The Firefly class ship Serenity appears
to barely hold together. Key parts have a tendency to melt
down under pressure, and if ever a boat deserved the epithet
"rustbucket," this one would be the one. But it always comes
through in the clutch, and Captain Malcolm Reynolds and
his rag tag crew of misfits, refugees and rogues love her.
So it goes with Serenity the film.
In some places, it has problems holding together, but creative
mastermind Joss Whedon, his crew and we the faithful still
love it. The question is, will outsiders recognize how good
Whedon transitions smoothly to the big
screen as a director, which bodes well for future projects
such as Wonder Woman. In only a couple of places
does Serenity look like it has the scope of the TV
show. For the most part, he takes advantage of the bigger
budget and higher production values. The Serenity still
looks like a mess, but it's a higher quality mess than before.
As a writer, too, Whedon transfers the
brilliance that has made him such a beloved figure. Clever
repartee abounds, even when the characters aren't being
all that clever. If you're new to Whedon, you might also
fall for his knack for busting clichés, though admittedly,
that in itself is becoming a cliché in his work.
With one major exception that I may never
tire of: Joss Whedon is willing to kill his babies. Serenity
has a tension that most big-budget franchise films lack,
especially since this could easily be a farewell as much
as a hello. Anything can happen; no one is safe. That makes
every character that much more fragile and heroic. There's
no franchise to protect (yet?).
But if you see Serenity in a room
full of Firefly fans and you're not one of them,
you may still find yourself puzzled by the whooping and
hollering. True, the film brings to fruition many long-standing
plotlines. However, they're both long-standing and barely
At the center of it stands River Tam (Summer
Glau), a psychic experimented upon by the fascistic Alliance
that controls most of inhabited space. Her brother Simon
(Sean Maher) broke her free from the Alliance and hid her
on the Serenity. Throughout most of the series, her behavior
was unstable and she would get flashes of men with blue
hands that were out to get her.
Perhaps the Blue Man Group took umbrage,
because those azure fisted fiends are nowhere to be seen
in Serenity. Instead, a calmly effective operative
(Chiwetel Ejiofor) pursues her and the secrets she must
He rambles on quite a bit about morality,
in a creepy quiet way. One thing Whedon really knows how
to build are his villains. The Operative moves inexorably
toward his goal, while on the other side of things, the
crew faces the dreaded Reavers.
Moving to the cinema allows Whedon to show
his outer space boogeymen, but he doesn't overplay his hand.
They're truly frightening and yet still done subtly; it's
nice to see that he knows less is more. Then again, we should
have expected that. They, at least, need no explanation;
from their first entrance, all the audience needs to know
is that they're frightening as all hell.
Once the film starts moving on to others
in the regular cast, though, it gets a little more vague.
Neither Shepherd (the sublime Ron Glass) nor Inara (Morena
Baccarin) have stayed with the Serenity since Firefly
ended; how that happened is covered in a recent Dark Horse
Comics' mini-series, and the film script doesn't bother
explaining. Again, for those just tuning in, this could
be very disconcerting, especially since Shepherd gets a
couple of nice musings in.
The focus, though, stays on River, transformed
into something akin to a Slayer, and the conflict that causes
for Mal (Nathan Fillion). If you have female friends, you
may know him better as "He Who Causes Reflexive Salivation,"
but it turns out that Fillion is a better actor than anyone
but Whedon knew.
Here's where the film really finds its
heart and its sparkle, as Mal essentially recovers his soul.
Fillion gives the role complexity, handling heroism and
light buffoonery with equal ease. In his hands, Mal Reynolds
wears his heart on his sleeve, but has little idea that
that's where it is. As science fiction leads go, Fillion
just vaulted to the top of the class.
Will Serenity really launch a franchise,
or just a few careers? It's hard to tell, but I'll put aside
my qualms about its accessibility. It's just refreshing
to get caught up in an epic that still cares more about
character and plot than sweep for the sake of sweep.
it with me now: Then again, I expected no less of Joss Whedon.