Movie #56: Serenity (2005)

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The future is worth fighting for.

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Chiwetal Ejofor, Summer Glau.

500 years in the future, Earth is no longer inhabitable, and

The Alliance, the universe’s governing body, seeks to govern over all of the people.  They have reformed various planets to make them habitable and also seek for peace to exist throughout the universe.  They fought and won a war against the Colonies, people who did not want to be governed by the Alliance.  However, there is still a sizable smugglers network and a number of former soldiers who remain defiant in their own way.

The Alliance has imparted specific programming on a number of people, and River Tam (Glau) is one of them.  Her older brother, Simon (Sean Maher) has broken her out of their custody and found refuge aboard the star ship Serenity.  He has paid their way as a doctor, but as the ship’s captain, Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) starts including River in various smuggling jobs, it becomes apparent very quickly that she knows a lot more than they had originally thought.

The Alliance has sent “The Operative” (Ejofor) to bring River back to be used by the Alliance.  He has a twisted sense of justice.  He kills a member of the Alliance’s medical team who allowed Simon to break his sister free.  He makes the doctor fall on a sword, stating that death was an honorable one.

This film is a continuation of Joss Whedon’s short-lived yet beloved show Firefly, which lasted 11 episodes before being yanked by Fox.  This film picks up the story some time after the last episode, and gives some resolution to storylines that were left open-ended when the show was cancelled.

A lot of themes and elements were carried over from the show.  In the future the two dominant cultures are American and Chinese.  Each character speaks a mixture of the two, though the Chinese is more or less used for profanities.  Perhaps the other language gives a heightened sense of the person’s frustrations.

Simply put, a moviegoers opinion of this film is almost directly related to their opinion of Firefly.  I did not watch either until a few years after the film was made, and it works on a number of levels for me.  It explores a western drama in space.  There’s plenty of friendly banter, but a strong heart and exploration in morality.

Two performances rise above the others in this film.  Fillion does a great job, as he did in the show, of being the nonchalant antihero who doesn’t want the authorities telling him what to do or how to do it.  I’ve read that Fillion considered his work on Firefly to be the best of his career, and while I enjoy him in Castle and some of his other work, I’d have to agree.  He finds the right balance of being liked by the audience, but still

The Operative is insane, there’s no two ways about it.  Ejofor does a great job in his emotionless, single-minded purpose in the story.  He knows he’s a monster, and he embraces it because it serves the Alliance’s greater good.

The rest of the cast plays their parts well.  Alan Tudyk does great as Serenity‘s pilot, and husband to First Mate Zoe (Torres).  Jewel Straite has a grace about her as the ship’s mechanic.  Adam Baldwin does great as Jayne Cobb, the added muscle of the group.  Morena Baccarin also does great as Inara, and her interactions with Mal replicated the love tension that existed between the two in the show.

Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) did great in his limited screen time.  He had been a passenger aboard the Serenity in the show, but had since left to start a mission on the planet Haven.  I think his performance stands out above the rest of the supporting cast because of his bigger-picture implications and the inspiration he gives Mal to fight for and believe in something.  That something ended up being the big secret River had stored up and what ultimately lead to the final climactic build-up of the film.

As stated before, Serenity is a movie that if you loved Firefly, you’ll like the film.  It brings a resolution to unfinished stories, and brings closure to a TV series that was cancelled way too soon.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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