After waiting almost three years, I finally saw Serenity last night. I’ve not the time for a full review at the moment, but here’s the short version: Serenity is the best damn space opera I’ve ever seen. It’s better than Star Trek, it’s better than Star Wars. Joss Whedon is one of the best damn writers out there. Some cast members didn’t get much screen time, but every second they had was gold. Everything about this film worked.
More later – but if you haven’t seen this film – even if you never saw a minute of Firefly – you’re missing out on one hell of a great flick.
Serenity is classic space opera. You have your likable rogue for a captain, his intrepid crew, some evil baddies, and a dangerous secret that threatens to tear the universe apart. The difference between Serenity and the rest of the space opera genre is that Serenity is a character piece first and foremost. Joss Whedon has a ear for dialogue that unmatched in the industry, and he uses it to great effect in Serenity. The famous one-liners that made the show such a joy to watch are in abundance in this film, and nearly every character gets one.
Nathan Fillion’s Mal Reynolds is exactly the character that fans of the TV series know and love. His complex blend of loyalty, cynicism, heroism, and independence are all on display. It’s inevitable that Mal will be compared to Han Solo, but Mal is a much more layered and nuanced character. Despite Mal’s nihilism and cynicism, it’s was always made clear that he loves his ship and his crew, and the film shows that as well, especially in some of the more touching moments. Fillion really proves his acting chops in this film, and he is one of the things that holds it together.
And fans of the original series will be in awe of the production values on this film. Serenity is the same ship from the series, but seeing it in all it’s high-definition glory on the big screen is an incredible sight. The sets and production design for this film are spectacular, and every effects shot works in this movie. Unlike other films, Serenity doesn’t rely on special effects – there is some fantastic CGI work from Zoic and Rhythmn and Hues, but they never distract from the core of the story. Unlike other films that have the words “Star” and “Wars” in the title, the character moments never feel like a distracting segueway to the next set piece battle sequence.
The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Alan Tudyk’s Wash has that same sarcastic edge, Gina Torres remains the stoic warrior, Adam Baldwin’s Jayne is still Jayne, Jewel Staite’s Kaylee is thinner, but still cute as a button (and gets the best line of the whole movie), and while Shepherd Book and Inara have left the crew, they still get a chance to effect the plot and have some good character moments.
Sean Maher’s Simon Tam and Summer Glau’s River Tam get a lot of attention in the film, and the mysteries surrounding what the Alliance was trying to do with River is finally revealed – almost right away. But, as always, there’s a catch, and River’s hidden knowledge is the main plot thrust of the movie. Again, both characters are the same as they were on TV, and Summer Glau still has the almost supernatural grace she showed in the series. Although something tells me that Whedon has a bit of a foot fetish…
And Chiewetel Ejiofor is excellent as the sinister Operative who chases the crew. I like him in Dirty Pretty Things, and in Serenity his unnatural calm lends just the right level of creepiness to his character. He makes an excellent foil for Mal throughout the plot, and he makes for exactly the kind of sci-fi bad-ass villian one would expect for a movie of this sort.
I won’t spoil plot points, because there are some huge ones in this movie. The film has plenty of visual nods to the original series, in-jokes that only fans would get, but someone who has never seen the series will not at all be lost in this film. (Although you really should – Firefly is one of the best TV series ever aired, and the pilot is the best TV pilot of all time, hands down.) The film changes the Firefly universe in deep ways, and the revelations in the film are enormous.
Fans of the series will love this film. People who have never seen the series will love this film. People who don’t normally like SF will love this film. It’s not a redefinition of the genre. It doesn’t add anything particularly new to the tried-and-true space opera formula. It does do that formula better than any other film I’ve seen. Serenity doesn’t try to hit you over the head with pop psychology, it doesn’t have pretensions of being more than what it is, but it manages to be something better than the sum of its parts anyhow. The strength of Firefly was always in the way in which the characters were never quite what you thought – and Serenity manages to find that same interplay in its two short hours.
Whedon is a master, and Serenity is an example of a master at the top of his game. It is one of the best movies I’ve seen in some time, and it deserves to be recognized as such.