2012 marks the 10-year anniversary of when a brilliant show called Firefly first aired on Fox. Sadly, it also marks the 10-year anniversary of the show’s wrongful cancellation. Despite boasting nine unique main characters, excellent writing, and an Emmy, Firefly was shut down after a single 14-episode season. The series was much-loved, and creator Joss Whedon did not want to leave the fans (known as browncoats, in reference to the wardrobe of main character Malcolm Reynolds) with no resolution for the characters. So, three years after the show was cancelled, Serenity hit theaters.
Long after the Earth was wasted of resources, civilization was moved out into the universe (or the ‘verse, as it’s slangily called), where new settlements were created on distant planets. Sailing through the sky on a spaceship named Serenity is Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his loyal crew. Mal and his first mate Zoe (Gina Torres) fought together in a war to keep a power called The Alliance from dominating the universe. They lost the war, but that hasn’t broken their rebellious spirit. Joining them on the ship are Zoe’s husband, Wash (Alan Tudyk), a goofball who can’t open his mouth without making a wisecrack; Jayne (Adam Baldwin), a tough guy with a gruff voice and a collection of big guns; and Kaylee (Jewel Staite), an adorable, plucky girl, who happens to be a brilliant engineer. The team usually specializes in thievery and transportation of illegal goods, but now, they’ve got much larger fish to fry, thanks to two people they picked up awhile back.
Those two people are Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his 17 year-old savant sister, River (Summer Glau). Simon, once on the fast track to becoming a well-respected surgeon, abandoned his career path to rescue River from the clutches of the Alliance. Before he could save her, the Alliance performed unfathomable experiments on River’s brain, turning her into a mind reader and a master assassin. Their getaway was not clean, as they are pursued by an Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is dead set on getting River back by any means necessary. Mal and his crew must overcome extreme odds to protect River and weaken the Alliance’s control on the universe.
I tried my absolute hardest to explain the plot of the film without using any prior knowledge of the series Firefly and only information conveyed by Serenity. Fans of the series will easily catch on to what’s going on, and Whedon does a great job of making things smooth for new viewers, as well. Serenity masterfully introduces all of the film’s main characters in a four minute long tracking shot during the opening credits, as well as giving audiences a tour of the ship. The universe is set up well in an opening voiceover, and some choice expository dialogue in the beginning gives you a good idea of the characters’ relations to each other, as well as their history. The only time Whedon falters at bridging the gap for new viewers is his introduction of characters Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Inara (Morena Baccarin). Both characters were integral to Firefly but take only supporting roles in Serenity. Their presence is not really explained much, and it’s the only time it seems that Whedon assumes his audience already knows what’s going on.
Ignoring Firefly and just acknowledging Serenity, Whedon really creates a believable future by turning outer space into the Old West. There’s a single large governing body that abuses its power and dissenting civilians that hope to bring change. The effects of the oppressive government are seen on every planet the crew visits, with most looking run-down and cheap. The characters occasionally lapse into speaking Mandarin Chinese, and many signs around the planets are written in Chinese characters, implying that in the past, America and China became integrated. This universe is well thought-out and noticeably lived in, never seeming ridiculous and always in the realm of possibility.
Whedon has a lot of fun with his material, and it shows through his characters and their dialogue. Underneath all the serious business is a perpetual state of good cheer and the desire to entertain. Mal is a flawed hero who can be cold as ice when he has business to take care of. He has no qualms with tying bodies of friends to his ship if it will help him achieve his goal. Yet, he’s not without his golden moments of sincerity that remind you why you are rooting for him. Even River, who spends a good deal of time in a delusional stupor, manages to crack off some funny lines, just to remind us that she is human, after all. Every main character is rich with unique qualities, and they all feel necessary to the film. As I mentioned earlier, Whedon slips a little when it comes to his supporting characters, such as Book and Inara, but neither character impacts the film much, so their lack of development is forgivable.
While Serenity is most definitely a fun movie, there is a surprising amount of intensity brought on by characters called Reavers. Reavers are ravenous people who swoop into towns and rape, kill, skin, and eat anybody they find… not always in that order. Serenity is a PG-13 film, so there isn’t much in the realm of graphic violence, but any scene involving Reavers could have easily been plucked out of a new-age zombie flick. While the primary antagonist is The Operative, the Reavers serve as a formidable and terrifying obstacle for our band of heroes.
Serenity is full of excellent performances, led by Nathan Fillion as the sometimes stupidly brave Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Mal is a dynamic character, shifting from casual friend to intense leader from scene to scene, and Fillion inhabits the role comfortably. In fact, all of the cast members feel like they’ve been living in their characters’ shoes for a while. It’s almost like these actors have played these parts before. (Pause for laughter.)
Serenity isn’t afraid to have fun, and Whedon isn’t afraid to do what he wants. Fans of the show beware: Some of your favorite characters might not live to see the end of the movie. Whether you’re new to the ‘verse or a lifelong browncoat, feel free to stow away on the spaceship Serenity. You may be amazed at how much fun you have.
My Rating: (8/10)