Serenity is one of those films that is misleading in how it is presented in the trailers. I say this because when I first screened the trailer, I made a mental note to avoid this movie. It seemed like a big, FX laden piece, with a soundtrack that was going to blow my mind in the worst way possible. This movie seemed to represent another overblown, Hollywood film that we didn’t need. So imagine my surprise to have caught a screening of this movie, and be blown away in the best sense of the word. I had never watched an episode of the show “Firefly”, from which this movie originates. Created by the prolific Joss Whedon (“Buffy”, “Angel”), “Firefly” was initially on TV, it got canceled but during and after it’s run it gained a legion of fans. These fans propelled DVD sales when the show was released, and it seems that this is what led to Serenity.
The film centers around Serenity’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds, and the group of people aboard his ship who all live on the fringes of society. Things get very interesting when Serenity takes on two new passengers. Simon, a doctor, is fairly stable, but his telepathic, highly trained sister River, who also happens to be a well trained fighting machine, ends up getting the crew of Serenity attention from the worst kind of people. Suddenly, they are being pursued by the Universal Alliance, a very large and determined military force, as well as the Reavers, nomadic, savages who roam around space. While the devices used here have a clear structure that we are familiar with, it is Director Joss Whedon’s clever use of dialogue and story structure that really sets Serenity apart from a lot of it’s contemporaries.
Fusing a nice mix of comedy and action, I found myself genuinely engaged in this movie. In fact, in one pivotal scene, when the crew of Serenity, tricks the Reavers into doing battle with the Universal Alliance, I felt that “winning” feeling in the pit of my stomach, much like the one I felt when Han Solo helped Luke out at the end of A New Hope. In fact, so much of this movie is drawn from the outlaw, sci-fi world, yet it’s sense of humor and sense of itself is clearly something that people will see as original. In fact, so strong is Serenity that I think this is going to be one of those films that sneaks up on the box office. People need no prior knowledge before they screen this film, and as a result it ends up being accessible to everyone.
For me, the two stand out performances are those of Nathan Fillion as the reluctant, anti-hero Malcolm and Summer Glau as River. I felt that they were perfect in their roles. You know that eventually Malcolm is going to change his ways, and at least attempt to do the right thing, yet it is seeing him get there that makes you engaged with his character. River, aside from being strikingly attractive, really balances what you would imagine a girl her age would be going through in this situation. She is experiencing all these different emotions (and skills) that she seemingly has no control over. Yet, there is a comedic touch to all of this that makes Serenity work. It isn’t just some stodgy sci-fi movie, that is confined to the quarters of a darkly lit ship. In every way, it seems like Whedon and Co. have tried to circumvent what we might expect from this film. Yet, it does give us everything we want in terms of action, suspense and dialogue. Adam Baldwin is also very good in his role of Jayne. One might imagine that had Animal Mother (Baldwin’s character from Full Metal Jacket), lived on into the future world of Serenity, he might have ended up just like this.
In closing, I feel very comfortable in saying that the next great trilogy is upon us. Serenity is a rich tale and one that is ripe to be sequelized. With such a positive groundswell already in place for this film, I think everybody involved is going to be surprised at the reception that this movie receives. Joss Whedon and the cast are going to finally get the vindication that they have long deserved since the show was canceled. How this is will effect the production slates of all the studios remains to be seen, mainly because so many of them were upended when films like Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin proved to be such big winners at the box office. A film like Serenity seems like it only might confuse matters, but the answer is really a simple one. If studios want their movies to perform, rather then make them all by committee and try and hedge their bets at every turn, they should take more chances, trust in people’s visions and try and understand their audiences a little bit more.
Serenity seems to have done all of that and as a result it is an outstanding film.