Idris Elba, EBONY's January 2023 cover star, can’t leave John Luther alone and we don’t want him to. For over a decade now, Elba has made time to keep the role that, for later generations, has supplanted that of Stringer Bell on The Wire as his most definitive. Ever since Elba first debuted the British detective in the psychological thriller on the BBC back in 2010, the character has stuck. So much so that Luther found its way to other countries, including here where Elba has won several awards, including a Golden Globe and SAG Award, for his performance.
How Elba has kept DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) John Luther alive in series form, even with as few as two episodes, is admirable. Now, for the first time since 2019, he resumes the role for Netflix's feature film on the detective. Enjoyment of Luther: The Fallen Sun is fortunately not contingent on being a fan or an expert on the series. But for those who are, there are plenty of Easter eggs to discover.
Created by British novelist-turned-TV writer/producer Neil Cross, Elba’s Luther is consumed by the job. While that hasn’t changed, with the movie, they switched a few things up. Just as a serial killer begins terrorizing London, Luther is a disgraced detective who finds himself behind bars serving time. On top of that, the psychopath taunts him believing he is unable to do anything about it. But he is wrong. Ever determined to nail the bad guys, Luther breaks his chains. Instead of doing the hunting, however, he also becomes the hunted. And just maybe Andy Serkis—noted for playing Klaue in Black Panther as well as in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Elba also appeared, along with a slew of other memorable roles and movies—has more than a hand in that.
Just as exciting is the addition of Cynthia Erivo as DCI Odette Raine. Even given the circumstances, with Raine assuming Luther’s former position, seeing two Black British characters fighting the bad guys is a major win, even if they aren’t exactly aligned. Raine is thorough in her job and refuses to let Luther go unpunished. Upon learning of Luther’s jailbreak, Raine makes it clear to Luther that he will be killed if necessary or required.
“She's very, very talented in everything she does. She has incredible range,” Elba has shared. “She really has a lot of life energy. And her character Raine does too. She is a Black woman in a high position and that takes some real courage. Cynthia just brings it all into that character and brings Raine to life.”
Erivo, whose character sports an actual Burberry coat in the film, said she joined Luther because “I hadn't met Odette Raine before. I’d never played anyone like her. She has this wonderful story arc, an emotional life that I hadn't met in a woman before.”
For years, Elba fans have buzzed about him becoming the next James Bond. He, however, has never poured much gasoline on the fire. And his character Luther, as many have speculated, is why. ‘Really I don’t want to compare John Luther to James Bond, but in the whirlwind of conversations around me playing James Bond I’ve always said wait until we see John Luther in a movie because I feel like the real estate is the same,” Elba shared on Sunday Today with Willie Geist.
That real estate includes jailbreaks, cleverly eluding capture often by manipulating technology, sadistic bad guys, difficult icy terrain and more. Bond’s signature trove of stunning women is absent here, primarily because Luther is completely focused on nabbing the bad guys. Luther is also a loner, with only a handful of allies here or there. One scene, many critics have noted, arguably takes a jab at Bond.
While the violence does become a bit much at times, it is given a purpose. Also, Luther issues a critical reality check that real people can’t just shake that kind of violence off. So while Luther may not back down from a fight, his body and face absolutely show the toll the battle takes on him.
As gratifying as Luther: The Fallen Sun is, it’s doubtful it’s enough to stop the deafening cries for Elba to assume the iconic Bond role. In the best of all worlds, there would be no choosing; Elba would just do both. If that never happens, however, this film shows just how committed Elba is to striking his own gold with Luther, John Luther.
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.