cool for no particular reason, with Schenk as his Commissioner Gordon.

While there’s often a personal matter running parallel to whatever Luther is investigating on the TV series, the attempt to personalise the capture of Robey by tying him to an unsolved case isn’t as strong as past examples. The Fallen Sun tells a simpler story about a fugitive ex-cop trying to find a madman—whose connection to Luther as the person responsible for digging up the dirt that locked him up doesn’t exactly match my memory of how Series 5 left off anyway.

Other performances are decent enough, especially from Crowley as Schenk (the only man Luther trusts), although the most notable supporting role comes from Cynthia Erivo as the new head of the Serious & Serial Crime Unit, DCI Raine. Luther has always been a little 24 (2001-2010) in how it rearranges cast members between cases, as characters we’ve grown to like are either killed off or don’t return with no explanation, but Erivo is good value throughout.

Is Luther: The Fallen Sun worthy of its status as a feature-length film? Not really. It may look more expensive than the average BBC-budgeted episode, but it’s nothing beyond what most modern US crime thrillers deliver for the small-screen these days. And the story may not play too well for those who haven’t seen the show and happen to find this on their Netflix homepage, as it feels like a two-part Series 6 in expensive clothing. There’s certainly fun for the uninitiated who just want a few hours of a ghoulish serial killer shenanigans with Idris Elba as the hero, although the character of Luther may feel thin without the hours of character-building and backstory fans will bring to it.

UK USA | 2023 | 129 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Jamie Payne.
writer: Neil Cross (based on the BBC TV series).
starring: Idris Elba, Cynthia Erivo, Dermot Crowley & Andy Serkis.