Brilliant and troubled, rough and ready, on the edge of darkness, Luther is a larger-than-life protagonist, the type of intensely brooding detective who’s willing to skirt any rule if it catches him a killer, whose uncompromising sense of justice puts him at odds with colleagues. (None of them can claim to keep as cool a head whilst dangling a suspected witness over a balcony to extract key information.) Elba embodies Luther’s psychological torment—he breaks the law in order to uphold it—in soulful fashion; he’s the kind of endlessly compelling screen presence who can burrow into an archetype and illuminate inner currents of passion, rage, and pain without making the obvious choice, without even seeming to lower the character’s ever-present guard. All five series of “Luther” to date represent the actor at his best, and one of the chief pleasures of “The Fallen Sun” is the comfort and staggering charisma with which he shrugs that signature coat over his impossibly broad shoulders and heads back to work.
Last seen cuffed by his former police superintendent, Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), after crossing one extralegal line too many in the show’s fifth series finale, Luther finds himself in prison at the start of “The Fallen Sun,” though the circumstances of his incarceration have been altered. In the film’s telling, the good detective’s investigation into the disappearance of a young janitor has led his latest adversary—a teeth-gnashing ghoul of a tech billionaire played by Andy Serkis—to leak a dossier to the media that incriminates Luther in a litany of rule-bending offenses, from breaking and entering to suspect intimidation, tampering with evidence, and bribery. (Luther’s guilty on all charges, naturally, but he has a perfectly reasonable explanation, if only the courts would hear him out.)
Though stuck behind bars, Luther is still top of mind for Serkis’ aforementioned ghoul, David Robey, who terrorizes London through a series of elaborate killings—such as that of eight strangers, abducted, hanged, and arranged in a manor that erupts into flame as the victims’ parents arrive—but still makes time to taunt Luther over his failure to prevent the carnage. In response, Luther breaks out during a prison transport, after a kerosene-soaked cellblock-riot sequence makes his transfer to another facility inevitable. The sight of Luther shielding himself with a flaming mattress as he brawls down a corridor of bloodthirsty inmates marks “The Fallen Sun” early on as an escalation of the series’ penchant for pulp theatrics.