I never watched "Firefly," the FOX TV show on which "Serenity" is based. I therefore am not part of the cult following that will flock to this picture, much like X-Philes turned out for the 1998 feature based on the popular TV show starring Mulder and Scully.
The crew of "Serenity," which opens this weekend. (Universal)
But after experiencing "Serenity," which opened nationwide Friday, I certainly see what fans of this sci-fi world—often called Browncoats—are jazzed about.
"Serenity" is the brainchild of writer-director Joss Whedon, the auteur behind cult favorites "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." His show "Firefly" got scrapped after only 14 episodes (three of which never aired, but are now available on the show's DVD).
"Serenity" takes the characters—and actors—from the show and recycles them for a feature packed with not only solid special effects but absolutely adorable characters and witty writing. If you enter the theater not a Whedon fan, changes are great you won't leave that way.
It's really not the story that engages, though. Set 500 years in the future, a small band of resourceful rebels keeps making life difficult for the Alliance, which is the centralized government of the galaxy that has won a war crippling planets on the outer rim.
The rebels must fight not only the Alliance, but also Reavers—a nasty breed known for their barbarism. This narrative framework comes straight from the science-fiction genre, but Whedon improves it with his storytelling agility.
Whedon's most obvious skill is drawing characters so sharply you simply want to spend time with them: Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the capable leader; Zoe (Gina Torres), his first mate and solid rock; Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the brute mercenary; Kaylee (Jewel Staite), a tender-hearted mechanic; and Wash (Alan Tudyk), the wise-cracking pilot.
The plot kicks off when the crew of "Serenity" picks up a doctor named Simon (Sean Maher) and his telepathic sister, River (Summer Glau). It seems that River knows a secret the Alliance wants to keep. Mal and company refuse to desert their human cargo—a moral choice that makes their lives hell.
Mal and his crew are being tracked by The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has been sent by the Alliance to retrieve River and preserve the secret. Through a series of daring raids and close calls, the crew of the "Serenity" seeks to do what all true rebels do best: never let authorities get away with suppressing Truth.
I grew up with "Star Wars" and, like many Gen Xers, was disappointed by the newest set of films. While watching "Serenity," I discovered a new (to me) group of characters as electric as I remember Luke, Leia, Han and the rest being.
Whedon doesn't get too bogged down with galactic, political drivel. He's too busy writing lines so campily charming and characters so delightful he doesn't have time to show us the Senate's chambers.
The characters in "Serenity" are well developed and integral to the film's chemistry. They have distinct senses of humor that imbue Whedon's Anglo-Sino-techno-gizmo world with a bit of magic.
As one of the unanointed, it took 20 minutes or so to feel at home in "Serenity." But stay on the ship—the ride will make you feel like a leaf on the wind.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references. Reviewer's Note: Yes, the violence is very intense at times.
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon (based on his TV show)
Cast: Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Nathan Fillion; Zoe: Gina Torres; Jayne: Adam Baldwin; River: Summer Glau; Wash: Alan Tudyk; Kaylee: Jewel Staite; Inara: Morena Baccarin; Simon: Sean Maher; The Operative: Chiwetel Ejiofor; Mr. Universe: David Krumholtz.
The movie's official Web site is here.