Film review: Serenity (2005), directed by Joss Whedon
Feels strange to never having reviewed this film – in fact, this post has been in Drafts for ten years now. Once upon a time a little-advertised TV-series called Firefly was cancelled part-way through the first season, partly because they showed the episodes out of their intended order so it made little sense to viewers, and the concept of “it’s like a Western, but in space” was perhaps a bit rich for studio execs. When the series dropped on DVD it gained traction. It gained a lot of traction. More and more people fell in love with the show, the characters and the setting, and they wanted more than the dozen-ish episodes available. It eventually resulted in a film being commissioned – this one.
We started watching Firefly on DVD when hearing about the film coming out, and it’s fantastic. It is like a Western in space, but then that frontier spirit seems natural when you’re talking about colonising and terraforming new planets for habitation, so it’s not half as strange a concept when you watch it. Plus it’s really funny too.
Serenity takes place after the TV show. I’m not sure you need to have seen Firefly to fully “get” Serenity, but it definitely helps. If you’ve never seen Firefly, it’s about a ragtag group of people on board a Firefly class spaceship called Serenity. They do cargo shipments and smuggling between various planets in a solar system far, far away.
There’s Mal (Nathan Fillion) who’s the captain, with Zoë (Gina Torres) as his second in command. They’re old war buddies. Zoë’s husband Wash (Alan Tudyk) is the pilot, with Kaylee (Jewel Staite) as a mechanic, Jayne (Adam Baldwin) as an enforcer, Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) as spiritual guidance. “Companion” Inara (Morena Baccarin) rents space in one of the shuttles, where she services her clients. Simon (Sean Maher) is the ship’s doctor, and his sister River (Summer Glau) is … complicated. She’s a genius, but her brain has had some very invasive procedures done to it to enhance her capabilities.
The show introduced us to the crew and told us the story of how River and Simon ran away from the authorities – specifically, he broke her out of a highly guarded facility. The film is about why the authorities are so keen on getting her back. She knows things she has no business knowing, and that’s just not cricket. A government operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent on their trail.
Is the film as quotable as the series? Absolutely. Are the characters as the ones we got to know and love from the show? Yes. Do we find out more about what happened to River? Yes. And some other things get explained as well. I haven’t seen this film in isolation so I can’t vouch for how good it is, or how much sense it makes, as a stand-alone film, but it’s energetic, exciting, funny, and uses a heady mixture of genres: heist, horror, thriller, Western, sci-fi, action, comedy – perhaps even more. Just, uh, remember that Joss Whedon’s behind it, and what he seems to like doing to his characters, that’s all I’ll say.
It’s a shame Firefly never got more than half a season to prove itself, but on the other hand it also never had a chance to suck. Do I want to see it brought back? It’s been too long now, a reboot would only work if it was about a completely new crew of a different spaceship – and if entirely different people were behind it. I still enjoy watching both the series and the film whenever they’re on TV, I still love the characters and the idea behind it.
5 out of 5 signals that can’t be stopped.