Serenity, a whacked out spaceship, is home to a motley crew of traders-cum-pirates. Licking their wounds after losing a rebel war against the totalitarian Alliance, their raggedy life is upended when they shelter a doctor and his young sister. Unbeknownst to them, young River Tam (Summer Glau) is a telepath who’s eavesdropped a nasty Alliance secret. And they want her erased. Serenity? You’ve got to be kidding. Pursued by a credibly evil assassin (Brit, Chiwetel Ejiofor), swaggering captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) ain’t gonna be pushed around. But is his crew ready for another battle?
As you’d expect from Buffy-scribe Whedon, the Serenity script is a corker, with a depth, sassiness and wit that lifts the movie above the competition. And that includes the end-of-series Star Wars and Trek movies. Whedon’s one-liners are smart and easy, the characters brilliantly drawn and perfectly underplayed by all. And while there’s a whiff of the first Star Wars – Mal’s Han Solo gunslinger and the early Tattooine-esque town sequence – Serenity’s world is very much its own. To nail it so well, even given the TV trial run, is an impressive achievement. And there’s an edge to the action you don’t often get in a mainstream movie. Mal’s bunch are a fallible lot and there’s a nervy sense that all may not be well in the end.
All credit to a likeable cast (reprising from the series) and to some top-drawer action. Summer Glau’s twitchy telepath boasts some better-than-Buffy kung fu kicking and Whedon’s fondness for martial arts is clear from the well-shot scraps. The exciting shoot-outs and chases have a stamp of their own. And Whedon also blends in some unheavy nods to religion and philosophy, which show a deeper respect for sci-fi tradition. Appropriately the effects are deliberately rough and ready, with Serenity itself looking more like a chicken than a Millennium Falcon when it lands. And while telepath Tam’s secret is not as startling as it might be, there’s enough originality on show to forgive that.
Intelligent, tense, dramatic and funny, Serenity, is a brave and ballsy movie that sweeps you along in its wake. And its appeal goes beyond its sci-fi trappings. More about people than popcorn, it cares about its characters and its audience.
Whedon may get his series back after all - on the big screen. I guess that scotches a Blake’s 7 comeback