Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another SERENITY review for you Whedon fanatics. This one doesn't tell me much more than the previous reviews have as to whether or not I, a non-fan, will be able to enjoy this flick as the review comes from a self-proclaimed Whedon geek. However, it is very well written. This person is obviously in love with the worlds of Whedon and good on 'im. I know some people don't get worlds that I love, like that of Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER and Fred Dekker's universe as glimpsed in underappreciated classics NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD. I hope I really dig SERENITY, but I won't know until I see it in September, I guess. Here's the review! Enjoy!!!
I was also present at the Serenity screening in Australia. I'm writing to you with my own review after reading the two that were recently posted on AICN. Both had pretty strong opinions about the film, and both were criticised for not going into enough detail about what they did or didn't like it for. I thought maybe I could add some broad detail without going into spoilers. If you think this is worth printing, please feel free.
As a film, Serenity has a lot going for it. As you might expect from the pen of Joss Whedon it is by turns funny, scary, dramatic, and sad; sometimes all four within a single scene. In terms of tone, it's not content to settle into a predictible rhythm. It keeps mixing it up, so that you never quite know which way it's going to jump next. In less capable hands this might feel choppy or indecisive. But it works a treat over and over as one dramatic scene is undercut with humor, and the next humorous scene is undercut with a sudden fright. I found myself jumping in my seat or leaning forward so many times I lost count. Broadly speaking, the first half of the movie is lighter and more inviting, before things settle down at the midway point and become a little more gritty, while still leaving room for laughs.
Overall the script juggles the characters pretty well. Joss knows how to write for the Firefly crew. And his original movie creations (The Operative, Mr Universe and others) are equally as interesting. As a villain The Operative is not quite like any bad guy I've seen before. His motives, while a little out there, never feel less than real and he comes across as very three dimensional, badass and occasionally sympathetic. The Serenity crew are as fun and compelling as ever. Not surprisingly, some of them get more exposure than others. Nine main characters are going to work perfectly well in a tv series, but in a two hour movie? Not so much. Captain Mal Reynolds is front and centre. As the plot concerns River, she gets a pretty big chunk as well. And when you throw in a villain and some utility characters to keep the story moving, you've got to expect that not every one of the other seven shipmates are going to get equal screentime. But everybody gets their moment to shine. The characters that serve the plot best stay more visible and others move back. If you were writing this story from scratch without the constraint of having to fit in an existing cast, you would probably lose one or two of these guys. But it's to Joss's credit that he pulls off a balancing act here.
Thematically the film is really about two things: Belief and Truth. Our belief in things and how they drive us to acts both good and bad. And the search for truth; both discovering the personal thruths that define us as people as well as uncovering the larger social and political truths. It's far from an allegory but it touches on points about governmental misconduct and control of media that feel very topical. Yeah belief and truth are really the driving forces of the whole thing. With Mal and The Operative being the two sides of the coin. Mal's beliefs drive his quest to uncover the truth and set things right. These beliefs and the truth about what sort of man he really is also hamper him at every turn, as his conscience stops him from being the petty crook that he would like to be to make his life less complicated. The Operative on the other hand is driven by his absolute belief in concealing the truth for the greater good. He is a monster and knows it, but for him the ends justify the means, and a showdown between him and Mal is on the cards from the very beginning. Two fundamentally different men (and yet men similarly driven on by what they know is right) will test their faith against each other to decide whether mankind will stay in the dark and maintain the status quo, or learn the terrible secret River's story conceals and plunge into dangerous new territory. It's a subtext that I found both relevent and compelling and Im sure it won't be lost on anybody that wants to see more than some nice explosions.
The plot follows a basic three-act structure; an introduction of the characters and settings, followed by the central mystery being explored and solved, and a big action conclusion to wrap it all up. Everything is set up for the uninitiated, and this really does feel like it's own story rather than a footnote to some tv show. Fans will be pleased to see so many plot threads from Firefly integrated into the main story. Some are only touched on while others have been disgarded completely but most questions that were left hanging from the series are neatly wrapped up without distracting from the plot.
The one thing I can't pretend to be is objective. I'm a fan and I saw this movie as a fan. And fans are going to go ape for it, no question. I hope that non-fans and movie goers generally will respond well. This does NOT feel or look like a tv show on a big screen (a criticism levelled often at the latter Star Trek films). It feels like a big budget, blow your socks off sci fi action film. It's not going to be the next ID4 in terms of it's turnover. But it should do very well if it finds its audience. Knowing Firefly is going to add a level of emotional depth to the events of the story. But I'm reasonably sure that a casual audience will respond well to what they see, if only on a superficial level. We'll know for sure come September.
If there are any specific questions with regards to stuff I didn't cover, I'm happy to answer them in a talkback. If you use this please call me Benny the Bunny.