Gangs of London should really be a bigger deal. It's a gangster action thriller created and partly directed by Welsh director Gareth Edwards, who made The Raid and The Raid 2. He brings the same sensibility to the gangster series in an utterly unfiltered, uncompromising fashion. The pace is dark, brutal, relentless, and macho. The camerawork is stylish and gritty. The action is every bit as inventive and surprising as the best martial arts movies.
The premise of Gangs of London is simple: the most powerful gangster boss in London is assassinated, so his hotheaded son takes over and sets off a war between all the gangs of London as their fragile peace crumbles. Edwards adapts the Sony PSP game of the same name into a gangster show that takes on a post-video game style of storytelling to revitalize breathless pulp storytelling. The story's one job is everyone double-crossing and killing each other.
Gangs of London is not the deconstructionist, character dissection of The Sopranos. It's not out to find something new to say about gangsters or the genre. It's a straight-up lurid, pulp crime melodrama, and in the process it becomes fresh. It gleefully indulges in every trope you expect from gangster stories: the back-stabbings, shifting allegiances, assassination attempts both successful and not, the screw-up son who takes over the Family, the undercover cop's dilemma, sadistic henchmen, the blurred line between gangsters and corporations, the gang wars, the factionalism (while avoiding outright racism), the bloody shootouts What's new is the elaborate MMA, martial arts-infused, bloody, brutal fight scenes. Edwards and his fellow directors and choreographers orchestrate merciless, bone-crunching, wince-inducing fights that draw on Hong Kong and Eastern martial arts. These were not the graceful ballets of kung fu movies but the bloody, brutality of real-world street fights and MMA skirmishes combined with the dance of feints, parries, and hairline dodges.
To watch Gangs of London during the Pandemic is a surreal, even cathartic bit of escapism during the lockdown. The series was actually made a year ago. Nobody wears face masks or PPE, nobody is physically distancing. It's not a virus that's killing people, it's people killing people in the bloodiest ways imaginable. The sheer amount of bloody splatterings, exploding heads and gore is almost Body Horror. It's set in a cruel Hobbesian universe where life is nasty, brutish, and short. It's a fantasy of a pre-Pandemic world full of mean assholes messing each other up because they're sadistic, greedy, and occasionally psychopathic assholes. In the current climate, it's almost refreshing.
Gangs of London is broadcast on AMC every Sunday night. The entire first season is streaming on AMC.