Gangs of London is the first foray of director and writer, Gareth Evans, into television. The show’s creator brings much of his gritty story telling and intense action from his famed The Raid films to the European capital. As can be implied by the title, the series follows the various criminal organizations in the famed city.
The tone is set in the opening sequence with an unknown gentleman hanging from the top of the building. Sean Wallace douses the man with gasoline and lights him on fire after being unsatisfied with the answers he receives. Not only does his victim experience excruciating burns, but the rope holding him up disintegrates dropping him to his death. This is the exact cold and unforgiving demeanor a newly initiated head of a crime family needs to prove his resolve to any potential usurpers.
Gangs of London then flashes back to a week prior to catch up on the events that lead to Sean’s ascension. His father, Finn, is the most powerful crime boss in London, and one night he is murdered. Sean must prove his worth and maintain his family’s standing while finding the people responsible for his dad’s death. His move shutting down all illegal activity until his father’s murderer is found rubs many other organizations the wrong way. Much of the series premiere is a slow burn introducing many of the main characters and conflict of the season.
There are a diverse group of lowlifes in league with the Wallace family representative of a city with such a rich cultural background. There is a lot of intrigue learning about these different gangs and the entire underworld’s pecking order and politics. There are already fractures in the unsteady alliances with some members trying to secretly continue conducting business while others don’t respect Sean as the new leader.
Part of these early pacing problems are common with first episodes catching the viewer up with the world. For Gangs of London, it could also be a result of the initial premiere on Sky Atlantic and AMC+ being an hour and a half long and the episode is divided into two parts for its linear airing. Technically, its incomplete but the first part does conclude on a logical cliffhanger.
It isn’t until the end when we receive our first action sequence. Elliott is a low-level soldier in the Wallace organization who uncovers a lead in the murder case. Finn’s driver is held captive by the Albanian gang and Elliott must work his way through various henchmen to get to a lieutenant, Bezmer.
The fights are brutal and raw with none of the pageantry and beauty of Hong Kong cinema but just as highly choreographed. There’s a high level of intensity and violence and some parts may not be for the squeamish. Who would have thought a single throwing dart could be so dangerous. If this is only a preview of what’s to come on the series, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
This episode of Gangs of London also incorporates excellent camera work. The scenes contain muted colors and grays to accentuate the underworld feel. At times, Evans plays with angles and perspectives for shots drawing the viewer into the story. In addition, the unsteady filming of the fights heighten the action and add urgency and franticness as Elliott closes in on Bezmer.
The exposition and introductions of the season premiere contribute to a sluggish start but the dynamics of the different gangs generate enough interest to draw the audience. However, the exhilarating action sequences and fights will keep you wanting for more.
Gangs of London airs Sunday nights on AMC.
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