NOTE: This review has NO spoilers.
Joss Whedon, the Emmy-nominated writer/director of the television hits “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” has created a big-screen winner in “Serenity.”
Whedon satisfies the long-suffering fans of “Firefly,” who watched the series get cancelled in 2002 but helped it gain new life in reruns on the Scifi Channel. Almost all of the characters they have come to admire perform heroically and go through life-altering changes in the process. Moviegoers who have never seen the TV series will still be engaged by the plot and will be co-admirers of the Serenity crew by the film’s end.
The movie is set about 500 years in the future, in a
universe solar system dominated by The Alliance, essentially a sort of one-universe government. “Serenity” is a spaceship commanded by Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), whose motley crew has three purposes: survive by carrying out missions ranging from questionable to criminal (in the Robin Hood sense); stay out of the way of The Alliance; and protect a young female passenger named River (Summer Glau), who has psychic powers and previously-hidden abilities, from capture and execution by The Alliance.
The Alliance detects “Serenity” while it is carrying out one of those shady missions. A trained assassin, The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), spends the rest of the movie leading The Alliance’s pursuit of Serenity and its prize passenger. During the pursuit, with the help of River, Serenity’s crew discovers a horrible Alliance secret and, switching from renegade defense to outraged offense, decides against all odds that the rest of the
universe solar system must know the awful truth.
The character relationships are engaging, entertaining, and moving. Some of the many that stand out: the under-the-surface sensual smolder between Mal and “comfort woman” Inara (Morena Baccarin); the believer-nonbeliever repartee between Mal and Book (Ron Glass); the girl-wants-boy giddiness around Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and Simon (Sean Maher); the mutual love between warrior wife Zoe (Gina Torres) and the ship’s pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk); and the brother-sister interactions of Simon and River. What is most striking about the characters, and most unusual in science fiction, is that almost everyone, with the possible exception of cynical mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), is searching for some kind of deeper meaning and validation in their lives.
Whedon strikes a marvelous balance in the film’s presentation. The special effects are very convincing without calling attention to themselves. The violence and horror are gripping without getting gratuitiously bloody or graphic. The tense scenes between the characters are strident without going over the top.
Weaknesses, though minor, do exist, but are common to the genre. The space fleet fight sequence is hard to follow, and we have to take the director’s word that our heroes figured out how to get the upper hand. The Assassin’s bad-guy powers seem a bit too great for good-guy Mal to credibly defeat. Some of the blows landed and wounds inflicted, particularly during the final fight sequence between The Assassin and Mal, seem a bit too serious to shrug off while continuing the fight.
But overall, “Serenity” is one of the freshest science fiction projects to hit the big screen in quite a while. It should breathe some life into a year where Hollywood has struggled, mostly in vain, in its search for a blockbuster that isn’t another sequel or remake.
Rating: 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.
UPDATE: I want to thank those who orchestrated and enabled the Blogger Sneak Preview, particularly Grace Hill Media, Universal Pictures, and AMC Theatres. I suspect they will find that reaching out to potential buzz-creators is an effective way to increase the chances of box-office success.
UPDATE 2, Sept. 28, 8PM: As expected, blog reviews are ubiquitous. Also as expected, the reviews are almost “universally” favorable. Just a few of the better ones: Nix Guy, Combs Spouts Off, Vodkapundit, Resurrection Song, Misplaced Keys, and Internet Freedom Trail.