3 stars


1st March 2006

Serenity is the big-screen adaptation of the short-lived cult TV series, Firefly, as well as creator Joss Whedon's first fully written and directed feature. Unfortunately, it's also probably the end of the road for this particular franchise (it performed rather poorly at the box office) but like the television show that spawned it, the film is an incredibly fun and enjoyable romp through a convincing and fully-realized sci-fi universe, filled with interesting and compelling characters.

Unlike Star Wars with its galaxy far, far away, Serenity is a little closer to home, set 500 years in the future where Earth is a dead world, ravaged by countless centuries of warfare. Mankind's only hope for survival is to branch out to the stars and find new worlds to terraform and colonize. The Alliance presides over the inner rim planets, but the worlds on the outer rim are beyond control, and they devolve into a lawless frontier reminiscent of Earth's Old West. It is here that Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of the transport ship Serenity survive by engaging in illicit smuggling activities. However, their survival is proving to be increasingly difficult, ever since they picked up handsome young doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his enigmatic sister, River (Summer Glau). Once a prisoner of the Alliance, River was subjected to terrible experiments that unlocked her latent psychic abilities, but traumatized her deeply. She now harbors a terrible secret that threatens to topple the Alliance's control of the galaxy, and they will stop at nothing to get her back. However, Mal and the crew of Serenity have grown to regard Simon and River as family, and they are not about to let them be taken without a fight.

While it is obvious that Whedon wants his film to appeal to both fans and newcomers alike, if you have no prior knowledge of the television series, then you will most likely find yourself a little lost at times. The viewer is simply dropped into the film and it is assumed that they will have already done their homework, and as such, there is no time to adequately develop the relationships between the characters. For those of you who signed online Firefly petitions until you were blue in the face, you'll get a kick out of seeing your buddies back on screen again, but Whedon doesn't seem to realize the rest of us are playing catch-up from the get-go.

One major gripe with Serenity is a direct result of Whedon's unique style of writing. While undoubtedly one of the wittiest scribes out there (Buffy and Angel fans will attest to that), with no TV studio to answer to, Whedon often shows a lack of restraint and manages to undermine nearly all of the dramatic beats by having one of his characters (all of whom happen to be incredibly witty) spout off some pithy one-liner immediately afterward. It's grating to say the least and will often pull you completely out of the moment. Another Whedon-based complaint, which will be familiar to Buffy fans, is his bizarre obsession with tiny little anorexic girls who are miraculously able to kick the asses of men nearly three times their size with ridiculous ease. Seriously, Summer Glau looks like she'd get knocked over by a stiff breeze, and yet we're supposed to believe that she can beat up an entire bar full of large, muscle-bound men? Sorry Joss, but I'm just not buying it.

Ultimately, Serenity is a damn entertaining film, but one that is plagued with a few minor problems. It resides in a universe that's light years away from Star Wars in terms of fun, and manages to make stuffy TV sci-fi like Babylon 5 look like the work of amateurs, thanks to a wicked sense of humour and some truly cutting-edge special effects. However, if you've never seen the show, your best bet would probably be to wait until Serenity hits DVD - that way, you can rent it along with the Firefly box set and get the whole story all at once. You never know, if it shifts enough copies, an online petition might not even be necessary to get a sequel off the ground.

More:  Action  Adventure  Sci-fi
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