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Serenity by Joss Whedon (wr/dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
20th Century Fox movie  
Date: Sept 30 / Show Official Info /

Nathan Fillion - Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds | Gina Torres - Zöe | Alan Tudyk - Hoban "Wash" Washburn | Morena Baccarin - Inara Serra | Adam Baldwin - Jayne Cobb | Jewel Staite - Kaylee Frye | Sean Maher - Dr. Simon Tam | Summer Glau - River Tam | Ron Glass - Shepherd Book | David Krumholtz - Mr. Universe | Chiwetel Ejiofor - The Operative

The war is long over, but the heartache goes on.

The TV series Firefly introduced Capt. Mal Reynolds (Fillion), who fought on the losing side of a war between a handful of independent worlds and the powerful Alliance. He and his ragtag crew run missions in their Firefly-class scoutship, smuggling and robbing payrolls, until they take in a doctor and his traumatized sister. That one act sets the stage for a whole host of troubles......which culminate in the new movie Serenity.

River Tam's (Glau) history as an Alliance-trained telepath comes to light in a protracted flashback, which shows how her brother, Simon (Maher), broke her out of her captivity. Her doctor explains to a man known only as The Operative (Ejiofor) that she met important members of the Alliance's Parliament---a mistake for which he pays dearly. The Operative tells the doctor that it is unacceptable for a telepath to be running loose with Parliament's deepest secrets in her brain.

Time has passed since the events of the show. Mal's crew is reduced by two: Shepherd Book (Glass) has moved on to lead a small, rebellious settlement named Haven, while professional "companion" Inara (Baccarin) is in a sort of convent. Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River are no more integrated into the crew than before, even though Kaylee (Staite) has made no secret of her fondness for the doctor. Wash (Tudyk) and Zoe (Torres) are still happily married, and Jayne (Baldwin) is as surly as ever.

A job taking down a security corporation's payroll (like an old-fashioned bank heist) goes sour when the colony is attacked by the cannibalistic Reavers. These ravagers are humans driven mad by the abyss of deep space; they terrify everyone, even the Alliance.

River's apparent psychosis comes to a head when Mal attempts to put them ashore. Driven to the brink of madness by horrifying visions, she unleashes moves that would overpower Buffy (writer/director Joss Whedon's other creation) in a minute. According to their tech-wizard friend Mr. Universe (Krumholtz), the triggering event was a broadcast designed to send her a message...even as The Operative pursues Serenity and her crew.

The Operative maneuvers Mal into a deadly confrontation at Inara's retreat. The companion is recovered by an audacious one-man invasion, where Mal barely survives a direct encounter with the assassin. Only Inara's quick thinking allows them to escape.

As events swiftly catch up with them, Mal has a moment of crystal clarity: he requires belief to give his life meaning. The Operative has a belief, he knows...and unless he finds one that is meaningful to him, the assassin will find him, kill him and then murder River.

And then the war against the Alliance really will be lost.

Whedon's flair for snappy dialogue and strong characters dominates Serenity. Mal is a conflicted, tormented guy whose cynicism covers a yearning for something better. He believes people should be free to make their own way---a belief directly at odds with the Alliance (which represents conformity and bland least-common-denominator existence)---and he's sunken into self-destruction. His crew is efficient, but it's clear that they're struggling to hold on, and having the sought-after River on board is cramping their style.

There are plenty of superb character bits (Jayne, for instance, checks that each member of the crew is buckled in while they're in freefall before he secures himself) and verbal tics. They avoid mistakes that would infuriate moviegoers; if anything, Whedon flips the cliches of westerns, sci-fi action adventure and political intrigue on their heads.

Serenity may be the best of the late summer/early fall science fiction releases, and possibly one of the best sf movies of recent years. Highly recommended.

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