Eric D. Snider

Serenity

"Serenity" proves what many of us have always believed, which is that given the chance, Joss Whedon can write and direct better than nearly anyone in Hollywood. And he's ... gasp ... a TV guy!

His shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "Firefly" inspired much geekiness, to be sure, but no nerdery is required to enjoy "Serenity," a ridiculously smart and funny sci-fi Western space adventure that picks up where the short-lived "Firefly" left off.

I come at the film almost as a novice, having watched only the first few episodes of "Firefly." I don't know whether that series' hardcore fans will love the movie, though I suspect they will. What is certain is that admirers of great stories of heroes and semi-heroes who do battle with evil while engaging in witty conversation will find much to enjoy here. Picture "Star Wars" mixed with, I don't know, something really intelligent and witty and you've got "Serenity."

A few hundred years hence, the galaxy has come to parallel the American Old West. You have your central planets that all operate under the Alliance, a well-intentioned organization that has become corrupt and bureaucratic; and you have your outer planets, the lawless ones on the frontiers of space, barely settled and resisting Alliance efforts to bring them into the fold. These planets, to bring home the comparison, are full of futuristic saloons and decorated in sagebrush. Outlaws, of which there are many, carry laser guns as well as the old-fashioned bullet kind.

One of these outlaws is Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a Han Solo mercenary type with a rickety spaceship, a small crew, and a staunch position of self-preservation. The ship is called Serenity, and there's no word on whether it came by that name ironically. Despite the best efforts of mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), most landings are borderline crashes -- not helped by the fact that they're usually on the run from whomever they've just robbed. (All for clients, of course. They don't steal for their own purposes.)

Wash's wife Zoe (Gina Torres) is Mal's first mate, and the muscle -- Mal's Chewbacca, I suppose -- is Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), whose mouthy insubordination is indicative of the level of respect the captain gets from his crew. Jayne is particularly vocal against the two freeloaders currently onboard: Simon Tam (Sean Maher), who has some training as a doctor; and his sister River (Summer Glau), a 17-year-old psychic who has begun to display psychotic tendencies.

Simon rescued River from an Alliance-run facility, and anyone who annoys the Alliance is a friend of Mal's. Still, it means Mal must add the Alliance to the list of people who are constantly chasing him. River's presence is a burden, in other words, made worse by her sudden and seemingly unprovoked whirlwind of butt-kicking in a saloon.

Meanwhile, there is a nameless assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor), smooth of voice and cold of demeanor, who has slain many people in his quest to get to River. There is something in her mind, perhaps stored in her memory, perhaps dealing with whatever the Alliance was doing to her in that facility, that is of importance to him.

The Serenity crew tend toward the cowardly, with running and hiding as a frequent game plan, and no qualms about fighting dirty when fighting is inevitable. This is plenty funny, of course, and for as thrilling and action-packed as the movie is, it's pretty hilarious, too. (One thing we Whedon fans admire about him is his ability to combine heroics, adventure and humor, even in the same scene.) But the movie's arc for these characters has them slowly developing a sense of justice and rightness, an acceptance of life's uncertainties coupled with the realization that just because they don't have all the answers doesn't mean they can't believe in something.

It's Mal, as the protagonist, whose psyche is most at center-stage, and it's a little troubling. He's so single-mindedly selfish and mercenary that his eventual slight change of heart may be too little, too late. When the film's over, you may remember him as a jerk -- an entertaining one, sure, and a cool character, but ultimately a creep. I get the feeling that's not what Whedon intended.

What Whedon surely did intend are the many touches that remind us of "Star Wars," "Star Trek," Whedon's own "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- heck, one scene is straight out of a zombie flick, as our heroes are besieged by a posse of bloodthirsty humans called Reavers. Yet nothing in the film feels derivative. Where it is reminiscent of other sci-fi icons, it seems to be in homage, always enlivened by Whedon's wit and astute visual sense. "Serenity" is completely fresh, perhaps the best sci-fi film this year, and one of the better ones of any genre.

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13, a couple profanities, one sexual reference, a lot of action violence and some blood

1 hr., 59 min.

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This item has 24 comments

  1. Dave says:

    Eric mentions several times how witty and intelligent this movie is, and although the dialog was clever enough, this is a DUMB movie! dumb dumb DUMB!

    Now I'm a sci-fi fan and can easily suspend the belief when called upon to do so, but this was just ig'nant...

    1.) How is a race of anarchist monstrous flesh-eating rapist zombies who dont have the smarts to not walk into an opening where their cohorts are continually meeting a grisly death by firing squad intelligent and capable enough of manning intergalactic space vessels?

    2.) Why is every female character an overly attractive vapid stereotype heroine figure?

    3.) Why must everyone point out that the zombies eat you alive, but also rape you? Like the writers were thinking," now how can we make this even grosser than just plain ol' space zombies? Oh I know! We'll have every character mention how they rape their victims too!"

    ...shallow trite mind-numbingly stupid movie, through and through. I was forced to sit through it by my wife's family and the only thing that kept me goin was a-waitin' that assuredly hilarious Eric Snider review where he would give it the big fat "F" it deserves and bring to light every failure of the film with a marksman's precision, and I get home and discover its an "A-"?? I think it's clear Eric was swayed by his obvious affection for the Buffy Dude...

  2. Dave says:

    ...sorry one last point I just GOTTA make....

    The reavers had the whole plant barracaded.....

    ....

    ......????

    If its a whole planet, and they run into a big string of Reaver ships, cant they just fly, o i dunno, 1,000 miles north? or south? or any freaking direction? you mean to tell the audience the whole planet has a thick chewy layer of Reavers over every square inch of it's exterior? ...maybe the captain's rationing his gas, it IS up past the $2 a gallon mark....

  3. Brandon says:

    Uh, Dave? You need to calm down, buddy. As far as movies go, Serenity IS smart. You should direct your vitriol at stuff like Ghost Rider.

    I personally really like Serenity, and I've never seen an episode of Firefly. The characters are likable; even the assassin had qualities to be admired. For me, that's what makes a movie. If the characters are shallow and unrelatable, I can't like it.

  4. Megan says:

    Brandon, obviously you don't appreciate the fact that Dave's views are far more important than yours, due to the fact that they are completely based on violent emotion, and especially since he has managed to keep this strong amount of hatred for a year and a half after the movie came out. You're discriminating against people who have nothing better to do with their lives than spend massive amounts of time and energy hating old movies. And what kind of crappy movie requires any sort of suspension of disbelief these days, anyhow? Psht!

  5. card says:

    A movie that was released a year and a half ago is old? Wow.

  6. Dan says:

    I agree with Megan that emotional vitriol wins the day. There were no other aspects to the movie that required suspension of disbelief, so Dave rightly points out the parts that couldn't be true. Clear thinking if I've ever seen it.

    Oh, and Dave, I'm not sure Kaylee the mechanic fits a vapid stereotype. It might be worth noting that all the men are not stereotypes of manly heroism, either.

    Oh, and Dave, some find that a bit of research about a film helps in understanding it. A quick Google search might reveal the backstory to this film, a marvelously intelligent TV show called Firefly. But it might be too much to process for you. I'd stick to simpler things.

  7. Dave says:

    Megan: Massive amounts of time hating an old movie? writing a 30 second opinion of a crappy movie is wasting massive amounts of time? And your opinion of ME is a worthy outlet for YOUR time?

    Dan: whats with the condesending tone? I think movies should be enjoyable, without having to research it, so therefore I'm stupid? And so what if I get passionate about unimportant things, my pink pills taste funny! :-P

  8. John Doe says:

    Give credit where credit is due: Dave makes some good points. Him finding faults in a movie he didn't enjoy is no worse than someone ignoring the faults in a movie they like.
    With that said, I enjoyed Serenity and ignored the faults because, in my opinion, the good parts outnumbered the bad. Dave also didn't say Eric was dumb or stupid, just swayed by his other experiences with the director, which could have some basis in truth (nobody compartmentalizes or is objective, it's pretty much impossible).

    To each his own, I say. Serenity is better than most, and it's enjoyable and original. But if you disliked it for legitimate plot holes, then more power to you.

  9. Dave says:

    Thanks for stickin up for me there Johnny!

    I thought the whole reason Eric put an add your comment feature is so you CAN rant about the movie, good or bad. But it seems any time you put you own 2 cents into a movie (or Eric's review of it) a buncha self-important, over-inflated egotistical hypocrits get their pride hurt so they feel like they have to trash anyone with a differing opinion. This'll be the last post THIS li'l cowboy makes on this website...

  10. ClobberGirl says:

    Dave said, "Why is every female character an overly attractive vapid stereotype heroine figure?"

    You think Summer Glau is "overly attractive"??

    *backs away slowly*

  11. Speeding Slowly says:

    While Serenity wasn't my all-time favorite movie or anything I did find it enjoyable. I'm having trouble understanding why Dave is so ferociously against it and seemingly everyone who enjoyed it (sorry Dave, we're not out to get you).

    As for the reavers, well... being dangerously aggressive and have hightened lusts for flesh among other things doesn't make you incapable of space travel. It just means you'll most likely scream and spit a lot more in the process.

  12. Cory says:

    Dave, the reason people reacted to your comment because your emotion BLASTS out compared to most other comments, positive or negative. Everything you wrote leads me to believe that if we were at a party, it would be great to watch you expound on whatever opinion just for the emotional spectacle.

    And this? --"I thought the whole reason Eric put an add your comment feature is so you CAN rant about the movie, good or bad. But it seems any time you put you own 2 cents into a movie (or Eric's review of it) a buncha self-important, over-inflated egotistical hypocrits get their pride hurt so they feel like they have to trash anyone with a differing opinion. This'll be the last post THIS li'l cowboy makes on this website..."

    Now, whose pride was hurt? I wonder...

  13. Eric D. Snider says:

    You needn't worry about ol' Dave. He continues to post regularly on the site (albeit always under different names), and doesn't appear to have ever stopped for more than a couple days. So apparently his pride wasn't hurt TOO much.

  14. Cory says:

    Whew. I'm relieved at Dave's resilience. :-)

  15. Blubbuh-Jim says:

    uh oh, theyre ONTO me...... :-P

    and wohoo! i got a comment by Eric even!! i knew my rascally ways would win a comment from him! woot!

    and of coarse those were completely empty words, no one can resist this website!

  16. Corbin says:

    I thought Summer was attractive in an odd "I wonder how she could bend" kind of way?

  17. Inkstain says:

    The ship's called Serenity because Mal named her after the last battle they (he and Zoe) faught - the battle of Serenity Valley.

    I saw the movie before i watched any of the Firefly episodes. Then watched the whole first (and alas only) season of Firefly back to back. Awesome. I can't believe they canned it (sobs).

  18. Casey says:

    I'm in the same boat as Inkstain. Saw Serenity, loved it, then watched Firefly and was floored by just how good it was.

    Hey Dave/Blubbuh-Jim, I don't think it would kill you to spell check every once in a while. Everything about the vitriolic hate has already been better addressed, so I figure I might as well make a somewhat snide and condescending remark about the quality of your spelling. Same goes for punctuation.

    And as a side note, could you get drunk off your own vitriol, and if so, could you call it Vitrihol?

  19. Clumpy says:

    Years after I made a mental note to watch this film, I finally got around to it. Fantastic.

  20. Adam says:

    @ ClobberGirl:

    I'm confused by your comment. Summer Glau is hot. All the girls in the movie are. That's Hollywood, I'm not complaining.

    Dave is, though. I guess he thinks it would be more realistic if they had a few women who looked more, well, realistic. Are you saying that Summer Glau serves that purpose? Because, no. I think Dave is saying that somewhere in the galaxy spaceships are being manned by people who look like Kathy Bates, but they don't show up in Serenity.

  21. Russ says:

    ClobberGirl says:
    "Dave said, "Why is every female character an overly attractive vapid stereotype heroine figure?"

    You think Summer Glau is "overly attractive"??

    *backs away slowly*"


    You didn't? :D I can't wait for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2nd season. And whatever Joss is cooking up atm.

  22. Russ says:

    "I'm in the same boat as Inkstain. Saw Serenity, loved it, then watched Firefly and was floored by just how good it was."

    I also saw Serenity first. I remember vaguely seeing a few trailers for Firefly during hte Simpsons on Fox when it was airing, but I ended up missing the premiere, and it was later at night iirc, so I never watched it. (I'm really bad at all TV shows btw, never keep up when they're actually on TV)

    But of course, now I've seen Firefly and Serenity multiple times, and I'm an avid Browncoat. Bought the DVD of Firefly this past christmas for the family, but they're especially slow in converting. :(

  23. Tyler says:

    I just watched this last night. What a great movie. I enjoy smart, witty sci-fi, and that's what this was.

    I read the previous posts, and this "Dave" guy--bless his heart--doesn't know what he's talking about. He sounds like those people we all have in our families that can't enjoy any sci-fi and who sit there during the movie throwing out insightful comments like, "That's not real!" No shiz, retard; also not real is a good percentage of Elizabeth Hurley, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying her.

  24. Jayne says:

    My friend has been chatting my ear off about Firefly for the last four years, and we finally got around to an all-night marathon, culminating in watching Serenity. I loved both, and I imagine the movie is better when watched either 1) knowing the backstory, or 2) having just watched the series.

    And wasn't the show cancelled because Whedon had some beef with Fox, or something?

    (Oh, and I'm not paying homage to Firefly/Serenity by my name -- I'm a girl, Jayne really is my name, really spelled with a "y". Just thought I'd clear that up. ;) )

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