A (Not So) Good Man Goes to Prison
Luther: The Fallen Sun
There are dark serial killer shows and then there's Luther. This British series, which started back in 2010, is the series that helped cemented Idris Elba as a genuine star. He'd been in a lot of shows and movies before this, taking smaller roles in big films and shows (and bigger roles in small films and shows), and he did find critical success with his performance as Stringer Bell in The Wire, but it was Luther that truly propelled him upwards. After his performance here, which found crossover appeal in both Britain and the U.S., he was suddenly everywhere.
It's clear that the star does love playing this character. Over the course of five seasons and 20 episodes (because British TV is weird), Elba has come back, time and again, to explore DCI John Luther as he gets down in the muck, hunting down London's worst of the worst. He's a deeply flawed character with a lot of nuance, who Elba plays with aplomb. Each time the character comes back it feels like an event. Or, at least, it did. But after four years of waiting (which was itself preceded by four years of waiting for the previous season), you eventually have to wonder if we really need Luther around anymore. Has the series said all it needed to say about Luther? Does the character have anywhere to go from here?
Those are questions that Luther: The Fallen Sun, a co-production between the BBC and NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it)., doesn't really have answers for. Bear in mind that over the previous five seasons we saw Luther break (or at least very strongly bend) a number of laws in the pursuit of killers. He found love with one-time murderer Alice Morgan (played by Ruth Wilson) before he had to chase her down and kill her, too. He was then arrested for multiple murders (which he didn't directly commit but, in a way, contributed to), and was sent to prison. Frankly, him going to prison at the end of series five felt like a fitting end for his arc. He went from good (if slightly dirty) cop to prisoner for his transgressions. That does feel like case closed.
And yet, this new film (which picks up soon after the events of series five) clearly can't let go of the character. A new serial killer had sprung up, this time taking out people with deep, dark secrets that he can leverage against them, and the only person that can crack this case is, apparently, John Luther. That's always been the modus operandi of the show, but very early in this movie a true statement is made. "You're no longer a cop." The film continues to treat him like a cop, even while he's a prisoner and then, later, getting chased down by actual cops, but Luther never accepts that. Not really. He still thinks he's on the right side of the law despite, well, everything he's ever done. A little introspection, a little growth, shouldn't be too much to ask, you would think.
Sadly, no. The creators of this film, writer director for the whole series Neil Cross and star Elba, are deeply in love with this character. He's a bad cop for the right reasons, they argue, and even in this film they continue to have Luther act like he always has, bending and breaking laws all in pursuit of the evil-doer at the other end of the script. Sending Luther to prison should have changed something, shifted the next story even one iota. That doesn't happen here and it becomes tiresome to see the show go through the motions all over again.
Let's be clear, the issue is that the film doesn't hold Luther accountable for his actions. Letting him out of prison to go on about his business (and then, presumably after this film, continuing to be Luther wherever he is) let's him off the hook for everything he's done. Yes, he was framed for some murders he didn't commit, but that doesn't change the fact that he'd crossed the line so many times before that he should have been in prison years ago regardless. The film doesn't care about that. It wants to push a reset button, giving Luther a case he can sink his teeth into so that he can prove he deserves to be free (for any definition of that term) so he can continue to do his "job". That's what this film really is, that reset button, and everything that happens during the film feels weightless because of it.
Think of it this way: if the film will let Luther off the hook for anything he does, can there every be any true consequences for him? He can't be held accountable for his crimes now because that clearly didn't work before. No reason to stay on the right side of the law with this new case since accountability has take a vacation. Do we have to worry if he might die? We would, if there were stakes, but the film won't let Luther truly suffer for anything he does so he also won't suffer too much damage (or death). He has plot armor now, through and through, and that is going to keep him safe and consequence free right up until we're told that whatever story he's in is "the final chapter." This isn't the final chapter, it's just "a chapter." Consequences be damned.
Maybe I wouldn't have cared as much about this if the villain he was chasing were at least interesting. A good villain could lift up an otherwise mediocre movie. But the killer played by Andy Serkis, is a total snooze. His desires for his victims remain inscrutable, his M.O. inconsistent. He doesn't get a lot of screen time, and when he does Serkis plays him with this hollow sneer. There's very little meat on the villain's bones, leading to a vacancy in the middle of this film where the killer should reside. The film needed to add more menace, more gore, and more pop to make Serkis's character into a villain worthy of Luther. He's just not there and you spend a lot of the film wondering why Luther is so wrapped up in this case.
But then, considering how easy it is for Luther to track down the killer and go toe-to-toe with him (more than once), you have to wonder why the police haven't managed to catch the killer before Luther even had to get involved. For all the times the film tells us he's a master strategist, a killer clearly three steps ahead of everyone, he never comes across as the smartest person in the room. He's lucky, yes, but not smart or interesting. There just needed to be more to this character to make him work, but the film never really invests in him the way it needed to.
This film, more than anything, feels like padding. It's there to get Luther out of the situation the series put him in, all so he can go back to doing what he does. Everything else about this film is just there to waste time, to scratch an itch fans have for "more Luther" so that the producers can wait another four years before dripping out another small morsel of content. It's hardly filling, it's hardly even worth the wait, and it just exists to mark time.
Legitimately, everything of importance to the character of John Luther could have fit into a webisode for the series. He goes to prison, immediately the government steps in and pardons him, and then he goes back to hunting killers. That's five minutes of genuine, necessary storytelling, tops. Fit it into a webisode, or a Quibi (heh), or the cold open for a different, better episode of the show. Anything than what this film has to offer. Luther is a great series, but The Fallen Sun is an absolute chore.
And suddenly I know why it's on Netflix. Movies to fill time, but that no studio wanted to release and no one actually wants to watch, are Netflix's bread and butter. One day maybe that will change, but not today. Not with Luther