MRR Movie Review: Serenity


Movie Review: "Serenity"

-- Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual references)
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2005
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

Anytime a beloved series like "Firefly" is cancelled, fans usually respond by asking for a movie. Just look at the legions of fans of the Fox sitcom "Arrested Development." When Fox cancelled the show, fans pushed for a movie to help wrap up storylines and give them a chance to say goodbye. Similarly, after the abrupt cancellation of Joss Whedon's sci-fi Fox show "Firefly," fans cried foul and began to demand a movie to give them some closure. They got what they wished for and then some, because "Serenity" doesn't just pick up where "Firefly" left off. Instead, it breathes new life into the story and gives fans the closure they needed while still opening the door to a potential sequel.

The film starts with The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is an agent for the Alliance, which is the intergalactic government that oversees a vast part of the universe. The Alliance is akin to the Evil Empire of the "Star Wars" films because they are corrupt and have nothing but bad intentions. Running afoul of the Alliance is the crew of the Serenity, a firefly-class space ship led by Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion). Mal and the crew have been hiding River Tam (Summer Glau) and her doctor brother Simon (Sean Maher). The Alliance experiment freely on several people within the universe, including River at one point in her adolescence. Simon helped her escape from her experimental captivity, which is why The Operative is keen on finding them. It turns out that deep inside River's troubled mind is some very sensitive intelligence that the Alliance does not want getting out in the open.

Mal didn't know this information when he initially agreed to give the two of them a spot on his ship's crew. He is furious when he finds out, but has already formed something of an attachment to the brother-sister duo. With the approval of pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), his wife Zoe (Gina Torres) and the rest of the rebel misfits on the ship, they decide to try and keep Simon and River safe, even though it means running afoul of the Alliance. They are no strangers to this, since they are a part of a group of space bandits who only follow strict Alliance rules when it suits them. There is real danger as The Operative tries to catch up with them before River reveals what she knows, which could be the downfall of the Alliance.

Writer/Director Whedon is known as something of a geek god, a man whose credibility in a world overrun with comic conventions is second to none. When "Firefly" was brought to series, he was only known in the geek world, where his previous shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" gave him cult status. In today's world, where being a geek is 'in,' Whedon stands above most because of his ability to read what an audience wants. In "Serenity," he gives fans of the show what they want, while still giving them a few things they don't, like the killing off of three characters, two of whom were beloved to fans. The fact that he can kill off two fan favorites and still have nothing but goodwill and a great film shows just how thrilling the film really is.

One of the hallmarks of Whedon's work is his ability to write strong parts for women. Science fiction is a genre that has long been dominated by male characters, some of whom can come across as sexist. "Serenity" features River as a troubled girl who can still kick butt and take names, even when the stakes are high. Similarly, Zoe is a brave woman who can still land on her feet, even when personal tragedy rears its ugly, heartbreaking head. Mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) has plenty of pluck to overcome her occasional awkwardness, while Inara (Morena Baccarin) frequently stands up to the occasionally boorish Mal. With these characters, "Serenity" may be one of the most empowering sci-fi movies for females of all time.

Arguably the best thing about "Serenity" is that you don't actually have to be a Browncoat (the name given to fans of the series) to enjoy the film. Anyone who loves good, character-driven science fiction films will likely enjoy this one. Several key pieces of information that are carried over from the show are explained in full during the film, so even those who haven't seen a single episode of "Firefly" won't be confused about what is going on. In fact, they will likely be so enthralled with the fine acting and snappy dialogue that they may just pick up a DVD copy of the short-lived series to watch. It wouldn't be surprising at all if "Serenity" earns "Firefly" a whole new legion of devoted fans.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars