Review: Idris Elba returns as Luther in grisly Netflix film
For anyone holding on to some latent hope that Idris Elba will be the next James Bond, I have some bad news: “ Luther: The Fallen Sun ” puts (another) nail in that very firmly sealed coffin. In one of the rare moments of levity in the sinister film, the embattled detective John Luther sits down at a chic bar and tells the bartender it’s been a long day (an understatement).
“I would say a long day calls for a martini,” the bartender says.
Luther’s response? “No.” He’ll take some water, and, “if it makes you happy you can make it fizzy.”
This was not an accidental moment, “Luther” creator Neill Cross has said. Elba even wondered if it was a bit too cheeky. But it’s worth remembering that Elba doesn’t need Bond. He’s already got a moody, tortured bachelor with a talent for hunting bad guys. And Luther belongs exclusively to him.
In this outing, written by Cross and directed by Jamie Payne, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther finds himself imprisoned for his unconventional methods at work and haunted by the unsolved missing person case that opens the film and sets its macabre tone. His imprisonment and the missing teen are related — the work of a wealthy villain David Robey (Andy Serkis) who film introduces to the audience as such in the first few moments.
Serkis’ character is a kind of gentleman psychopath, with his blown out James Spader in “Pretty in Pink” coif and maniacal smile. He’s one of those villains for whom chaos, misery and gore are the point. David Robey is methodical, patient and unsparing — he’ll even go so far as to befriend the families of his victims after the fact.
At the start, the film takes on a kind of David Fincher vibe, with echoes of “Seven” and “Zodiac” crossed with some of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Unfortunately it takes the conceit to such absurd lengths by the end that the premise takes on an unintentional silliness. That’s not even counting the brawls between Elba and Serkis, whose sizes could not be more mismatched.
But the good news is that it’s a pretty fun, tense ride up until that point with some stunning shots of London at night. Elba slips back into Luther like no time has passed, though he has taken on some superhero-adjacent talents here, evident in his escape from jail — a sequence that is somehow both violent and cartoonish. It’s not an easy or straightforward role, but Elba makes it look so. This is a guy who is so devoted to his former job that he’ll risk death to break out of prison and get right back to work trying to solve the case, knowing well that he’s also being hunted by his replacement, DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo, not to be trifled with).
Odette does not want to collaborate with Luther and even enlists his old boss Martin (Dermot Crowley, a comforting presence) to help figure out how to find him. This resistance starts to get a tad redundant and futile, especially since it’s quite obvious that eventually they’ll figure out a way to collaborate and perhaps could have saved some lives had they done so earlier. And at times, you just kind of wish Luther could take a vacation — it can be exhausting watching his relentless pursuit, but there's little room for boredom in a movie that never lets its protagonist take a breath.
And then of course there’s the ludicrous theatrics of Robey’s ultimate plan, which hinges on the assumption that would be serial killers and snuff-porn fetishists are everywhere just waiting for a twisted mind to live-stream gruesome murders. As if going by some bad guy checkbook, this “Saw”-like game show also takes place in a hidden lair in the snowy north.
But even though it may go over-the-top at the end, Elba keeps you interested.
You needn’t have watched all five seasons of “Luther” to take a chance on “Luther: The Fallen Sun." But there’s also a chance that you may find yourself wanting to afterwards.
“Luther: The Fallen Sun,” a Netflix release streaming Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “disturbing/violent content, language and some sexual material.” Running time: 129 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.