As a lifelong fan of Idris Elba in Luther, the gritty and often very silly London-set cop drama, I was really excited by the prospect of the first Luther movie – so much so that I headed off to a faintly frightening cinema in an empty retail park that looked more like a set from The Last of Us so I could see the Netflix movie before it streams on March 10.
To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. I don't think Luther: The Fallen Sun could have jumped the shark any more if the antagonist had been a shark called Jumpy The Shark. All the key signifiers are here: the coat, the car, Luther's tendency to stand atop high buildings like a bristly-chinned Batman. But this isn't the big-screen Luther I so wanted to see.
Why Luther: The Fallen Sun fell short for me
For the first hour or so, Luther: The Fallen Sun is brilliant – and if you have one of the best TVs and best soundbars it'll really show off your home cinema kit. The soundtrack made me jump in my seat several times, and when I wasn't jumping out of it I was on the edge of it. With one glaring exception and a prison scene that borders on the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than a gritty cop drama, the first two-thirds of the film are brilliantly tense and brilliantly thrilling.
That glaring exception comes right at the beginning, and I can't describe it without a mild spoiler – so if you don't want that, skip the next paragraph.
At the very start of the film, bad-wigged baddie Andy Serkis has a problem. He wants Luther in prison, but Luther is not in prison. So he makes a phone call asking someone to dig up all the dirt on the DCI. The film then cuts to various news programmes showing DCI Luther being sentenced to prison. And that's how we get from Luther the cop to Luther the disgraced cop, a status on which the whole film depends. It feels really lazy, like writer Neil Cross just couldn't be arsed with the details and wanted to get on with the gory stuff. Which he does, with increasingly diminishing returns.
Luther has always been gory and gothic: from the first season onwards we met all kinds of nasty killers who created increasingly bizarre and horrible crime scenes. So naturally you'd expect something suitably horrific in the movie, and it really delivers: there's a particularly audacious and unpleasant scene in London's Piccadilly Circus that'll haunt my nightmares for a long time.
But then the film pushes it too far in a third act that really pushes up the horror and also breaks the golden rule of any series: don't take the characters on holiday.
Luther has London through him like the words on a stick of rock. Taking him out of London, as the third act does, is a terrible mistake: he's a creature of the city, of side streets and dingy dives. The third act takes him into Poundland James Bond territory: Andy Serkis' villain doesn't quite live in a hollowed-out volcano, but it's not far off.. It's at this point that the film completely detaches from reality and turns into a cold version of Saw, if Saw were even more horrible and utterly boring.
I'm gutted, I really am. And I think what I'm most gutted about is that the film lacks what I loved so much about the TV show: charm. Luther on TV (which you can stream, and you should) made great use of Idris Elba's charisma, and the interpersonal stuff – such as Luther's odd and funny relationship with the murderous Alice (Ruth Wilson) – leavened the horror with humour and humanity. That feels really lacking here. As Luther might put it: it's not right.