Eye For Film >> Movies >> Serenity (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: The Exile
When Fox Television made the boneheaded decision to cancel writer/director Joss Whedon's 2002 series Firefly after just 11 episodes, the show had attracted such a loyal following that Universal Pictures, smelling money, offered Whedon a movie. The result is Serenity, which Whedon has called his "consolation prize" and which plays with such sorrowful undercurrents few fans will leave the theater dry-eyed.
It's 500 years in the future and humans, having predictably exhausted Earth's resources, have colonized a new solar system under the rule of the Alliance (slash-Federation-slash-Empire). On the losing side of a civil war to overturn Alliance control, Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (the distractingly sexy Nathan Fillion) and a small crew of loyal, blue-collar misfits roam the galaxy in their Millennium Falcon-style ship Serenity, picking up odd jobs of dubious legality. They also accept passengers; and the first 10 minutes of Serenity - as slick and impressive as anything with ten times the budget - is a dazzling recap of how the telepathic River (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) escape the government facility, where River has been imprisoned, and are reluctantly sheltered by Mal and his crew.
From there, a plot develops which feels a little like Whedon's stab at a Firefly finale and a little like an outside shot at a future franchise. Pursued by an Alliance operative (a marvelous Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants River back - and who does his killing with a sword, like a samurai - the Serenity is forced to pass through space controlled by the infamous Reavers, cannibalistic rapists whose faces look like half-finished meals and whose ships are adorned with the flayed bodies of their victims (what's left of them, anyway). Helped by a silly character called Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) and his robot companion (Whedon did love the Buffybot), our scruffy antiheroes pursue the most selfless mission of their career.
Firefly was an original and dystopic space sage, whose real pleasures, like those of Whedon's Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, lay in character and language. Like the writer David Milch (HBO's Deadwood), Whedon invents new ways of speaking, at once old-fashioned and relentlessly hip. Serenity retains the 18th-century locutions of the TV show ("I haven't had anything 'twixt my nethers in two years that didn't need batteries," whines Kaylee, the ship's feisty engineer), sprinkled liberally with Whedon's subversive humour. Little time is wasted on characters' backstories, or relationships; this is a movie for the fans, a tantalizing glimpse into a larger universe.
Yet even with all the shorthand, Serenity displays more heart and wit than any of George Lucas's recent, bloated ego trips. By the time the credits roll, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) will have had sex, Mal will have discovered his social conscience and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) will - well, Jayne will still be a belligerent lunkhead. We will see the impressive range of River's abilities, understand the origins of the bloodthirsty Reavers and witness the deaths of two beloved friends. Along the way, Whedon and his cast never lose sight of their characters' humanity; it's as if they found Lucas's discarded soul, mouldering at the edge of the galaxy, and returned it to the multiplex where it belongs.Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2005
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