Serenity

Cast:
Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds
Gina Torres as Zoë
Alan Tudyk as Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburn
Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra
Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb
Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye
Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam
Summer Glau as River Tam
Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book
David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe
Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative
Michael Hitchcock as Dr. Mathias
Sarah Paulson
Yan Feldman as Mingo
Raphael Feldman as Fanty

Summary:
Great humor, good special effects, and entertaining performances by the cast make Serenity a great dose of sci-fi now that Star Wars has come and gone. It’s essentially the adventures of young Han Solo and crew. Fans of the Firefly TV series should especially enjoy it since no character is safe in this big screen revival.

Story:
Serenity is a spinoff of the Firefly TV series by Joss Whedon that aired on Fox in 2002-2003. It was then was promptly cancelled. This film takes place six months after the events in the series.

Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds is a former soldier from a galactic civil war who now roams the galaxy as a thief and smuggler. Joining him on his ship, Serenity, is former fellow soldier Zoë, pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburn, engineer and mechanic Kaylee Frye, and hired muscle Jayne Cobb. Still tagging along with the ragtag band is Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River Tam. River was experimented on by the Universal Alliance and they have now pursued our heroes across the galaxy to get her back. What secrets does her damaged mind hold?

The Alliance is finally close to catching River and Malcolm and a man named ‘The Operative’ leads the chase. As he steps up the stakes, Malcolm finds his comfortable world as a smuggler falling apart. Will he turn over River or stand up for his makeshift family? Or will River simply snap and kill them all first?

Serenity is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references.

What Worked:
In anticipation of this movie being released, I bought the Firefly DVD set and watched all the episodes. It took a few episodes for me to get into it, but I finally ended up enjoying it quite a bit. But fortunately you don’t have to have seen the TV series in order to follow the movie. I believe it’s fairly easy to jump on board and understand what all is going on. For the uninitiated, I would describe Serenity as the early adventures of young Han Solo. Mal is essentially a younger version of our Star Wars hero. He’s a smuggler and thief with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold. He frequently finds himself in over his head. His bark is often bigger than his bite. The main difference between the characters is that Mal isn’t afraid to shoot first. I think if you’re a fan of Star Wars or Han Solo, Serenity is going to appeal to you. The other thing to note about Serenity is that it is a true space western. There are dusty mining towns, showdowns, and people saying, “I reckon”. This show takes the term “final frontier” literally. It’s sometimes cheesy, but it gives the show a unique feel. Finally, Serenity is really funny at times. Joss Whedon is great with funny or witty dialogue and it shows yet again in this movie. I know Serenity newbies who attended advance screenings and were taken off guard by just how funny it was.

Though the movie is light enough that Serenity newbies can join in the fun, there’s a lot to please veteran fans of the series, too. You finally get to see what the mysterious Reavers are. You get to see big, spectacular space battles thanks to the bigger film budget. You visit new worlds that are unique and impressive. But most notable is that Joss Whedon puts every single character in real jeopardy in the movie. The stakes are significantly raised and absolutely no character is safe. I found my jaw dropping on several occasions saying, “I can’t believe they just did that!” There is a definite shock factor here. If you have a lot of time and emotion invested in the characters, you’ll be moved by their ultimate fates a lot more than people that have never seen the series.

The acting is pretty much the same as it was in the TV series. Everyone remains very true to character (though Ron Glass gets a fraction of the screentime as Shepherd Derrial Book). I think the cast member that is going to get the most out of this big screen debut is Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. He’s handsome, funny, and tough as Mal. It’s a breakout role in much the same way Han Solo was for Harrison Ford. It could be big for him if people will be willing to come out and see a movie spun off of a TV series. I was also impressed with Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative. I really liked him in Dirty Pretty Things and didn’t even realize he was the same actor until I started writing this review. His performance is rather understated, but his villain is probably more realistic than most shown on the big screen. The Operative is essentially a good guy that believes in his cause and that makes him a most dangerous opponent. Summer Glau also steps up her performance as River Tam. She gets a lot more to do emotionally and also demonstrates quite a knack for action sequences.

What Didn’t Work:
I hate to say this, but the Serenity fans at the screening I went to were really obnoxious. Having people dress up or enjoy themselves at movies can be a lot of fun, but it was really annoying at this particular film. At this screening men were putting on rubber gloves in anticipation of the film (and even I’m not sure what that’s a reference to). People were singing songs they had written about Whedon, Firefly, and Universal VERY LOUDLY and very badly. Another woman in the back repeatedly yelled out, “Are you aimin’ to misbehave, Browncoats?!?!” It was a little much, and this comes from a Star Wars geek who has seen more than his fair share of geeks dressing up at movies. I’m sure this would chase away general moviegoers.

As for the movie itself, it takes quite a while to get rolling. There are a few good action sequences here and there, but there are long stretches where things slow down significantly before the explosive finale. I also have to add that I was disappointed by the Reavers. They were played up to be very terrifying, horrible creatures from space that had rarely been seen. When they are finally revealed, they seem more like Mad Max rejects than the scourge of the universe.

The Bottom Line:
In the end, Serenity was a lot of fun and a nice dose of sci-fi to keep me happy now that Star Wars has gone back into carbon freeze. While the film probably isn’t destined to blow audiences away, it’s a solid enough big screen debut to hopefully convince Universal to crank out more. Firefly fans should really enjoy it and new fans should hopefully find it accessible enough to jump on board.

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