FILM REVIEW: Serenity

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Ron Glass, Morena Baccarin, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Length: 1hr 58mins

Genre: Space Opera

Released: 2005

Verdict: 4/5

When Firefly was cancelled, it left a lot of stories unexplored. Even though there was no overarching storyline left unresolved, as happens with so many axed series, there were still a lot of questions left unanswered. Given a chance to provide some closure, serenity tackles two of these questions. 1) Why is the Alliance so determined to capture/kill River Tam. 2) What exactly are the Reavers?

As a follow-up to a TV series, Serenity doesn’t need to waste time introducing the characters. Which is a good thing, because as I noted in my review of the series, there are a lot of them. The first scene aboard the titular ship, as the camera follows Mal for several unbroken minutes, encountering each member of the crew as he goes, is one of the best introductory scenes I’ve seen. It brings us right back to the familiar, while also showing what has changed. Inara and Shepherd Book have both gone their own ways, and the remainder of the crew is increasingly fraught.

That’s the biggest difference between Serenity and Firefly. This is a darker film. Yes, the crew always had their disputes, but here that is front and centre, leaving you wondering just how they can function as a team. In fact, they all too often don’t. This is the story of a crew pushed to the brink, and then onto the jagged rocks below. The fate of one character, much spoilered over the past decade and a half, is a prime example of this. There are still jokes, of course, but they can’t hold back the darkness. As the film progresses, it goes from dark to bleak rather quickly, and there was a point I thought it might end with everyone dying.

This is the problem with Serenity. It’s just a bit miserable. As a film, it’s very, very good, but it’s hard to view it as a direct continuation of the series. Considering that very little time passes for the characters between series and film, they all act rather differently. Angsty and at times downright mean. The wise cracking falls flat more often than it hits the mark, and the many deaths are more brutal than anything in the series. Add in the fact that the set designers apparently forgot that lightbulbs exist and you have an end product that’s as dark thematically as it is visually.

These flaws are impossible to ignore, but they are outnumbered by the positives. Even if they are not the same people we once knew, it’s good to see the team back together again, if only for a short while. The answers Serenity promises are largely satisfying. The acting and direction are spot on, and the action sequences perfectly timed. Every scene that deepens the ‘Verse is a welcome one, and some of the worldbuilding from the series is fleshed out in more detail, making a lot more sense as a result.

All in all, this is a solid film, even though it doesn’t quite live up to the series that spawned it.

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