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
Yan Feldman as Mingo
Raphael Feldman as Fanty
Serenity is the big screen continuation of Joss Whedon’s (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) cult sci-fi show “Firefly.” As with the rest of Whedon’s work the strength of Serenity is its characters and their conflicting and tempestuous relationships and Whedon’s trademark juxtaposition of (often very broad) comedy and the darkest of situations, all told with a great deal of verve and wit. Whedon’s writing has often revealed him to be a humanist of the first order despite its inherent dark nature, and Serenity gives Whedon plenty of opportunities to delve into both sides.
New viewers will be a little bit lost, and old fans won’t get quite everything they wanted, but there’s enough going on in Serenity and it’s all so much fun that it doesn’t matter.
The strengths and weaknesses of Serenity both stem from its television roots, and the occasional adjustments that had to be made to fit it onto the big screen. While Firefly was very much an ensemble, Serenity pushes most of its characters into the background a bit (though everyone gets at least one moment to shine), leaving the weight of the film to rest largely on Nathan Fillion’s shoulders as Mal. Fortunately, he is more than up to the challenge. Mal is Whedon’s surly, sarcastic alter ego – tired of the world, but still unwilling to give up on it entirely. In less sure hands it would be a horrible cliché, but Fillion keeps Mal human and real with a great deal of charm and charisma, and excellent comic timing – something that’s not usually a requirement for a sci-fi action film and one of the many ways Serenity stands out among its brethren. Mal uses his cutting wit and sometimes grim demeanor as a shield, to keep people distant from him so that he won’t have to care for them, but he just can’t help himself. Even in his darkest moments, Fillion keeps Mal’s True Nature simmering just below the surface.
The other real stand out of the film is Chiwetel Ejiofor (Melinda and Melinda, Dirty Pretty Things) as Mal’s opposite number – a true believer who puts ideology before human life and will do whatever it takes to fulfill his mission. It’s as much a star-making role as Fillion’s Mal and Ejiofor makes the most of it, creating the nameless Operative with his customary quiet power. His introduction is excellent and his first confrontation with Mal is equal parts funny and thrilling, the essence of the film itself.
Everyone else gets at least one moment to shine – from Simon’s rescue of River to Wash’s (Alan Tudyk) frantic piloting through two attacking armada’s. Fans of the show will probably be disappointed that they didn’t get more from their various favorite characters, but new viewers won’t know what they’re missing and will hopefully be left wanting more.
It’s not perfect. Occasionally its television roots show a little too much. It’s an ambitious directorial debut on a modest budget for this particular genre, and occasionally Serenity bumps its head on the ceiling of what its capable of. It’s most evident during grandiose cinematic or atmospheric moments – such as when the Serenity floats through the cannibalistic Reaver armada trying not to be noticed. It’s done quickly and a bit flatly, the over all feeling of the scene being not as suspenseful as it was intended. There’s some overly forced exposition at the beginning as the crew is introduced for the third time. There’s no getting around it, but hopefully this will be the charmed time and they won’t have to do it again.
These are all minor problems, however, that do nothing to distract from the how genuinely entertaining Serenity is. It’s often said that you have to make one of these types of films before you know how to make one of these types of films, and if so that bodes great things for a sequel.
Serenity is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references.