“The future is worth fighting for.”
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Synopsis: The crew of the ship Serenity tries to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their number who is telepathic.
Although it’s a self-contained story, for those who are unfamiliar with Joss Whedon’s abruptly aborted TV show Firefly, watching Serenity is a little like meeting new work colleagues on the first day in a new job. The movie is a spin-off from the series, and although everyone goe out of their way to introduce themselves and bring you up to speed, you know that you’re stepping into an ongoing story, one in which the characters share a past of which you have no knowledge.
To be honest, it doesn’t take long to figure out the personalities of most of the crew of the titular ship, a battered vessel captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion – Saving Private Ryan, Super), a former rebel turned space thief in the Han Solo mould. There’s Zoe (Gina Torres), Mal’s tough, ballsy second-in-command, whose more reserved husband, Wash (Alan Tudyk – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 42) is the ship’s pilot. Ship’s engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the sensitive, slightly ditzy one who harbours a secret crush on Simon (Sean Maher), a fugitive from The Alliance, the shadowy government which oversaw the migration of humans from a dying Earth to various planets around the solar system. Simon’s on the run after rescuing his sister River (Summer Glau) from Alliance scientists planning to exploit her talent for reading minds. Finally, there’s Jayne (Adam Baldwin – Full Metal Jacket, Independence Day), the kind of gung-ho, confrontational Alpha male who finds it difficult to take orders.
Serenity opens strongly with that rescue mission by Simon. The escape of River results in the rather unique death at the hands of The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor – 3 Blind Mice, Children of Men) of the hapless scientist who thoughtlessly exposed Alliance heads of government to Summer’s mind-reading skills. The way that the film also toys with our perceptions of what is real – not once but twice – in the first few minutes also suggests that writer/director Whedon is going to treat us to some measure of innovation in a genre that has pretty much been done to death. Sadly, apart from a few isolated moments, that proves not to be the case and for long stretches Serenity looks like just another in a long line of space westerns whose genesis can be traced back to Star Wars.
You’re more likely to see most of the actors here in TV shows rather than on the big screen and, despite some decent effects for a mid-budget movie, Serenity struggles to shake off its TV roots. The storyline is fairly ordinary, as are the characters, although the quality of the writing sometimes hints at what might have been. Whedon demonstrates an admirably economical style at times, ensuring the story moves along without getting too bogged down in unnecessary sub-plots, and he also has an ear for the witty one-liner. Despite this – and a genuinely exciting last twenty minutes – Serenity is too ordinary to distinguish it from any number of similar SF movies out there.
(Reviewed 22nd September 2015)