Gangs of London, Sky's sprawling, super-violent crime saga, returns for a second season this week. The first series debuted on Sky Atlantic at the height of the first lockdown in 2020 and was a massive hit: it was the biggest Sky Original drama launch on Sky Atlantic of the past five years.
Co-created by director and writer Gareth Evans and cinematographer Matt Flannery — the duo who helmed two of the 2010s’ best action flicks in The Raid and The Raid 2 — Gangs of London was a pulsating adrenaline shot that shook up a stale British gangster scene, and offered a useful, cartoonishly brutal distraction to global events.
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For a while, it’s been accepted that the modern-day British gangster thriller was in dire need of a revamp. Ever since 2004’s smart and slick Layer Cake, crime fans have had to endure uninspired retreads of foul-mouthed, gun-toting East End geezers nicked from the worst bits of a Guy Ritchie screenplay. It’s little wonder that an overwhelming majority of them went straight to DVD.
Focusing on the Wallace family’s attempts to maintain power over London’s underworld after the sudden death of their patriarch Finn, the series’ first season was a high-octane thrill ride that combined diverse gangland politics with flawlessly choreographed carnage.
Fast forward to 2022, and we’re back in the show’s funhouse mirror take of the capital that wouldn’t go amiss in Grand Theft Auto’s lawless universe. A year on from the chaotic events that transpired in season one, we’re treated to a London in turmoil.
Numerous gangs are vying to fill the void left behind by the wounded Wallaces, and the Dumanis — the brains behind the Wallaces’ brawn — are losing their own grip over the business side of things.
They all have to tread lightly under the omnipresent eye of the shadowy Investors, who have tasked enforcer Koba (played with fearsome vigour by newcomer Waleed Zuaiter) to ensure that everyone falls in line.
However, the embattled Elliot Finch (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) is at the core of season two’s conflicts. Now blackmailed into becoming an assassin for the Investors, much of the big set pieces revolve around the ex-undercover cop punching, shooting, and stabbing his way through a cavalry of mooks and main threats.
There’s a scene in an Istanbul laundrette which instantly reminds us of his lethal brutality, culminating in a bloody boss battle with an eye-popping finale.
Not missing a beat whatsoever, Dìrísù superbly continues his audition as Britain’s next big action hero, portraying a pained protagonist forced to get his hands dirty but just about retains his soul.
In a bleak show that’s lacking any semblance of morality, he’s the closest we have to a good guy in Gangs of London.
While rivalries are ever-present and treachery always looms, the show’s biggest strength lies in the heart-pounding action sequences scattered throughout.
With Evans and Flannery taking a backseat this season, new showrunner Colin Hardy (The Nun) — who directed season one’s explosive ender — continues the pair’s hard-hitting legacy in typically gruesome fashion where anything and everything can be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Hardy even returns to his horror roots from the first episode, serving up a home invasion scene that ranks among the series’ tensest moments.
Despite promising to be bigger and badder, Gangs of London’s second season isn’t quite as captivating as its predecessor. In between the chaos and mayhem that occurs in each episode, the show doesn’t break the mould when it comes to dramatic storytelling and plot advancement.
Watch a trailer for Gangs of London
Characters’ motivations fall under the usual tropes, spouting clichéd dialogue about ruling the city heard ad nauseam in Mob works past and present. Hardy’s vision of “Gotham-ising” London also falls short, with his use of CGI in lieu of London’s actual skylines bound to perplex many.
Nevertheless, Gangs of London isn’t meant to be a labyrinthian epic about Mob dynasties akin to The Godfather trilogy or The Sopranos. It’s a stylish, no-frills spectacle of savagery featuring some of the most impressive stunt work this side of the TV/film divide, and fans of claustrophobic, wanton hyper-violence a la The Raid won’t be disappointed.
No one’s safe whilst London’s burning, and we’re all the more entertained by it.
Gangs of London S2 is now available to watch on Sky Atlantic and stream on NOW with an Entertainment membership.
Watch the cast of Gangs of London talk about the new season