Movie review: Serenity (2005)

Okay, I’m extremely biased. I am probably one of the few people who saw the very first and every subsequent episode of the canceled Firefly television series when they first aired. I came to love the characters so much that seeing them come on the screen in the movie Serenity was like having old, close friends walk into my living room.

In Serenity, my friends met my eager expectations, exceeded them in some respects, truly shocked me at other times and managed to remind me of the flaws of the Hollywood concept of the big SF/action flick. I won’t go into the entire back story. Suffice it to say that in this solar system, the central core of planets (“The Alliance”) is the most advanced and the hub of civilization and through war have subdued the outer planets that fought forced incorporation into The Alliance. Yet the outer planets remain the frontier, the Wild West where those seeking escape or freedom from the Alliance have greater opportunity to do so.

Our cast of characters consists of basically good-at-heart outlaws who form the crew of a spaceship called Serenity. They also happen to harbor two fugitives, a girl who was the subject of an experiment by the evil-minded government and the brother who freed her from the government’s clutches. The government is bound and determined to find her for what she doesn’t realize she knows and has sent an assassin, backed with the full power and weight of The Alliance, to track her down.

At bottom this is a story of good vs. evil in the form of flawed (i.e., normal) human beings struggling to maintain their sense of freedom and right and wrong against an overwhelmingly powerful government. There is, in fact, a very strong dose of libertarianism thrown in through the character of Mal Reynolds, the “captain” of Serenity and a volunteer in the war against the Alliance. Yet creator/director Joss Whedon and his writers are not continually on a soapbox. Rather, this is a story told with humor and characters who have evolved beyond being the crew of a spaceship to a family, one that is both caring and dysfunctional.

Since this is the Hollywood science fiction version of the Wild West, we do have big damn gunfights and fistfights, plenty of explosions, a little thievery and the heroes of the story doing things of heroic proportions that could never really happen, surviving situations which they really shouldn’t survive and somehow managing to fly off into the sunset (figuratively speaking) at the end when they really shouldn’t. But isn’t that what movies are about, suspending belief for a period of time?

If you’ve seen Firefly, you will enjoy this movie. If you’re a big fan like me, you will both love it and be somewhat bewildered. There are situations and characters that were introduced in the three-issue series of comics that came out this summer. The movie appears to resolve one major story arc from the television series but leaves others seemingly terminated with little or no explanation and others receiving little, if any, mention. In other words, you’ll be left wondering what story arcs will be the focus of what will hopefully be Serenity II. And while I want this to remain spoiler-free, be aware there are some big damn shocks during the movie and I am still trying to discern the purpose and impact of a couple of them.

If you’ve never seen Firefly but have shelled out money in the past for the action flicks Hollywood tends to give us, plunk your money down for this one. Whedon gives enough background to bring a novice up to speed and, with one or two exceptions, you will soon catch on to the personality of each of the key characters. I guarantee you’ll laugh, you’ll see plenty of action and derring-do and you might even form a tear or two. At a minimum, you will have spent two hours getting to know a group of characters I would welcome on any screen, big or small.

Know what the definition of hero is? Someone who gets other people killed.

Zoe Warren (Gina Torres), Serenity

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