Movie Review | Serenity
Movie summary: The crew of the ship Serenity try to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their members who is telepathic. (IMDb)
Serenity is a tricky movie to review because, while it serves a 'series finale' for Firefly, it's also got to stand as a movie in its own right. The problem is that Firefly set up so many plots and had such a large main cast that it feels like just a little too much was sacrificed for the the movie - especially with Inara (Morena Baccarin) and Book (Ron Glass), who get very little to do here.
As an 'outside' note, the commentaries on the blu-ray for the series and Serenity let you know that some plots were intended to last 2-3 seasons, and this movie covers two huge reveals that would've been the big events to shape those seasons. The problem is that only one of them really works in the context of the movie and it's a shame as the other could've easily set up a mystery in the show.
I'd say that you could enjoy this movie well enough without having seen the series as the River-centric (Summer Glau) plot dominates proceedings and is fleshed out well enough for anyone to follow. The problem is just how much is jettisoned to make the story work, including truly establishing the characters for people new to the setting.
Mal (Nathan Fillion) gets the lion's share of the screen-time alongside Glau, elevating him a little more than the already-prominent figure he was in the show to out-and-out main protagonist and it often feels like the rest of the crew are reduced to supporting characters there to serve his story. Then again, this is one choice that would actually help new viewers as it gives them a clearly-defined key figure to latch onto.
With Mal elevated, a new enemy is introduced in the form of Chiwetel Ejiofor's Operative, an unrelenting adversary who carries out any number of evil acts and openly admits to being a monster. It's often said that the best villains are the heroes of their own story, but the Operative absolutely isn't and knows that he is just a tool to carry out the Alliance government's wishes.
The two men build an excellent rivalry that doesn't end in quite the way you'd think about an action-comedy science-fiction movie. Part of this is down to the nature of the Operative and the fact that he doesn't ever behave like a typical villain, but it is genuinely surprising considering the number of lives he's responsible for ending across the course of Serenity.
As for the rest of the crew, they all get their moments in the spotlight and Sean Maher's Simon understandably gets a little bit more than most thanks to being River's brother, but those moments feel more like a reward for fans of the series. They aren't fan service (a term that is almost always misused), as every scene and character choice makes sense within the movie - they just won't mean quite as much to people coming to the movie first.
There's more I'd like to say about the characters and the plot, but would have to spoil not only Serenity, but the events of Firefly's sole season too. The simplest way to break it down is this: I think most people would be able to enjoy this movie without having seen the series, but would absolutely recommend watching the show to get the best possible experience from the movie.
There is one last criticism that I'd have for the story in this movie and the character of River, but again is only really an issue for those coming from the show to the movie: things happen way too fast in the movie compared to the show. This is a side-effect of needing to tell a multiple-season arc in two hours and doesn't really detract from the movie, but is just one of those things that nagged at me slightly after the this latest viewing of Serenity.
On a mostly positive note, the difference in how everything looks in Serenity compared to Firefly highlights just how big the budget difference was between the two. This movie isn't the greatest-looking - or anywhere close to it - by any stretch of the imagination, but it just looks so much more real than the show.
It's mainly the lighting that's different, and necessarily so to hide problems with the sets that might not be visible for audiences on a TV show, and I was reminded a lot of how different the Enterprise-D looked in Star Trek: Generations compared to The Next Generation show. This isn't a complaint as it does work for the majority of the time and it helps that the sets were so well done in Firefly in the first place.
The only criticism I'd have of Serenity's looks is one that matches the show and isn't the fault of the creative team at all, which is the budget. The show really looked low budget at times and there are a few moments in the movie that look as cheap as hell, but were obviously due to the production not having enough money to get across what the writer-director Joss Whedon wanted.
Serenity is a fast and funny movie that serves as a great follow-up to Firefly, but should be enjoyable for anyone who hasn't seen the show too. Yes, you might not get the odd thing here and there, but nothing vital to the plot that races along at high speed, needing to cover years worth of story in just under two hours while bringing new viewers up to speed - and it just about manages to do it too.