[Featuring Guest Reviewer
Rated | Alphabetical
Joss Whedon, USA, 2005
I figure I'm the perfect critic for this flick, since I never saw Firefly,
the defunct sci-fi Western TV series it comes from. The show came on Friday
nights back in 2002, and, well, I had better things to do on Friday evenings
than watch a soon-to-be-cancelled show just in case I might have to review a
movie with the same characters three years down the road, you feel me? Although
it was axed after only 11 episodes, the eventual DVD of the entire season sold
well enough to convince the powers-that-be to give writer-director Joss Whedon
(of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) the go-ahead to take his rough-and-ready
crew to the big screen.
So as a Firefly virgin, so to speak, I'm hear to give Serenity a
hale and hearty thumbs-up. The premise is simple: Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion)
heads the crew of the ship Serenity, doing odd jobs to stay one step ahead in a
far-flung future frontier reminiscent of the Old West, complete with grimy space
ports and rickety spaceships that threaten to fall apart; a world (sorry, a
universe) where half of the writing and all of the cursing is in Chinese. In
other worlds, your sterile Star Wars universe, this ain't.
Reynolds once fought in a big war against the Alliance, the group of governments
that colonized outer space, on the side of the Browncoats, who sought
independence. (They lost.) Now he runs a crew that includes his hot Number Two,
Zoe (Gina Torres), her pilot husband (Alan Tudyk) and a battle-hungry merc named
Jayne (Adam Baldwin), among others. One of them -- a hot little number named
River (Summer Glau) -- turns out to have these psychic powers, as a result of
being experimented on by the Alliance. As fate would have it, the Alliance is
afraid of some top-secret information she might have locked insider her brain,
and they dispatch a brutally efficient operative with no name (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
to collect her.
That set-up might sound a bit rudimentary, but Serendipity isn't. Whedon
knows how to build tension, laced with his trademark sense of humor. (And if the
banter between Mal and his crew sometimes calls to mind the repartee between Han
Solo and the gang on board the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back,
well, that's probably intentional.) He might allude a little too often to events
that a newbie like me won't understand, but Serenity never throws you off
with its backstory.
Of course, not knowing the characters' backgrounds makes it a little less easy
to buy into all the brooding Mal does at the beginning -- not to mention the big
decision he makes at the film's crucial moment, which seems a little at odds
with his classic out-for-me-and-mine attitude, unless you factor in the fact
that the Alliance has just initiated a scorched-earth campaign against all of
the crew's allies. (Then again, you sort of had to take Han Solo's affection for
the Rebels on faith, too, right?)
So Serenity does feel like coming to a TV series in the middle of the
season, but despite that it's never intimidating -- unlike the Reavers, the
crazy, cannibalistic marauders who give both the Alliance and the Serenity's
crew fits. These guys -- the Native American thorns in the side of our space
settlers -- are way more interesting than the largely unseen Alliance. You leave
the theater wishing there'd been more up-close-and-personal tussling with these
galactic barbarians, especially given the big part they play in the grand scheme
But that's a minor quibble. Serenity is a damn fine space-cowboy flick,
with exciting chases, kick-ass hand-to-hand fight scenes, smart dialogue and a
big revelation that makes you sit up and take notice of Whedon as a storyteller.
If you're like me and were disappointed in
Revenge of the S--t and
Bored of the
Worlds, this is the sci-fi summer movie to set things right. I'd strongly
advise you to see it, because I want a sequel with more of that sultry little
Summer Glau walking around barefoot, beaming her moon-eyed gaze at the screen.
If I find out you didn't go see it, and there ain't a sequel, you better
hope I don't know where you live.
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