I tried to walk away from this movie, but Serenity wouldn't let me.
My wife rented Serenity after watching it at a science fiction convention, but the DVD skipped at a critical part. She was so frustrated that she got up and left. So she finally rented Serenity from Netflix and, on Mother's Day, brought it over to watch with my parents. I had no intention of watching the movie.
I was about to go upstairs and do something else. But I forgot whatever it was I planned to do. I stood on the stairs, looking over my shoulder as the credits rolled. And I stood there for five minutes, transfixed. A few minutes later, I sat down and watched the whole film.
Serenity's that good.
I could talk about the universe, or the characters, but what makes Serenity so fantastic is good old movie craftsmanship. The cinematography is amazing, the CGI work appropriate, the acting on target, and the writing intentionally different, different enough to let us know that Joss Whedon is winking as he tells his story, the story he never got to finish on network television. And that's ironic, because I am not a Firefly fan.
I liked the concept: cowboys in space. The Chinese slang, the idea that planets are new frontiers, good guys that look like bad guys and vice versa…it was all there. It was like a retelling of Han Solo's life, without any reference to the Force.
But the show? Didn't do it for me. I'm not a fan of Joss Whedon's dialogue. His characters sometimes adopt a Tarantino-esque patter that's too perfect, such that I feel like I'm watching puppets on the screen instead of real characters.
There's no trace of that problem in Serenity. In the first five minutes, Whedon changes realities not once but twice, keeping you guessing about when the film's narrative will abruptly shift direction for a third time. And once you're engrossed, Serenity never lets go.
The cast is richly used, no small feat when there's so many: Zoe (Gina Torres) and her pilot-husband Wash (Alan Tudyk), Jayne the thug (Adam Baldwin), cute-as-a-button Kaylee (Jewel Statie), and two new stragglers: the handsome Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and her sister River (Summer Glau).
River is the primary focus of the film. She is an escaped test subject and a super weapon in her own right, but it's the knowledge locked in her head that is so dangerous to the oppressive Alliance. Thus, we have the coolest villain in awhile-so cool he could be straight from Equilibrium, and that's saying something-The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The Operative believes in old style honor and the value of a dream. And because The Operative believes, he is the most dangerous kind of enemy. He commits some atrocious crimes and tears up the universe looking for River. And in doing so, he causes a desperate captain (Nathan Fillion as Mal) to return to his warrior roots with a vengeance.
Important characters die. Desperate plots are hatched. Characters faced with by-the-book dilemmas react to them in uncharacteristic ways, surprising the audience and themselves with the outcome. And yet we still get space battles, fisticuffs, swordfights, romance, and plenty of humor.
Serenity is Whedon's masterpiece, but make no mistake: it's because the director knows his medium and knows it well. It's in this tightly produced film, rather than the series, that the cast and Whedon finally gel to make the best damn science fiction film in recent years.