Serenity, a 2005 film by Joss Whedon, is a continuation of the FOX TV show Firefly, by the same director. Starring Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film, while completed in just 50 days and with a budget of under $40 million, consistently ranks highly. Released to critical acclaim but poor box office returns, the futuristic Western is a hallmark of eclectic science fiction.
It's no surprise that Serenity is a film people keep coming back to. It expertly balances poignant lessons with sharp, witty humor. The story is one of redemption and hard-fought independence. Ejiofor, known in the movie simply as the Operative, skillfully portrays a man at once riddled with sin and continually fighting for a perfect world he believes he has no place in. By no means black-and-white, the Operative is, arguably, the perfect villain: a man ambitiously striving to a utopia, but unbound by any moral concepts. Fillion, playing Malcolm Reynolds, is a similar gray. Captain Reynolds is a man who looks out for his adopted family, but doesn’t hesitate to kick out Simon and River when he feels his interest are threatened. Together, the two create a beautiful mix of conflicting, mutually exclusive goods: individual liberty and well-intentioned government. The conflict between these two forces is still relevant today, and is part of the reason the film is still culturally relevant.
Firefly and Serenity alike feature snappy dialogue from Reynolds, and Fillion was undoubtedly the perfect choice for the role. He captures the Wild West feeling of the movie but convincingly ties science fiction into the universe, and keeps the audience laughing along the way. Ejiofor is creepy in all the right ways. The film also explores the psychology of River (Summer Glau), the psychic warrior with a broad array of talents as well as troubles. Having such a physically strong female character limited by mental instability is a refreshing departure from clich鳬 and Whedon explores the full extent of her character through both extreme and everyday situations. Glau is adept at playing a character as unique and as difficult as River. She manages to capture both the seemingly psychotic calm that River often exhibits, while also doing a fantastic job conducting the emotion that comes from a mind as broken as Rivers.
As is always necessary when one attempts to condense a character-rich, complex plot into cinematic length, complexity and characterization are lost. Unfortunately, more time was lost with the inclusion of frequent and extended combat scenes, some of which could have been cut or left out altogether. All this being said, the movie is of little scope compared to Firefly, and really should be considered analogous to a second season. While its possible to watch Serenity with no prior knowledge of the plot or characters, viewers would be best-served by first viewing Firefly, which fosters the strong emotional attachment to the characters, and then watching Serenity. While the arc of Firefly, namely that of River and her brother, Simon (Sean Maher), is continued in Serenity, many of the subplots, such as the romance between Reynolds and Inara (Morena Baccarin), are ignored completely. However, the emphasis on the interactions between the crew is real and often poignant. Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) are a believable couple, and Zoe herself is a very strong, very real female character. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is an unapologetic womanizer, and thats something thats necessary for the ambiance of the show. A Wild West is just not complete without that type of character, and Whedon ought to be applauded for writing a character that may not be politically correct.
Critics loved Firefly, and they loved Serenity. They praised the complexity of the plot and the realness of the characters. While acknowledging that the genre is somewhat overplayed, most comment on Whedons ingenuity and originality. Perhaps the worst thing about Serenity as a whole was that it ended too soon. The length of the movie meant that some elements, especially those introduced towards the end, were wrapped up hurriedly, and, to many, insufficiently. But this doesn’t change the fact that Serenity was a legendary follow-up turned cult classic that will keep many people entertained for many years to come.