These days it seems you're not allowed the title of 'geek' until you've seen ; Joss Whedon's follow-up to . It was a fantastic series of interesting and well-developed characters in a universe so well thought-out and detailed it seemed like a real place. Unfortunately it didn't get the ratings Fox desired so they cancelled it mid-season, and many years later have undoubtedly regretted it as Firefly's popularity has only exploded amongst geek culture. Firefly, in my opinion, displays the biggest failure of US TV networks; a lack of patience, however that's a discussion for another time entirely.
Over the past couple of months I had been re-watching the Firefly series one episode at a time amidst other shows. Coincidentally enough I finished that yesterday amidst a huge Whedon binge I've been having brought on byWe're almost half way through season three of Buffy (which has been surprisingly good, season two at least was one of the best seasons of TV I'd ever seen), and tomorrow I expect I'll start going throughfor the third time. Anyway, with the last episode of Firefly out the way, it only seemed right to round it off with Serenity, which brings me here as it's a movie, and you know, I review movies...
The most immediate thing that first jumps out about Serenity is it's accessibility. Whedon has done a brilliant job in making it both a continuation of the series as well as making it accessible to people with zero exposure to it. You don't have to be a Firefly fan to enjoy Serenity; it stands perfectly fine all by itself. All the necessary information is lain before you, developing the rich world of Firefly. Earth was abandoned and hundreds of new worlds terraformed. There was a war between the central planets and the outer rim which resulted in the Alliance. Our merry band of characters are the crew of a ship called Serenity who make a living both honest and dishonest, and they've taken on a doctor and his troubled sister who was experimented on by the Alliance. Commence story.
For fans of the original series though, it offers a lot of new material as well. We open with how Simon broke River out of the Alliance facility, we get more Reaver action, including the revelation of their origin, and of course the characters we grew to love have developed over the six months between the end of Firefly and beginning of Serenity. The story itself is brilliantly multi-layered and unpredictable. The Alliance is finally tightening it's grip on River and Simon having sent an Operative after them. This sends the crew down the rabbit hole uncovering all kinds of nasties committed by the Alliance.
Undoubtedly the biggest strength of Serenity is much the same as was Firefly's; the characters. They're all here, although some like Book and Inara are reduced to little more than cameos, which is to be expected seeing as it would be unfeasible to give everyone the limelight in ninety minutes. That said I would've liked a bit more focus on Book as his character was a huge mystery in the show that was never explored, and Serenity never explores it either, leaving him a huge mystery. I admit there really isn't much development actually in the movie for the rest of the crew, but that was all dealt with in Firefly. To a new viewer the characters could well come out a bit shallow and two-dimensional, but it's not always the case.
We also get introduced to a couple of new characters, most notably Mr. Universe and the Operative. Mr. Universe is basically the verse's big-time hacker who can get into anything, anywhere, at any time. He's the definition of nerd, complete with a love-bot because he's obviously too shut-in to find a real woman. The hacker stereotype is something so often found in Whedon's productions, but Firefly lacked it. It's nice to see he eventually had one planned. The Operative is, as his name would suggest, an operative for the Alliance. Driven by blind belief in what he does, he's cold, calculating, and unnervingly calm. He has no name, no rank, and does not exist.
Acting, I will admit, is not the best in the world, but it's certainly good enough. Nathan Fillion's Mal is hard-nosed and determined, but not without heart. Gina Torres' Zoe has his second in command is, much like Mal, still stuck in the wartime mentality, although has found a way to ease out of it more easily than her captain. Alan Tudyk is as brilliant as always as Serenity's pilot and Zoe's husband Wash. Adam Baldwin is perfect for the role of dimwitted Jayne, who's only care is money. Jewel Staite's Kaylee; the ship's engineer, is sweet and all layers of cute, but certainly not innocent. Sean Maher as Simon is probably the weakest of the cast, but he always has been. He does do a particularly good job in the opening scenes as the disguise of an Alliance member though. Summer Glau is brilliant as the inquisitive but troubled River, and her acrobatic skills come in full use in Serenity. Morena Baccarin is good as Inara, a companion who spent so long on the ship with the crew before she left between Firefly and Serenity. And Ron Glass is great as the wise Shepard Book, a preacher with a mysterious past.
Then there's Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative who is simply amazing. This was the first thing I'd ever seen him in and I've been a huge fan of his work ever since, that's how great his performance in Serenity is. The Operative is cold and calculating, which makes him the perfect evil antagonist. What's more he knows he's a monster, but his unquestioning belief that what he does is right keeps him going. He's also constantly calm, never breaking a sweat, and never getting angry. In the hands of a lesser actor this would just come off as one-note and unemotional, but Ejiofor hits the nail on the head and keeps his Operative a real character through it, which just makes him all the more threatening and scary, and altogether more entertaining to watch.
The effects are great also; a huge step up from the effects in Firefly, which is saying a lot as the effects in Firefly were leaps and bounds ahead of some of the effects in blockbuster movies being made at the same time. Serenity is brought to life with CGI that is so incredibly detailed. You can see every rivet that goes into keeping it together. The cities of the Alliance also look brilliantly detailed also, and clean, which is in stark contrast the grime and dirt of the settlements on the outer rim planets. The space battle is also spectacular, amidst a blue and purple atmospheric cloud, with a huge number of ships of all shapes and sizes engaged and exploding every which way. The lightning throughout is also brilliant, creating stark contrasts between light and dark, which singlehandedly seems to make the sets look more movie than TV.
If I had one complaint it would be one of missed opportunities. As fantastic as Serenity is, I just think it would've been better stretched and built over an entire season of the show. There's a lot going on, and not all of it is developed as well as it could've been. It takes the action approach more than the character-building approach in large because of it's reduced amount of time to tell the story. It's been dumbed down, not only to appease the general audience, but also to fit in ninety minutes. Tell it over ten hours and just imagine how much more in-depth this could've been.
It's a fantastic movie in it's own right though, with or without Firefly precluding it. Of course it's better with Firefly, but I often watch it all by itself and get the same amount of enjoyment from it. It's got action, it's got horror, it's got conspiracy and mystery, and above all it has a cast of eclectic characters. It doesn't quiet act as the big finale fans of Firefly might have hoped for, but it does bring the saga more to a close than the last aired episode of the show did. I give Serenity a fantastic 9/10.