Creator of Buffy the the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon has populated another world with tough, smart-talking characters fighting the darkest evil. And once again the heart of the force for good is a not entirely unconflicted or uncomplicated adolescent girl.
Buffy was a teenager whose high school happened to be located on the Hellmouth. Her vampire-slaying powers and inspired more academic papers than any other television program, even an entire online international journal devoted to topics in fields from classics to cultural studies to sexuality and computer science.
The sensationally entertaining “Serenity” takes place 500 years in the future. The earth’s resources have been depleted and humans have colonized another solar system. heroine is River (Summer Glau), a damaged young woman rescued from the totalitarian Alliance by her brother Simon (Sean Maher), a doctor.
River’s powers include the soft (telepathy) and the hard (some mad kick-boxing skills).
They are hiding out on a beat-up rocket ship captained by Mal (Nathan Fillion), once a rebel fighter, now a guy who will take on any job that pays and does his best to stay out of the way of the Alliance. The crew includes navigator Wash (Alan Tudyk), his wife Zoe, the first mate (Gina Torres), tough guy Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite).
The friends who help them along the way include a “companion” named Inara (Morena Baccarin) (think Miss Kitty in “Gunsmoke,” a gentle, devout man named Book (Ron Glass), and a guy who seems to Tivo the galaxy named Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz).
The man they’re trying to stay away from is The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an understanding but terminator-like ends-justify-the-means type who wants River and will do anything or kill anyone in order to accomplish this goal.
The movie benefits tremendously from a likeable cast with enormous appeal and chemistry perfected over the 14 “Firefly” episodes, from Whedon’s trademark genre mash-ups (the characters often talk like cowboys and the script tweaks classic Western tropes), from tough and genuinely clever wisecracks, and from expert seasoning of action with humor — and humor with action. Whedon continually creates expectations and then confounds them, a po-mo twist here, some unexpected sincerity there.
And the action is terrific, without a hint of a wink or anything less than total commitment.
At one point the Operative says, not without sympathy (Ejiofor has the most expressive eyes since Al Pacino), “It’s worse than you know,” and Mal replies, “It usually is.” Where Whedon is concerned, it’s always as good as you hope.
Parents should know that this movie as a lot of sci-fi “action” violence (lots of shooting, not much blood, but scary-looking characters who torture and eat humans). Characters are injured and killed, including children. There are some mild references to the “companion” and a pleasure robot. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of capable and brave women and minorities and loyal and dedicated relationships between people of different ethnic groups.
Families who see this movie should talk about the obligations and choices facing people who oppose a totalitarian state. How do you decide when to risk your life for the greater good? Why was “Firefly” so popular with some people but not successful enough to succeed on television? How (and why) does this story feel like a Western? Why is the ship called Serenity?
Families who enjoy this film should watch the television series, Firefly. Like all cult favorites, this one has inspired a lot of analysis. Some of the most provocative essays are included in Finding Serenity by Glenn Yeffeth. Families will also enjoy the very clever Futurama as well as the Star Wars series and the parodies Galaxy Quest and Space Balls. Fans of Firefly (violence and occasional sexual references) and “Serenity” will also enjoy Wedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”