1 October 2005 | mstomaso
Not brilliant, but entertaining and consistent with the series
I tried desperately to avoid getting my hopes elevated beyond reason, but it was to no avail. I have watched the entire Firefly series twice over the last two years, and had always hoped that it would somehow return. Firefly was one of the most recent examples of an intelligent, challenging, sci-fi show getting mismarketed and canceled by network TV. Firefly was a western adventure set in space with a compelling plot and bold, very likable characters. Serenity is its reprise in a full-feature film. Still, Serenity endeavors to introduce non-fans to its characters and major story arc in a very clever and subtle way, so that fans and non-fans alike can appreciate it completely. Those familiar with the saga of River and her alliance pursuers will enjoy the consistency with which the characters are portrayed and the development of her character into what she could have realized had the show been permitted to fully mature.
Before I go much further, I should state that I am no Joss Whedon fan - as I have found most of his TV work trite and over-hyped. Firefly earned my respect for Joss within a few minutes of the first episode, and I now watch him in my peripheral vision - just in case he does something this original and clever again.
Serenity is a Firefly class space transport ship operating illegally on the outskirts of Alliance civilization - the lawless edges of a solar system with many inhabited, terraformed, planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds is stuck between reavers - cannibalistic semi-human sociopaths who prey on unsuspecting ships in this outer realm, and the alliance, from which he and his crew have been running for months.
The focus of this movie is the resolution of a story arc first developed in Firefly - that of River Tamm and her brother, Serenity's ship doctor, though it focuses on the entire ensemble cast in much the same way the TV show did - allowing each to fully and complexly develop. I will give a bit of the back-story here though you don't need it to appreciate the film.
Mal is an internally conflicted man with a strong sense of justice and a big warm heart which he shields with a frigid philosophy and an attempted stoicism. He and his first officer Zoey were part of a defeated rebellion against The Alliance (a federally organized empire of fascist urbanites reminiscent of the society of Gattaca). With the war lost, Zoey married to his pilot (Wash), a thug (Jayne), a young prodigy engineer with limited social graces (Kaylee), an aristocratic prostitute (Inara), and a few mysterious fugitives Shepherd Book, Simon, and River, he has set out to smuggle and thieve his way through the outer territories, disrupting and avoiding the alliance all along the way. The crew of Serenity have given up civilization as the cost of freedom.
River and Simon had begun as passengers, but Simon's medical skills and the fact that the Alliance seemed to have an irreversible interest in either killing or kidnapping Simon's sister River gave Reynolds reason to become interested in them. After a while it became clear that River had been the subject of a variety of experiments involving violence and telepathy conducted by The Alliance. First appearing to be dangerously insane, River became more and more recognizable as a weapon.
The characterizations in Serenity are very strong, and the cast is top-notch. Although I was never entirely thrilled with her in Firefly (though I always respected her talent), Summer Glau (River) really steals the show with her powerful, evocative performance. The script and story are excellent, though I felt the pace of the dialog could have been slowed a bit for the sake of dramatic quality. There is plenty of action in this film, though it does not fall into the trap that most recent sci-fi has of losing its plot, intelligence and characterizations in boring and absurd action sequences. The cinematography, though not as revolutionary as that used in Firefly, is excellent.
My only disappointments - and they are mild at worst - are that I thought the plot could have been a little more complex, original and intelligent, giving the film the intense drama that some of the best episodes of the series had (such as Bushwhacked) and the fact that excellent original theme song for the show did not appear anywhere in the film.. The villain of the film was interesting and well developed, but I would have preferred a few minutes less action and a little more character development for him.
Nevertheless, I recommend Serenity highly to sci fi fans - particularly those who want more of a human story than Star Trek has offered lately, and might be looking for something less soapy and intense and more fun than the excellent new BSG. it really does not matter if you have seen the series. This film stands on its own.