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When we reach the distant future,
Full of ships traversing space,
What if life were not that different
With the same self-seeking race,
Governments with dark agendas,
And the sins we can’t replace?

How could anyone continue
In ideals that aren’t esteemed?
Only with a firm believing,
Truer than it ever seemed,
Can a world of lies and secrets
Be perhaps in part redeemed.

MPAA rating: PG-13


After my introduction to Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV show Firefly (and its inclusion on my Top Twelve TV Series list), I had to check out its big-screen conclusion Serenity, and it was a home run! In the same way that Firefly was criminally underrated when aired and was canceled after merely eleven episodes, I’ve seen Serenity in the bargain DVD bin for $3.99 when it deserves so much better. Putting all of Whedon’s considerable talent on display, Serenity offers an equally entertaining alternative to Star Wars and Star Trek.

Luckily, all of the main cast of the show returned to reprise their roles, a winning ensemble of mostly lesser-known TV actors, with the villain played by then-lesser-known Chiwetel Ejiofor. The crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity aren’t freedom fighters against the imperialistic Alliance nor noble voyagers exploring the ‘verse; instead, they are simply in search of their next job, which typically entails smuggling or some other less-than-legal enterprise. Captained by hard-nosed Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, who continues to reference the show in other roles since), Serenity includes his old war comrade Zoe (Gina Torres), her pilot husband Wash (Alan Tudyk), amusing cutthroat Jayne (Adam Baldwin), cute engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the Tam siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau), who are fugitives from the Alliance and grudgingly welcome guests aboard the ship. Also included are those who have left the ship, peaceful but secretive Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Mal’s unacknowledged love interest Inara (Morena Baccarin), a Companion or respectable prostitute.

With all that information and more previously established in the show, Serenity is an impressive balancing act, offering a conclusive episode for the fans hungry for more and a surprisingly accessible adventure that can still appeal to newbies. Such is Whedon’s talent with ensembles, whether it be his cult TV series or movies like The Avengers. In some ways, I might compare Serenity with Guardians of the Galaxy, another fast-paced space tale with an ensemble of potential unknowns. Like Guardians, Serenity throws out all the information viewers need to know along with ample humor and characterization and doesn’t waste time ensuring that the audience is keeping up. Instead of the pop culture references of Guardians, though, Serenity combines its sci-fi trappings with a western desperado style to craft a unique blend of East, West, and future.

Serenity also proved to be an outlet for Whedon’s creativity. Within the first fifteen minutes, there’s a dream within a holographic log and an ingenious four-and-a-half minute tracking shot that introduces us to the entire ship and crew. Likewise, the dialogue is another Whedon trademark, full of clever colloquialisms, Chinese exclamations, and so much breakneck wit that I wonder why it wasn’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay. I also admire that, despite his atheism, Whedon emphasized the presence of religion and belief in this space-faring future, something Star Trek only did with alien cultures. (No aliens here.) In the first few minutes, I even recognized a knockout gadget that Whedon reused in his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

All this fawning over it, and I’ve hardly said anything about the actual plot. Throughout the series, River had acted consistently weird due to the government’s experiments on her, and brother Simon acted as her rescuer and advocate, though there were hints that she could take care of herself. While the actual explanation and solution for her behavior don’t make total sense, the film offers insights and resolutions for many elements that the show didn’t have time to conclude: River’s actual rescue, Kaylee’s crush on Simon, the Alliance’s reasons for wanting River back so adamantly, River’s untapped talents, and the nightmarish Reavers, the bands of space maniacs as mindless as zombies and ten times as ferocious. Mal is not only caught between the Alliance’s coolly murderous Operative (Ejiofor) and an unrecognized threat on board his ship; he’s also caught in a web of right and wrong, heroism and disillusionment, cynicism and belief. This futuristic world is unforgiving and sometimes painfully harsh, but Whedon keeps a masterful balance among the dramatic, comedic, and jaw-droppingly awesome. One scene toward the end is especially stunning and practically gave me goosebumps.

If you haven’t seen Firefly and happen to have fourteen hours to burn, watch it first, but there’s so much excellence evident in Serenity that I recommend everyone see it regardless. A few aspects of the end may not be ideal, but the film as a whole is an exciting success as both a standalone film and the finale Firefly never got. Like Firefly, it’s an underrated science fiction treat.

Best line: (Mal) “Half of writing history is hiding the truth.”


Rank: Top 100-Worthy


© 2015 S. G. Liput

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