In my last post I reviewed the 2002 TV series “Firefly” and praised it as one of my absolute favorites. The one major down side is that it was canceled after only 14 episodes, which left a lot of things unresolved. However, in the years sense the shows cancellation, the fan base for the show had grown so much that the show’s creator Josh Whedon was actually given the rights to direct and produce one single theatrical movie to bring some much-needed finality to the series. Thus in 2005 we had the Sci-Fi hit “Serenity”, and the ending of the "Firefly" series. This was not a cash crab project for Universal Studios, as movies based on short lived TV shows are a rarity, but it’s all the more satisfying to see that the studios faith in Josh Whedon paid off. This was actually Josh Whedon’s very first time directing a theatrical movie, and it’s no wonder he was hired to direct “The Avengers” after this. The man really knows how to take goofy characters, give them snappy dialogue and still make them come off as both compelling and even a touch relatable. So, how does the “Firefly” swan song hold up, is it a perfect conclusion to a near flawless TV show, or is it a bit of a rocky trip, let’s find out ....
As our movie begins, we’re given a quick recap of the TV shows premise, that humans began terraforming on other planets due to Earths over population, the Alliance rules the galaxy with an iron fist and the crew of the ship Serenity have been a real thorn in their sides. The story soon picks up a little after where things ended in the series. Now back in the final episode it was revealed that the girl River had ESP, and has unwittingly gained damaging secrets against the all controlling evil Alliance. Thus, a new enemy called the Operative is sent in to kidnap River before the Alliance secrets can be exploited. Captain Reynolds, still lamenting from loosing a rebellion to his oppressors is now dead set on discovering this horrific secret. His journey proves very dangerous as their path is blocked by another threat, an army of in-human cannibals called the Reavers. Now in order to see their objective through to the end, our crew of Anti-hero’s need to push themselves harder then before and make some morally questionable decisions along the way.
As stated in my last review, Captain Reynolds and River are my two favorite characters of the show, so thankfully they both take center stage in this film, and both are even better than they were in the series. Captain Reynolds went from being a stand out cool guy in the TV show, to one of my top three all-time favorite Anti-Hero’s in this film. He’s just so compelling as this man with a checkered moral code. He does horrible things, but it’s nothing he takes pleasure from and clearly just wants to be the good guy. Unfortunately, his situation keeps forcing him to make hard decisions. There are still those moments in which he demonstrates he has a heart of gold underneath his tough guy act, but he absolutely has some bad-ass anti-hero moments too. My favorite scene is when he meets the Operative for the first time. During a heated argument his enemy lets it slip that he’s unarmed, and then Reynolds doesn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot the guy. His foe was obviously waring body armor, but still it was awesome, and it’s a moment that puts Han Solo to shame. River really hasn’t changed much from her appeal in the show, we just get more of her in this film, and she’s a little fighter now. Like, she can kick some serious butt, as demonstrated in this film. No joke, if you were to put River in a room with the Predator, Alien and the Terminator … they’d be doomed. Both actors Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau are just on fire in their respected roles, and I don’t think either star has shined brighter then in this movie. Nathan Fillion in particular just lights up the screen and conveys this presence, like he’s a real Hollywood star, even though he hadn’t done that much prior.
The remaining cast from the show is likewise on their A-game, and it’s just a real joy to be with them one last time. Zoe proves once again to be a compelling female lead, Jane has some of the best remarks in the whole film, and it’s also really sweet to finally see Simon and Kaylee tie the knot. Although I’ll admit, their relationship needed to be built up more in the film, as it just comes out of nowhere. Now at the end of the show, Inara left for personal reasons, but returns in this movie, and the event didn’t seem to do anything meaningful for her character. She just left, returned and it felt like it didn’t impact our characters in the slightest. Of course, this was meant to be a story arc for a second season, but the writers only had one movie to wrap everything up. In other words, some loose threads just had to get knotted up fast. What I can’t excuse is the treatment of Shepherd Book, who was one of my absolute favorites in the TV series. For whatever reason, he’s not with the crew at the beginning of the film, he’s off somewhere else, only has two scenes in the film, and gets pointlessly killed off. Now his death scene in-of-itself is actually very good, and an important motivation for our crew to move forward, but still he deserved to be more involved in the movie then just two scenes. Wash also gets a random and pointless death that was almost worse then the previous hero death. While I liked Shepherd Book a lot more then Wash, the formers death at least had some meaning to it. Wash just seems to die solely for an emotional shock moment, and that bothered me.
The sinister Operative makes for a very compelling villain, as he’s fully aware of what kind of monster he is, but always tires to play it off with good manners. I love villains that act kind while still being very ruthless and intimidating. For me, seeing Captain Reynolds interact with the Operative is the highlight of the film, as one is a hero with a shady moral code, and the other is a monster who hides his actions under a surface layer of class and dignity. It was also a treat to finally see the Reavers in all their monstrous glory. The TV show built them up big as very savage and frightening creatures, but aside from occasionally being chased by their ships or stumbling on the aftermath of their attacks, we never actually saw the Reavers physically present. That’s not the case for this movie, and they make for very intimidating foes that live up to their savage reputation. Their basically in-human cannibals that to me always resembled the “Mad Max” villains if they were zombies. While they make for very exciting villains for our heroes to battle, they also rob the film of it’s simple Wild West charm.
This brings me to a slight issue with the film, and that’s the tone. While the “Firefly” TV series had it’s share of dark elements and occasional violent content, it was mostly still a light hearted and fun Wild West series in space. “Serenity” buy contrast is much darker in both tone and narrative. The action sequences are more violent, there’s some disturbing imagery, we have dark backstories and secrets explored, there isn’t as much of a “fun” factor and even the characters are far less cheery and are in more of a grey area throughout the film. This movie still tries to have some lighthearted moments, as well as some enjoyably goofy lines, but it doesn’t always go in hand with the more serious elements of the film. The violence on display actually gets quite brutal for a PG-13 movie, and almost pushes for an R rating. I will say that the action in general is handled very well, as the increased budget and added CGI never overshadow the in-camera fighting and set designs. There’s just a perfect display of practical action merged with special effects that hold up very well today, and it’s something that I feel current Blockbusters should take note of.
The overall look and design of the film is gorgeous, and it’s a real treat for us fans to explore the universe of “Firefly” on a larger scale. The lighting especially is fantastic in this film as it’s both visually absorbing, but select scenes are also very crafty with how their lit. I must confess, I could have used a bit more orange lighting and filters as that was the look and style that characterized the TV show and gave it a Western flavor. Truthfully, unlike the TV show, this film always felt less like a “Wild, Wild West” in space and came off more like a strait forward Sci-Fi-action adventure. Even the story doesn’t feel that “Western” at heart, despite some occasional old-west imagery. Having said all that, the filming on display is nothing short of brilliant. The opening scene in-particular is one of my favorite examples of a crafty filmmaker at work. From the opening logo, every scene lasting till the end of the opening credits are all linked together in a way that’s very artistic, and it gives the opening an unbroken flow and narrative. There’s an incredible tracking shot that looks like it was all done in one take as we follow Captain Reynolds as he walks throughout the ship and interacts with every member of his crew. Not only does it look great, but it also gives us a full tour of the ship and re-introduces us to the whole cast.
Speaking of individual highlights, it’s time to gush over the films thrilling climax. Once our team learns the truth, that the Alliance are in fact responsible for the creation of the Reavers and are equally responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent lives on a planet, they mount a plan to broadcast this news and expose their horrible secret to the galaxy. However, they need to get to a massive transmission station on a planet that’s blocked by a fleet of angry Alliance ships. Not very good odds when your just one tinny ship with absolutely no guns mounted. So, what do they do, they piss off their other enemies the Reavers and lead their fleet of ships into a battle with the Alliance. It’s so great, as we follow our daring ship through two enemy fleets battling one another, and our piolet is just trying to keep his Zen the whole time. My favorite line of the movie by the way is when Wash says … “I’m a Leafe on the Wind, watch how I soar”. There’s also some unique visuals that aren’t common for space battles, like seeing ships lasso each-other while in flight. Once our crew gets to ground zero, all hell breaks loose, and things get really intense. There’s brutal fire fights in hallways, River just goes all-out-warrior mode while battling a room full of Reavers and Captain Reynolds gets into a nail biting showdown with the Operative. There’s a relentless amount of urgency on display as our hero’s all get brutally injured and spend most of the battle exhausted, and on the ground. Now Captain Reynolds journey through the film has been about what he believes in, and we see how his belief in “truth” both wins the day, and even changes our main villain. The Operative doesn’t completely reform, nor is he beaten, the Captain just puts him in a grey area where he just has no reason to fight the Serenity crew anymore, and that’s a great twist.
When I first saw this movie, I had the misfortune of knowing absolutely nothing about the initial “Firefly” TV series. Because of this, my first viewing of “Serenity” wasn’t too positive. At the time, I was deeply in love with Science Fiction Cinema, and the positive feed back from the movie enticed me to see it. After my first viewing I was ready to write “Serenity” off as average and forgettable Sci-Fi fodder. Then I discovered “Firefly”, and once I became a fan of the series, as well as form a connection to the characters, I decided to give “Serenity” a second chance. Needless to say, this film has only gotten better with every viewing, because it was something special to me now. It brought closure to one of my favorite TV shows that was taken away well before it’s time, and I’m so glad I have that closure. I’m also glad the writers didn’t turn this into a launching pad for a potential film series, it was just one good movie and that’s all we needed. Truthfully, I think this movies appeal all depends on how you feel about the “Firefly” TV series. I do still have some issues reserved for the film, like how some of the characters are killed off, and how some of the shows Wild West appeal doesn’t completely carry over. Regardless, I’ve grown attached to this film over the years, and now I view it as one of the best Science Fiction films of the early 2000’s. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out, but make sure you watch “Firefly” first … believe me, it’s worth it.
I give “Serenity” 4 stars out of 5.