And I won't even talk about things like how the ship develops sentience -- er, should I have spoiler-tagged that? Hahaha, just joking, of course. Of course.
Spoiler-free reviewSerenity is a good movie.
Many people who see it will tell you that it could have been better, but they're going to disagree on how. Joss Whedon had to split the difference between making it a movie for Firefly fans and making it a movie for series newbies, and he pulls it off -- not in a way that will leave anyone overjoyed, but in a way that should leave everyone satisfied.
Fans and non-fans alike will find the elements that make Joss Whedon ... Joss Whedon, and they're a delight. The dialogue was tight and lively (although -- and this might have been my theater's sound system -- sometimes hard to hear). Wisecracks and deadpan visual jokes had the audience laughing out loud. There were a few "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" moments -- epic hand-to-hand melees. And Joss demonstrates that he can do epic space melees with the same panache, a pleasant discovery given that the TV show never really gave him a free enough rein to show full-scale ship war.
The scope of the movie is vast. Series fans will be pleasantly surprised to discover new elements to the backstory that Firefly introduced, including resolutions to some of the big unknowns that haunted the show. They will also be dismayed to realize that at least one long-running mystery will remain a mystery. Newbies will miss this subtext entirely, which may cause a few scenes to lose their depth.
However, newbies should not find themselves much more lost than their Firefly-fan friends. Aside from non-fans having a harder time keeping track of the ship's crew -- and I urge you to read the character summaries I linked before you go see the movie; it'll help you orient faster in the theater and is still spoiler-free -- everyone will find the rest of the movie equally new. None of the memorable guests from the TV show made it into the film. The pivotal non-crew characters, The Operative and Mr. Universe, both make their first appearances here. The important plot elements are given sufficient exposition, which is a blessing for series fans as well, since the physical layout of the setting is explained more clearly here than anywhere else.
One thing that surprised me about Serenity was that, in comparison with the TV show, it seemed unexpectedly grim. The series was full of black humor -- how could it not be, when it's about a struggling underclass living at the ragged edge of a utopia that rejects them? -- but, at its heart, was a show about clinging to life and hope and friendship in the face of a brutal world. The movie was a war movie. It was about a grittier sort of survival, that of clinging to life in the face of unstoppable force -- or, at least, doing your duty as a soldier while the hammer drops. The characters see a lot of death in this movie ... but there is no sadness, only shock, numbness. There is no time to mourn. The actors do a great job of showing this; the horror and tension drips from certain parts of the script, and the characters bottle it down, trying to simply make it through their next scrape alive.
The only real complaint I could lodge against the film would be that it feels hurried. Firefly had a sense of grace, breadth, even languor -- the hour-long shows had a comfortable pace, and offered "down time" from the main plot that was used to build out the lives of the band of characters. It made the show feel rich in detail (well, that and the little touches like everyone cursing in Mandarin). There's none of that here, and it's the one thing holding it back from being a truly great film. The characters don't have time for the gradual development and unfolding that fans will have come to expect from the series; some of the scene transitions take on the feel of a plot device despite their embedding in a richly woven world. More foreshadowing, more interaction, maybe even a few flashbacks could have smoothed this out. A movie half again as long could have pulled it off easily. Unfortunately, that's not how it came out. It wasn't enough to affect my enjoyment of the film, but it's a flaw nonetheless.
Also, Firefly fans should make it a point to stay through the end credits.
I also have to say one thing that shouldn't make any sense unless you've seen the film, but I'm going to hide it because Firefly fans will probably have enough context to turn it into a spoiler. And it's a spoiler you do NOT want beforehand, trust me.
(After seeing the movie, highlight the next line of text to read it)
|## ... I made it through most of the movie alright, but I very nearly lost it when I saw the dinosaurs at the end. ##|
In conclusion -- I know I'm setting myself up to just be part of a viral marketing campaign here*, but this is a film worth seeing. The series was cut down far before its time, but this is a fitting conclusion to it (there's been talk of sequels or a return of the TV show, but the events of this film seem pretty final) -- and though it's not memorable on the same level as films like the original "Matrix," it is a worthy sci-fi event, well-realized and lovingly created.
Comments to this post will probably not be spoiler-safe.
* "Now obviously the studio will do its thing. There will be ads and trailers and all that joy, but this movie does not have stars. It doesn’t have a giant mega budget. It doesn’t even have a simple saleable premise. What it has is us -- the people who believed unreasonably. If this movie matters to you, let somebody know. Let everybody know. Make yourselves heard." -- Joss Whedon, to fans at the advance screenings