'Luther: The Fallen Sun' Can't Solve the Case of Its Own Predictable Formula

Directed by Jamie Payne

Starring Idris Elba, Cynthia Erivo, Andy Serkis, Dermot Crowley, Thomas Coombes, Lauryn Ajufo, Hattie Morahan, Vincent Regan

Photo: John Wilson / Netflix

BY Rachel HoPublished Mar 10, 2023

Where all my Lutherans at? Since its debut in 2010, Idris Elba and creator/writer Neil Cross has given us 20 episodes of (mostly) television excellence across five seasons and one of the finest grizzly TV detectives ever in Elba's DCI John Luther. He's a classic anti-hero whose questionable tactics and greyscale moral compass constantly land him, and his loved ones, in precarious situations, all while he solves some of the most gruesome cases London has to offer. 

Taking place immediately following the events of Season 5, Luther: The Fallen Sun, the first feature film entry in the series, finds DCI Luther making the cardinal sin of a detective: promising the return of a loved one's missing person. The man responsible for this particular missing person (and many others), David Robey (Andy Serkis), becomes aware of Luther's involvement in the case and tasks one of his minions to dig up all the dirt they can possibly find on the officer.

In the quickest of montages, we learn that Luther has been found guilty of numerous charges and sent to London's maximum security prison to answer for his dubious methods across his career. Although placed under protective custody while in prison, his fellow inmates find ways to get one back on the incarcerated copper. Meanwhile, the missing person in Luther's last case, Callum, has turned up dead, along with many others. 

While in prison, Luther is sent a message from Robey via an FM radio, which includes a recording of Callum's dying moments. After receiving a visit from Callum's mother, to whom Luther had made his promise, he is spurned on to make a prison break and find Robey.

For all the extraordinary circumstances Fallen Sun lives in, the film itself is generic in its approach, especially for Luther-heads familiar with the Luther formula. Little to nothing new is offered to the Luther catalogue, with many of the same buttons pushed and minimal stakes diminishing any possible tension. Even as Luther commits the most egregious of acts, we all know he'll be fine in the end, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but does require that the execution of those acts be consistently brilliant. 

While the focal criminal case presents a lot of horrid imagery, Robey as a serial killer (despite a formidable turn by Serkis) isn't given much in terms of motivation or complexity. I was disappointed that Cross didn't push Robey's story further, instead relying on shock value over substance. In a world where DCI Luther remains a stubborn constant, how the series and character stays fresh are the engrossing adversaries put in his way. Unfortunately, Robey just isn't that.

Similarly, it's a shame that none of Luther's cohorts have ever been written with the same layered approach as was done for Warren Brown's DS Justin Ripley in the earlier seasons of the show. Even with solid performances from Cynthia Erivo and Thomas Coombes as the ranking officers, their characters don't pique the same interest as the old crew did (especially when many supporting detectives have been introduced and discarded in the past).

As a staunch Lutherite myself, I have a high tolerance for adherence to the Luther formula, as it has proven be be entertaining time and again. From a mile away, I can see the well-worn threads being woven together, but I have no problems rewatching them. Elba is reliably in his bag with Luther, fitting back into the character with the same comfort DCI wears that tweed overcoat and red tie; and with Dermot Crowley returning as Martin Schenk, Fallen Sun is like an old friend with the same tricks.

I think it's safe to say that we won't be seeing Elba donning a tux and ordering that martini anytime soon. (Fallen Sun even takes a little swipe at the latter in an amusing throwaway line.) But with a character like DCI John Luther, I'm not at all yearning for Elba to move on to another government job. Elba's command over Luther continues to drive the franchise forward, even when it threatens to stumble. 

The ending of Fallen Sun hints to more opportunities for Luther to find himself in a world of trouble, and without giving anything away, there appears the possibility of something different to re-energize the series. Even if Fallen Sun didn't bring down the house, it was enough to satiate my Lutheritic heart.

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