Serenity (2005) / Sci Fi-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexual references, and language
Running Time: 119 min.

Cast: Nathan Fillion, Chiwetel Ejiofor,  Summer Glau, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Ron Glass, David Krumholtz
Director: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Review published February 21, 2007

At the risk of getting my Geek Pass (tm) permanently revoked, I am going to give Serenity a less-than-masterpiece score. Perhaps as standard television fare, as Serenity is based on characters and events spotlighted in the short-lived TV series (only 11 of its 14 produced episodes aired), "Firefly", the comic book deep characterizations and stylistic posturing might be deemed on the right side of cool when compared to other programming on television for sci-fi aficionados. In fact, the first hour of the film is so talky and stagnant, I kept expecting commercial breaks to erupt at any moment to alleviate the jargon-heavy conversations.

I think that in order to consider Serenity as a perfect 10 (out of 10), you'd have to consider a typical episode of "Firefly" as a 7 or 8, and if you're a fan (dubbed a "brown coat"), I'm guessing that's about what you'd give them. Perhaps this might be, by far, the best episode of the series, if it were to be one, but taken as a science fiction film on its own terms, instead of a TV episode made for the big screen, it is mostly a middling effort. I will grant that it is sporadically interesting, but when compared to great sci-fi films like Star Wars, Aliens, The Terminator, or Blade Runner, this has no business being mentioned in the same breath.

The story, set 500 years in the future, takes place a couple of months after the final episode of "Firefly", where the crew aboard the space vessel known as "Serenity" have rescued a psychic warrior girl named River (Glau, Mammoth) from the hands of an Alliance assassin (Ejiofor, Four Brothers). She mutters something about a person or place called "Miranda", which, after seeing the mortal damage wreaked by those searching for the girl, the crew determines to find. Is River going to be the savior of them, or merely their albatross?

Serenity benefits from its larger big screen budget with better special effects than the TV series, and more time for prolonged action sequences. Some of the effects do look artificial, but for the most part, once you get into the story, you stop noticing the CG look of the ships and some of the backgrounds. The ensemble of actors leaves much to be desired, not really the sort that could typically carry a movie, but if you're used to the pace and tone of the television series, perhaps it won't seem out of place. It does benefit from Chiwetel Ejiofor's presence, and star Nathan Fillion (White Noise 2, Slither) gives the film a strong "Han Solo" vibe that many viewers will identify with.

The second half of the film is better than the first, with more action, interesting developments, and better pacing. Unfortunately, the characterizations still draw out hammy acting, and many of the critical points and scenes of battle confrontations are sandbagged by their inherently juvenile nature. Much like he would in his equally adolescent-minded "Buffy" and "Angel", Whedon writes and directs as if he were going for style and coolness points, mixing space battles, hand-to-hand combat, Western-tinged lingo, and irreverent attitudes who posture like the X-Men, sans the formidable powers. While many people might call such developments complex, in reality, it takes the glossiest, easiest roads possible to get to its potentially erudite destinations. In short, Serenity is a sci-fi soap opera for genre fans who find pure sci-fi too dry and cerebral to adequately cater to their short attention span.

Serenity is mostly a film made for fans, with some modest appeal for genre enthusiasts who like space adventures filled with a motley assortment of characters and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. If you don't even like sci-fi, forget about it -- it's probably everything you despise about modern science fiction. This is pulpy, b-movie caliber entertainment for those who like their space operas just a hair hokey.  Fun for spells, but not exactly the stuff that people who don't already wear "Joss Whedon is God" t-shirts will go rabid for.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo