Serenity (2005) Movie Review

serenity-movie-review.jpgGuest Movie Review by Alex Lui Fans of the now defunct science fiction show “Firefly” seems to be the main reason “Serenity” has reached the big screen at all. Cancelled in mid-season during its chaotic run on the FOX network, “Firefly” went straight from TV to DVD within a matter of months. Luckily for creator Joss Whedon (who also created the fan favorite and long running “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and fans of the show, DVD sales for “Firefly” went through the roof. Thus, in the land of Hollywood , this could only lead to one thing: a feature-length movie. Suffice to say, expectations were high and questions arose as to whether a two-hour movie could conclude (or continue) the series in an entertaining way. Surprisingly, even for a non-fan like myself, it does.

“Firefly” begins with 17-year old telepath River (Summer Glau) being rescued by her brother, Simon (Sean Maher), from an evil organization called the Alliance. River is brought back to the mercenary ship Serenity, captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a not-so-typical leader who isn’t afraid to make rash decisions. His crew consists of second-in-command Zoe (Gina Torres), her husband and the ship’s pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), Kaylee (Jewel Staite), an engineer who has a secret crush on Simon, and Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the muscle. Quickly, the ship and River becomes the target of an elite Alliance operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tasked with eliminating River and anyone who gets in his way — namely the crew of Serenity.

“Serenity” borrows much of its plot from other space adventure films like “Star Wars”, “Star Trek” and even “Stargate”. However, Whedon manages to keep things interesting with unique additions, such as characters speaking as if they live in Texas during the nineteenth century. Also, weapons of the future do not include lasers beams or light sabers, but instead beefed up machine guns. In terms of characterization, fans of the show will no doubt get more out of the film than the non-fans.

For me, the bad guy was the most interesting. (Doesn’t that always seem to be the case?) Brilliantly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor (who was also recently the bad guy in “Four Brothers”), the Alliance assassin has no feelings towards death or remorse. Yet his character becomes much more complicated, especially when the reasoning behind his hiring is revealed.

This isn’t to say that the crewmembers aren’t well drawn out, because most of them are. Nathan Fillion brings charm and gusto to his role as the captain of Serenity, coming across as more Indiana Jones than Jean Luc Picard. Familiar Whedon muse Gina Torres is suitably fiery, and Adam Baldwin does his best as the comic relief. However, Kaylee , Wash and other members of the crew don’t fare quite as well, if only because their screen time is so limited. TV shows have opportunities for background characters to shine, but movies are limited by the need for pacing, especially in an action movie. (On a side note, “Firefly’s” possible return to the small screen for a second season is probably up to the film’s box office performance.)

My other peeve with “Serenity” is that the effects sometimes look too cheesy. During a runaway scene on a small ship that actually looks more like a jeep, it was clear when CGI effects were piped in, thus taking a bit from the tension of the chase. Without a doubt, Whedon’s script for “Serenity” is one of the reasons the film works so well. Fans of Whedon’s extensive work on the TV version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” will instantly recognize the character quirks, the quips, and even the style of talking in “Serenity”, all Whedon trademarks.

“Serenity” is a fast paced and taut adventure, with the space setting serving more as a background than anything else. If “Serenity” was Whedon’s calling card to prove that he can be a feature film director, then it’s thumbs up. Congratulations, Joss, project “Serenity” is a resounding success.

Joss Whedon (director) / Joss Whedon (screenplay)
CAST: Nathan Fillion …. Mal
Gina Torres …. Zoe
Alan Tudyk …. Wash
Morena Baccarin …. Inara
Adam Baldwin …. Jayne
Jewel Staite …. Kaylee
Sean Maher …. Simon
Summer Glau …. River
Ron Glass …. Shepherd Book

Buy Serenity on DVD