By: Michael Hogan
Beware: thieves operate in this area. But when they’re as cheekily charming as this one, we’ll turn a blind eye. Oui, mes amis, the Parisian mystery thriller about a self-styled “gentleman burglar” is back for the impatiently awaited Lupin Part 2.
When the first five episodes dropped in January, light-fingered Lupin stole the hearts of viewers worldwide and became a surprise ratings smash. It was watched by 70m households within 28 days, making it the most-watched non-English-language series ever on Netflix. Now we return to the scene of le crime.
Inspired by the adventures of debonair “cambrioleur” Arsène Lupin – often described as the French counterpart to Sherlock Holmes – the slick, suspenseful series follows 21st century master thief Assane Diop (played with a mischievous twinkle by comedian-turned-Hollywood star Omar Sy) on his mission to steal from the rich and correct a tragic injustice, inspired by the escapades of his literary hero.
Assane’s father Babakar was framed for a crime he didn’t commit 25 years ago and killed himself in prison out of shame, leaving poor teenage Assane an orphan. Now he’s all grown up and hellbent on revenge against corrupt, creepy tycoon Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre). You can tell Pellegrini’s a wrong’un because he smokes ostentatiously fat cigars and his piggy eyes gleam with greed.
Assane aims to use his formidable skills in sleight-of-hand and subterfuge to expose Pellegrini’s crimes and clear his father’s name. Like the dashing Lupin, who wore a cape, monocle and top hat, his modern-day disciple prides himself on pulling off stunts with showman-like panache.
We were left dangling on an agonising cliffhanger five months ago, as Assane’s mop-topped teen son Raoul (Etan Simon) was kidnapped by Pellegrini’s sadistic henchman. The story picks up at the exact same point, as the desperate Assane teams up with an unlikely partner to give chase through the bucolic Normandy countryside.
With his family’s safety at stake, he has to come up a new plan and fast, even if it means walking willingly into a deadly trap. If anyone can achieve the seemingly impossible, though, it’s surely our ingenious hero.
Once he’s back on home turf in Paris – the city looks so ravishing, it should really share top billing – Assane escalates his elaborate scheme to bring down Pellegrini. Slight snag: he’s now a fugitive, splashed all over the news as “the most wanted man in France”. Both law enforcement and Pellegrini’s thugs are rapidly closing in. Could the consummate escape artist’s luck be running out at last?
The five fresh episodes are frequently toe-scrunchingly tense, taking in shootings and stranglings, foot-chases and firebombs. There are bruising fight scenes and a spooky pursuit through the skull-stuffed catacombs beneath the capital. Assane steals a Pisarro painting from Musée d’Orsay, “borrows” a valuable violin, pays accomplices with stolen diamonds and picks pockets with worrying ease.
Read more: Is Lupin on Netflix dubbed?
Recalling Baker Street’s consulting detective, Assane runs rings around the hapless police. The only cop with a clue is geeky outcast Detective Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), another devotee of the Lupin books. He becomes Eve to Assane’s Villanelle, Lestrade to his Holmes. As they play cat-and-mouse, the pair develop cute odd couple chemistry.
Again like the Benedict Cumberbatch-led Conan Doyle reboot, Lupin updates a classic creation with contemporary tech. Assane is a cybercrime expert who uses hacking, CCTV, smartwatches, drones and deepfakes as part of his armoury. As in Sherlock, flashbacks and freeze-frames demonstrate how he performs his heists. Every time you’re wondering how he did it, he helpfully shows you.
The engrossing episodic stories are threaded together with wistful flashbacks to Assane’s youth and his nascent romances with the two femmes in his life: ex-girlfriend Claire (Ludivine Sagnier), mother of Raoul, and Pellegrini’s daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme). These interludes are unexpectedly emotional. So are Assane’s father-and-son bonds with both Babakar and Raoul.
Le grand finale is set at Théâtre du Châtelet opera house, where the first Lupin stage play was performed in 1911. “Now it’s our turn,” smiles Assane. “It’s our last show and Pellegrini will be finished.” The subsequent showdown springs several surprises and comes off like a pre-Brexit James Bond, complete with tuxedo and speedboat.
Sure, the boy’s own plotting is often implausible and the dialogue occasional hammy. Assane’s lair where he keeps his costumes resembles Phoenix Buchanan’s attic in Paddington 2. The 6ft 3in absolute unit’s ability to disguise himself with joke shop teeth or a stick-on moustache beggars belief. He has an adorable dog called J’Accuse, trained to bark whenever he hears Pellegrini’s name.
However, Omar Sy is so swaggeringly charismatic that carping about a lack of logic feels churlish. He works a dapper line in designer sportswear and baker boy caps. Surprisingly, this thoroughly Gallic series has a Brit showrunner in George Kay (Killing Eve, Criminal: UK). Perhaps he’s behind Assane’s penchant for Fred Perry.
There are even political undertones if you’re inclined to look for them. The Senegalese immigrant Diop family are victims of racism, although Assane often flips his social invisibility to his advantage. He’s infuriated by the “abuse of power” when Pellegrini’s government cronies get him off fraud charges. Such semi-serious subtexts never get in the way of the playful action, mind you.
French TV is très chic right now, with starry comedy Call My Agent a lockdown hit – and now getting a possibly unwise UK remake. Gritty police procedural Spiral and spy saga The Bureau also have devoted cult followings. (I’ll keep my counsel on the execrable Emily In Paris).
With its cinematic gloss and addictive thriller appeal, Lupin is the blockbuster addition to the cross-Channel canon. Think Ocean’s Eleven meets Robin Hood. Luther with a raised eyebrow and a nicer coat.
One word of advice: Netflix automatically plays the dubbed English version, which has corny accents and distractingly shonky lip-syncing. You’re better off flipping to the original French with English subtitles, which is way cooler anyway.
Ooh-la-la and other such Franglais phrases. Lupin part deux is a pacy, stylish and wholly irresistible crime caper. Hang on, where did my wallet, watch and phone go? Zut alors.