Serenity is a love letter for fans of the series and the closure it deserved.
Mal (Nathan Fillion) is the captain of Serenity, a firefly-class transport spaceship with a crew of interesting misfits that takes whatever paying job they can, even when it might (and usually does) get them into hot water. The worst of that trouble began eight months earlier when Simon Tam (Sean Maher) smuggled his sister River (Summer Glau) onboard after escaping a secret facility paid for by the Alliance, a unifying government organization that Mal and his first-mate Zoe (Gina Torres) fought against in a war as “independents” but ultimately lost. Now a secret has been uncovered which could ultimately save River from her pursuers and finally point the finger at the Alliance for all the ‘Verse to see, but first they must evade and outwit The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his fanatical belief that Alliance has the best idea to bring peace to all mankind… and that River Tam must be destroyed.
For anyone who has been sucked into one of Joss Whedon’s earlier television hits, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Angel,” they understand the slow-burn, character-driven stories that fuel his imagination. When “Firefly” was cancelled by Fox with twelve shows aired and two still unshown, Joss took his half-season to DVD and sold well… enough to get Universal to put up a modest budget for a feature film. The question to all of the fans of “Firefly” (affectionately called “Browncoats” after the Independents who lost to the Alliance) was, what would they get for their loyalty? Would there be a sense of closure for their beloved but unsupported series, or would it be reborn as a new cinematic monster designed exclusively for the big screen built upon the backs of its fans?
The answer proved to be both, but it leans towards the former. Whether the storyline was what Whedon would have ultimately ordered for the rest of Season 1 or a possible Season 2 story arc, there’s enough plot for either (or both) and then some. In quite possibly the fastest setup ever, Whedon introduces fans old and new to his ‘Verse and wastes even less time pointing an accusing finger at the meddling Alliance as a controlling and unforgiving organization. From that point on, we’re off and running with the same kind of caper-going-wrong adventure that fueled the series. Then, somewhere along the way (again, true to form Joss Whedon), a discovery is made that inspires a do-it-or-die-trying mission. Due to being a two-hour film, the ending can’t help but feel a bit rushed and somewhat unearned, but a good chunk of the budget went into making the ending worth the money spent that’s still too pricey for television.
Fans may also feel shortchanged by what happens to a few of their favorite characters and for a lack of time spent with others, both the result of leaping to film with lots of story left to tell. Also, while the production looks shiny and new, some of the Western flavor has been sacrificed for sci-fi elements; was this done for the mainstream or just for the look? Like the sequels to The Matrix, the real payoff was learning what happened to the characters you loved, but with Serenity starting where the series left off, any sequels (assuming enough coin is made) will be better suited to mainstream audiences with a completely original story. In a Hollywood system that rewards instant success (which all studios yearn for) and buries everything else, that Serenity got made at all was a miracle.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)