Cancelled after 11 episodes back in 2002, Joss Whedon’s Firefly has gone on to develop a sizeable cult following—significant enough that Universal Pictures felt a motion picture spin-off might actually turn the studio a profit. A rushed but evocative intro recaps the 500-years-into-the-future storyline of the show, in which our world’s inhabitants have set up shop in another solar system where a tenuous class divide threatens chaos. Resisting the Orwellian Alliance’s control of their thoughts and lives, a group of frontier cowboys led by Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) helps crewmate Simon (Sean Maher) free his 17-year-old telepath sister River Tam (Summer Glau) from the Alliance’s clutches, after which they jet across the solar system with an Alliance operative in hot pursuit. The storyline is fairly easy enough to follow, but you get a sense that the movie needs to be seen within the context of the show; not only is there an overwhelming feeling that the events in the film take place in the middle of something much bigger, but Whedon assumes his audience is familiar enough with the Serenity crew that he can skimp on the niceties of character development. What we have here, then, is a bunch of galaxy-bouncing rebels whose relationships to one another are as thin as cardboard and whose existential struggles are reduced to pat one-word signifiers like Love and Pride. From the awkward pacing of the thing to the Star Trek-style design of ship interiors and the Jetsons-meets-Flintstones décor of earthbound edifices, this is UPN-style storytelling and aesthetics trying to pass as serious filmmaking. Serenity isn’t pretty but Whedon at least injects the story with an interesting and heartening socio-political gravitas that always eluded George Lucas’s Star Wars films. In the opening scenes, the editing, sophisticated compositions, and visual effects work to mirror River’s shaky grasp of the world. These images represent a swirl of subconscious fantasy and reality spilling from the girl’s mind—it’s a sinister matrix through which Whedon is able to convey the paranoia that overwhelms the world. Nothing else in the film is anywhere near as exciting until the Serenity crew discovers why they’re being chased by Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and why the flesh-eating Reavers are the way they are, information that gives the story a surprisingly soulful edge, with River cast as a Christ-like figure with an incredible burden to carry (“Please, God, make me a stone,” she says, tired of the chaos brewing inside her head). The group’s mission then becomes about delivering truth to the masses and accepting that responsibility. It’s in this moment that Serenity lays claim to an unexpected contemporary resonance and transcends its otherwise lazy storytelling and aesthetics.
- Joss Whedon
- Joss Whedon
- Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, David Kurmholtz, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Hitchcock, Sarah Paulson, Yan Feldman, Raphel Feldman
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