Review: Serenity (2005)



Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon
119 min.
Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references

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Source Material

Another film which I have not seen since its original theatrical run. At the time, I had very little knowledge about the show upon which the film was based, but was entertained heavily by it. Adapted from the short-lived, but cult Joss Whedon series Firefly, Serenity takes place a few years after the end of the show with two of the original cast spread to the wind, but little else having changed. The film’s plot centers around the government’s attempts to apprehend the escaped military human experiment River (Summer Glau) who currently lives aboard the Serenity, Captain Malcolm Reynolds’ (Nathan Fillion) ship. The assassin they send after her is a humorless Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) whose unwavering devotion to the government makes him a dangerous foe.

When Mal receives a call from the Companion (Morena Baccarin), something similar to a Japanese geisha or a French courtesan, who once rented the shuttle on their ship, he immediately suspects an ambush and is proven right, which sets him on a quest to get himself, his crew and River as far away from the Operative as possible while trying to figure out what kind of experiments have been performed on River.

Now that I have watched the entire series on which the movie was based, my opinion of the film has changed somewhat. I’m not as much in awe of the truncated story being presented. What could have been expounded over the course of multiple seasons is crammed into one two-hour film. In and of itself, that isn’t a very big issue, but when random new characters are inserted and others unceremoniously killed, it makes for a difficult comparison. Were it only that they were trying to draw in an audience unfamiliar with the source, it still makes little sense how they handle characters like Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) whose sudden life of stationary prophet doesn’t fit well with the original and makes for a seemingly unnecessary element. His inclusion seems important only to placate fans of the series by including all of the original, no matter how superfluous those scenes are. And without giving the characters much development over the course of the film, a lot of the events seem like inside jokes to the uninitiated.

Yet, the revelation on Miranda and the subsequent scenes make up for a lot of the more frustrating elements. The quiet and shocking scenes on Miranda are some of the most poignant in the film and the last stand brawls on Mr. Universe’s (David Krumholtz) planet are all effectively cut. However, I still feel like I’m seeing only a fraction of what I should have been shown on the small screen, but I have more to say about that in my review of the final episodes of Firefly below.
Review Written
September 13, 2010

Original Review

Note: The above review was re-written in 2010. There was a prior review written in 2005, immediately after seeing the film. As such, I’m including it below as a way of comparison.

Six shooters, bar fights and spaceships. The crew of the Serenity moseys through space in a futuristic Old West.

Based on the short-lived television series Firefly, series creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer ) has adapted his cult program into a feature-length motion picture.

Simon Tam (Sean Maher) has managed to rescue his sister River (Summer Glau) from the Alliance, the galaxy’s ruling government, and is hiding about Captain Malcolm Reynold’s (Nathan Fillion) ship Serenity as its doctor. The Alliance wants their secret weapon returned and has sent a super soldier known simply as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofer) to track her down and bring her back.

The film follows Mal and company as they try to outrun The Operative, keeping River safe while she begins to understand and control her powerful capabilities. A mix of soap opera, western and science fiction action thriller, Serenity is a feast for the imagination.

The film features plenty of exciting action and fight sequences blended with interesting and believable narrative. The characters come alive on screen without the viewer needing to rely on their knowledge of the television series it was based upon.

No one performance dominates all others. Star Trek always had the problem of big name stars dominating episodes and movies by virtue of their popularity while other characters lingered in the background lacking good narrative development. Trek did, however, have a strong, unified cast that worked incredibly well together but they seldom worked as well together as those here in Serenity. Perhaps it’s the lack of celebrity that keeps everyone linked. Ron Glass is probably the most familiar actor in the movie but his scenes are kept brief to allow the other actors time to develop as a cohesive group.

Fillion makes Mal vulnerable yet confident in his own abilities. He’s emotionally detached but a lot of that has to deal with his failed relationship with registered companion Inara (Morena Baccarin). Baccarin appears only briefly in the film and rarely has any substantive dialogue. It is obvious, though, that when Inara and Mal are together, the emotional conflict is prominent.

Mal should look no further than his pilot’s relationship with Zoe (Gina Torres). Wash (Alan Tudyk) may be a wisecracking spacer but his love for Zoe and hers for him is obvious and powerful. It’s hard to think of the two of them apart.

Serenity focuses a great deal on space-borne relationships. Watching the film, it quickly becomes apparent that the film isn’t just about fancy effects or explosions, it’s about the complex fellowships formed between disparate people who share the same goal. There are always conflicts like any big family but the folks on the Serenity do care for one another even if they don’t show it.

Most audiences won’t appreciate the subtle machinations of the plot in Serenity. They’ll care more about the action content. Fear not, there are plenty of eye-popping events, but it’s the characters that really make the film fun. George Lucas should take a look at this film and easily understand why his Star Wars prequels flopped.

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