directed by Joss Whedon
(Universal, 2005)

Even though I'm a big science-fiction fan who watches Fox more than any other network, I somehow managed to never see an episode of Firefly. That means I came on board the Serenity with basically no knowledge at all about the series or the characters. Naturally, I now plan on watching the Firefly episodes in the near future, but there is a very real chance I will say something in this review that will be deemed rather stupid by loyal fans -- but, rest assured, I intend to have nothing but good things to say about this movie. It definitely can be enjoyed on its own merits, but I did feel as if I were missing out on some background, especially in terms of the recent war and the true natures of the Alliance, the colonists on the outer, wilder worlds and, of course, the Reavers.

It was also a little hard to fully embrace the heroes at first because -- well, they are basically criminals who aren't averse to leaving a few bodies in their wake when they do a job. These are deep characters, however, and it takes time to get to know them, especially Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), who seems to run hot and cold all the time. Of course, his mood swings are nothing compared to those of River Tam (Summer Glau), the young psychic supergirl currently being protected by Mal and his crew. River was trained by the Alliance government to be a superhuman with extrasensory powers and lethal fighting skills. I must say I always enjoy watching a woman stomp mudholes in wave after wave of bad guys -- and this girl doesn't bother with taking names when she gets her groove on. What a woman!

River was saved from her life as an Alliance-controlled guinea pig of death by her brother, who can be a little annoying in a Jerry O'Connell sort of way. Naturally, the Alliance wants her back -- not just for whom and what she is but also for the highly classified information she might have gleaned from people in authority. Since she doesn't officially exist, the government can't just put out an interstellar APB on her; instead, they send in a smooth-talking, highly trained assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who doesn't let a little thing like countless innocent deaths get in the way of his mission. As for Mal and some of his crew, they aren't even sure they want to keep River around anymore, especially after she goes Bruce Lee on a whole bar full of tough hombres for no discernible reason. It's bad enough the Alliance is gunning for them just for having her onboard, but it starts to look like she could be a danger to them in and of herself. Mal wants to know what secret she has buried in her fragile brain, though -- given the hated Alliance's determined effort to find and eliminate her, he knows it must be a real threat to their position and power. He's right, of course.

Serenity is a remarkable movie -- nay, concept -- in many ways. The very story itself represents a unique take on science fiction (although I can't say I saw a lot of Firefly's vaunted Western tie-in in the movie), one built on fascinating characters as much as futuristic technology and marvelous (and they are marvelous, by the way) shoot-'em-ups in space. The ever-ingenious Joss Whedon likes to diverge from common wisdom and prove all the "it will never work" critics wrong, and part of that involves some pretty unexpected fates for his characters here in this big-budget crowd-pleaser of a feature film. I can see where fans of the Firefly series might come away rather shocked on a couple of occasions.

I could quibble about a couple of things in the film (such as the melodramatic romantic pause at one point just before the climax and the bad guy's decision to risk his life going after the hero when he had ample opportunity to just blow the guy's brains out as easy as you please), but I won't. Serenity is a great movie and the ultimate vindication for Whedon and his hand-picked actors who were mismanaged and then dropped mercilessly and far too quickly by Fox. These TV execs gave the horrendously over-marketed and downright weak Adventures of Brisco County Jr., a full year to prove itself, yet they axed Joss Whedon's Firefly after a mere 11 episodes (which they didn't even show in the right order). How stupid was that? Just look at the rave reviews and sales of both Firefly and Serenity. The show deserved better, and Serenity proves Mr. Universe right -- they really can't stop the signal. Let's hope there are further adventures to come -- in any format.

by Daniel Jolley
5 August 2006

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