Reviewed May 12, 2009
Rating: 8.0 Very Good
Joss Whedon’s Serenity is an unusual film. It is a movie continuation of a cancelled television show (Firefly), and fits snuggly into a genre that I’m fairly certain it is the only member of: the Western Space Opera. It certainly is a new take on the classic space adventure, and a refreshing one. The film is ambitious, and mostly succeeds. This is one of the better Sci-Fi movies in recent years, and you need not be familiar with the source material to enjoy it (the first time I saw it I wasn’t, and I did).
Serenity has a lot going for it. For an epic sci-fi with a relatively small budget, the effects are top notch. It is not at all difficult to accept this as a possible, if not entirely desirable, future. The cinematography is impressive, managing to convey both a past (Western) and future (Space Opera) feeling within the same movie, and sometimes within the same scene. The story, a combination of escape-the-authority and mystery, is interesting and, for the most part, cleverly written. It manages to be more thought provoking than some of its peers and, while arguably heavy-handed at times, its message is effective. Some of the dialogue, especially the captain’s, is masterful. Of course, as a Joss Whedon picture anything less would be a surprise.
The cast, played exclusively by B-list and below stars, is great. Three characters in particular stand out, and it is a credit to the enjoyability of this movie that they are probably the three most important roles. Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played lovingly by Nathan Fillion, exudes bundles of attitude, and perhaps something deeper. River Tam (Summer Glau), is enigmatic and pulls off a feeling of both vulnerability and intense danger. Finally special commendation goes out to Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose Operative is one of the more complex and interesting science fiction villains we’ve seen in a long time.
One problem that arises on occasion is screenplay contrivance. A few times I wondered why exactly characters were behaving as they were, and there is a deus ex machina during the climax that, while not movie-breaking, is annoying. There are also a time or two where the acting stumbles, and it is clear that some of these actors belong on the small screen. Jewel Staite (Kaylee) in particular seems to be a little self-conscious with her character at times.
Firefly is a highly enjoyable science fiction adventure that, while not perfect, is more than solid. No matter how new to the source material you are, this one is worth your time.