SFX Issue 136

November 2005

Film review:

Serenity

Joss Whedon reunites the crew of Firefly for a big screen outing…


15 • 119 mins • 7 October
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
STARRING: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Chiwetel Ejiofor

First we’ll let you pick yourselves up from the floor. We know it’s a shock: SFX giving something made by Joss Whedon five whole stars. We normally hate him, don’t we? Really despised Buffy, never had a good word to say about Angel, jumped for joy when Firefly got cancelled…

Enough with the sarcasm. SFX adores Joss Whedon and we’re not going to deny it. However, don’t think we’re raving about Serenity just to suck up to him. Far from it: we sat through this film with open minds and ugly fear in our bellies. Serenity could have been Whedon’s undoing. If it had sucked, the run of good luck that began with Buffy could have ended. It’s still a mystery why the bigwigs at Universal said yes to this chancy movie; all that remains to be seen is whether they get back their moolah in ticket sales. God, let’s hope they do. If ever a film deserved to be a hit, it’s this one.

Serenity is essentially a giant episode of Firefly. It picks up the story arc that ran through the short-lived TV series, that of escaped psychic freak River (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher), on the run from the government and seeking refuge on the ship run by Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his motley crew. You’ve got the same gun-slingin’, space-chasing action, but more so. You’ve got the same wise-cracking characters talking that peculiar Whedon lingo, full of words like “gorram”. You’ve got stunning fight scenes and scary set-pieces, not to mention a magnetic bad guy (Chiwetel Ejiofor). You’ve got Jayne (Adam Baldwin) getting all the funny lines and Zoe (Gina Torres) smouldering her way through firefights. You’ve got Mal playing a “big damn hero” who’s multi-dimensional enough to shoot an unarmed man when he’s pissed off. You’ve even got his gratuitous semi-nude scene…

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t be put off if you’ve never seen Firefly: it won’t matter. The main villains – the flesh-eating Reavers – are explained in the first minute; River’s story is set up during the next five; and you find out who’s who on the Serenity in one fluid tracking shot soon after, leaving newbies clued-up, filled-in and ready for the ride.

The script is fun; there are gags and action sequences aplenty. However, the story does get dark towards the end, full of blood and guts (there’s at least one jump-out-of-your-seat, I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that moment). But never does the film lose its most important strength: characterisation. Only Inara and Book fall a little by the wayside, but with a cast of nine and only 119 minutes to flesh them out for non-fans, Whedon had to make some sacrifices, and he chose well.

Did you go to see The Island? Huge PR campaign. Big-name cast. Enormous budget, most of it ending up on screen in the form of sprawling action sequences. How did you feel when you left the cinema? Fairly entertained, probably a bit deaf, already struggling to remember the names of the characters?

Now picture yourself walking out of Serenity. You’ll be thrilled. Possibly a little tear-streaked, but definitely shiny. Unlike The Island and similar clunking SF actioners, Serenity is about people. It has a soul. It’s not some hollow, noisy excuse to blow up cars or helicopters – or, for that matter, spaceships. Instead what you get are likeable folk with genuine reasons for doing what they’re doing, with genuine, sometimes shocking, consequences.

Serenity’s got a heart, and it does its gorram best to squeeze yours while you watch it. Don’t take our word for it – find out for yourself.

Tags: ,