Blu-ray Review: ‘Gangs of London: Season 1’ (2020)

Scenario: the titular Gangs of London have been operating in unison for years until a profitable truce that works out well for most involved. Then one day the head of the multifaceted organization (Colm Meaney) gets unceremonious murdered in a rundown apartment complex in one of the seedier areas of the city. Naturally, chaos ensues. Who killed him? Why did they kill him? Was it an inside job within the family? Did one of their business partners do it? Is it someone else? A rival wanting to muscle in and take over?

Cue said Gangs now tearing themselves apart as they either try to help find who did it, prove that they themselves weren’t involved, or seize an opportunity to gain more power as things begin to rapidly spiral out of control. Loyalties will be tested. Blood will be spilled. New leaders will arise. New alliances will be forged. And all of this is filled out by a very game cast of character actors.

Outside of Star Trek veteran Colm Meaney and a guest appearance by Harry Potter & The Strain actor David Bradley, the names in this cast might not be familiar to me, but the faces sure are. This series is packed with a bountiful buffet of character actors from Game of Thrones, His House, Peaky Blinders, and the more recent Star Wars films. That’s on top of a trio of directors who are responsible for notable genre efforts like Apostle, Cold Skin, The Divide, Frontier(s), The Hallow, The Nun, and – of course – The Raid and The Raid 2. Lots of talent, that’s what I’m getting at. Which is good, as this show is playing around with a lot of well-worn tropes.

And I do mean well-worn. We are close to 50 years away from The Godfather at this point and yet mob stories still struggle to break away from its structure and influence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great formula for the genre. There’s a reason it keeps getting a new coat of paint over and over again: because it works. It’s a tried and true crime story structure, but if you’re going to play in that specific area of crime fiction, you’d better have some interesting new wrinkles. I wish I could say that Gangs of London does, but for the most part it seems content to just play the hits.

Sure, it often gives it all a more modern Mann/Nolan-y sheen, but at the end of the day it’s still very much just dishing out a Godfather riff with an “undercover cop in over his head” expansion pack grafted onto it. The aforementioned capable cast tends to make it work most of the time, but the staleness of the plot is sometimes hard for them to overcome. The series only truly shines whenever it takes the time to break away from London itself and explore the influences of and ramifications upon the criminal communities that reside outside the city, both in terms of plot and action.

Action is a big plus on this series, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given Gareth Evans‘ involvement. If you’re hoping for some dynamic and inventive gangland massacres, then you have come to the right show. You’ll also be treated to some Raid-esque hand-to-hand combat sequences from time to time, although I honestly prefer the shootouts and assaults. As much as I love both Raid films, seeing that level of martial arts mastery coming from an undercover cop (and the occasional trained merc that he battles) who is infiltrating a London criminal organization just doesn’t feel as organic as it should.

The actor in question (Sope Dirisu) is more than capable, but it doesn’t feel like he’s getting these big battles not because it’s right for the character or the show. Instead, it feels like that stuff is only in there solely because Evans’ is a writer/director/producer on the series, therefore characters must occasionally Raid it up as a result. It would be like if Justin Lin made a western and shoehorned in some Fast & Furious-style chase sequences with stagecoaches. Sure, it might look cool in the moment, but it doesn’t fully gel with the rest of the film. That’s a relatively minor quibble, however.

As I said, the biggest hurdle for this series is the writing. The showrunners are attempting to tell a story about multiple crime families who are publicly collaborating for their mutual benefit, but privately trying to undermine and kill one another. It’s hard to tell such a well-worn tale and they’re constantly struggling to inject some life and originality to it all. Because of this, the series is merely good, instead of a great. It is, however, some stable ground that they can build upon going forward and I am curious to see what new pathways they lay out for these characters going into the upcoming second season.

Moving onto the technical side of the release, this is a handsome Blu set. The picture is sharp and clear and the sound mix will blow your ears off (in a good way). It’s a great looking and sounding series, delivering movie-level quality all around. Whatever money went into the show was well spent and this is undoubtedly the best presentation of it.

As for special features? AMC hasn’t slouched in this department either. There are half a dozen featurettes, which cover everything from the world of the series to its different factions to the expertly-crafted action sequences within. In a world where studios often drop the ball on supplemental material, especially when it comes to TV Shows, this is one of the more stacked season releases that I have come across of late. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be pleased.

Gangs of London is a British crime drama series. It was created by Gareth Evans & Matt Flannery, and directed by Gareth Evans, Xavier Gens, and Corin Hardy. The show is produced by Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Gabriel Silver, and Hugh Warren. It stars Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Colm Meaney, Brian Vernal, Lucian Msmati, Paapa Essiedu, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Aled ap Steffan, Jing Lusi, Valene Kane, Garry Cooper, David Avery, Orli Shuka, Adrian Bower, Narges Rashidi, Asif Raza Mir, Richard Harrington, and David Bradley.

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