guppy's film reviews

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Year: 2005
Director: Joss Whedon
Notable Actors: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin
Score: A-
Summary: Great sci-fi film with the same heart as the show. Watching Firefly probably ought to be required before seeing this, though.


Serenity is fairly unusual. It is an extension of Joss Whedon's short-lived show Firefly. Firefly is often described as a "western in space," and while I initially shied away from that classification, I have to admit it's pretty accurate. The reason Serenity is unusual is that the show was cancelled after one season due to poor numbers (generally blamed on extremely poor marketing and a time slot that it never really stood a chance in), but the characters were adapted to a feature film (Serenity) after fan outcry, which is very uncommon.

The Firefly universe isn't too complicated, but for viewers who never saw the show, may be a bit confusing. It's set fairly far in the future. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) -- Mal for short -- is now the captain of a Firefly-class ship named Serenity, which does all kinds of work, mostly illegal. But before he captained Serenity, he was a sergeant in the Resistance, a group that opposed the federation of humanity under the Alliance, and lost. (The last great battle of that war was the Battle of Serenity Valley, where Mal and his command made their last stand, and for which the ship is named.) He retains much of his old prejudice. His lieutenant is Zoe (Gina Torres), who fought with him during the Resistance. They are joined by an oddly assorted but very talented crew.

I should warn readers in advance that it will be necessary to spoil a little bit of the series in order to give a synopsis of the plot. If you haven't seen the series, you should go watch that before continuing. The Cliff's Notes version of this review: Serenity is a very good movie that should be watched, but after seeing Firefly.

During the television series, Mal and his crew took on two passengers, doctor Simon (Sean Maher) and his not-quite-right sister River (Summer Glau). It is repeatedly suggested that they are fleeing the Alliance, mostly because of River, but the show never went into too much detail about why. I can only assume that the show's creators intended to explain things as the show went on, but the show was cancelled before they could.

Serenity mostly answers that question, plus a few others raised by the series. The best praise I can give Serenity is that it recaptures the same spirit that the TV show took. The characters are probably its best feature; they're full of the same verve as they were in Firefly, and just as likeable. Mal is front and center, but it's up in the air whether he's my favorite. In close competition with Mal is rough-and-ready, out-for-himself mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), who is also spectacular. River also gets a lot more screen time, which makes sense since she's the focus of the plot. It always seemed like that would be the case in the show, eventually, but it was cancelled before it got that far.

The actors are generally very good too; the roles seem tailored for them. The weakest link as far as acting is concerned is Kaylee, and I almost feel bad for saying this because the character is so sweet; she's mostly fine, but she's not good at the backwater accent. It feels too forced, as if she has to consciously save herself from her good breeding.

The script is very good, and the dialogue is well-suited to the characters speaking it as they were established in Firefly. This is only natural, of course, since Joss Whedon headed up both projects. My only complaint with it is that there's a lot it doesn't wrap up, but that would have been impossible to do while maintaining a suitable length. It's a shame, though, because there will probably never be another chance to tell these stories. It at least does a good job of wrapping up the plots it starts on.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the script. First, I won't spoil the details, but I was very angry with the second-to-last major scene, and you probably will be too, because it's completely unnecessary. Second, there's a new character introduced whom the film treats as though we should already be well-acquainted with him even though he didn't exist in the show; the movie does an all right job with him, though. Third, and most important, if you haven't seen the show, there's a lot of background to absorb in a short span of time, and some that you probably won't get at all.

Serenity is one of the best science fiction films in years. But you really owe it to yourself to see Firefly first.


  • Wotcha, going to put wee notes on each one for ya:

    Good review - I'd suggest including a link to a firefly fan page rather than have a plot synopsis - save on accidentally spoilering folk!
    that aside you have a good style and have answered the questions that most folk would be asking:)
    (if I hadn't already seen it, you would have sold it to me.)

    By Anonymous BranTheBuilder, at 10:08 AM  

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