Film Review: Serenity now! Serenity now!

Fox TV’s treatment of Firefly never made much sense to the few fans it found during its run. The series, created by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel mastermind Joss Whedon, was the type of show a network would have to go out of their way to screw up. Sadly, Fox did. Episodes were regularly pre-empted for sports, shown at odd hours, were under promoted, and when they did make it to the airwaves, they were shown out of order. No wonder it took a DVD release for the show to catch on.

Now, like Police Squad and Star Trek before it, the show has been resurrected from its premature death and given a second chance on the big screen. Thankfully, it doesn’t waste any opportunities. Serenity is everything multiplex sci-fi should be–fast-paced, action-packed and funny without neglecting its plot or its characters. Writer-director Whedon doesn’t bog the film down with pseudo-technical jargon or biblical self-importance like Star Trek and Star Wars respectively. Instead he infuses it with enough thrills and charm to satisfy audiences who wouldn’t be caught dead watching those other two series.

Serenity lives and dies by its cast and the characters they play. Mal, the ship captain, is a little bit Han Solo and a little bit… well, he’s pretty much Han Solo, a crook and a con-man who will still always do the right thing when push comes to shove. He’s supported by co-pilot Wash, Wash’s ass-kicking wife Zoe, weapons fetishist Jayne, and Simon and River Tam, a pair of fugitives adopted by the crew. Simon is a doctor who gave up a life of privilege to rescue his sister River from the evil Alliance, a fascist government benevolent on the surface but harbouring some nasty secrets underneath. They are pursued by The Operative (Dirty Pretty Things’ Chiwetel Ejiofor), an emotionless and cunning warrior. If it all sounds a bit familiar, it is. Originality has never been Whedon’s strongest suit. What matters is his treatment of the premise, and this treatment is never short of gripping.

For a first time director, Whedon’s handling of Serenity is impressive. He thankfully eschews the “cutting so fast you never see what’s going on” school of action direction, letting the action dictate the pacing and refusing to allow the movie to fall into a lull. The climax in particular, with the crew facing off against an army of mindless marauders with a taste for human flesh, is one of the tensest confrontations in recent memory.

Of course the biggest problem with adapting a television series, particularly an unpopular one, lies in the balance between satisfying fans and embracing new audiences. Serenity’s characters were fleshed out during the run of Firefly, allowing them to rise above their cliches and develop into real humans audiences can identify with. For those who haven’t seen the show, the same characters come off somewhat flat. They can spout one liners with the best of them, and certainly hint at the depths the show established, but it’s as if Whedon expects the crowd to already know and love his cast.

Still, there’s a lot to like about Serenity. It lives within the conventions of modern sci-fi, but gives them enough of a twist to stand as its own entity. There are no aliens, little reliance on jargon, and a somehow incredibly fitting old-west aesthetic. To fans of the TV series, Serenity is everything it needed to be and more, a perfect conclusion to the series and a heartfelt thank you to the fans who managed to discover it. To newcomers, it is a solid slice of entertainment far more accessible–and just plain better–than anything George Lucas and his ilk have produced in the last decade. In either case, you’d be hard pressed to find a better piece of pure entertainment in theatres today.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.