Joss Whedon is a man who made his name with his iconic TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. One TV show of his that failed to last long enough to reach the same heights of popularity was Firefly. While critically acclaimed upon release, a series of time-changes and airing episodes out of order meant that it struggled to find a fan-base and was unceremoniously booted from production after only 14 episodes in 2002. Five years later, Whedon along with Universal Studios had worked out a deal to bring the show back to life in the form of a feature film, named Serenity after the show’s central spaceship.
Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the captain of the spaceship Serenity, which flies around the Universe with its ragtag band of mercenaries and outcasts doing jobs and missions that others would turn down. Two of his crew, brother and sister combination, Simon (Sean Maher) and River Tam (Summer Glau) are on the run from the Governement. River was captured by the Government and experimented on delving into the roots of her psychic powers, but at the same time putting her in a room with high-ranking officials, which allowed her to glean secret information regarding the planet ‘Miranda.’ Reynolds and crew must outrun a religious cleric (Chiwetel Ejiofor) before he can recapture and silence River for good.
As with the exceptional TV show, Serenity’s success relies on the interchange of action and dialogue between crew members. Luckily, like the show, the film fulfils its quick-quip quotient and then some. Each member of the crew has a role to play, from the surly and untrustworthy Jayne (Adam Baldwin) to the sweet and innocent Kaylee (Jewel Staite) via the hilariously cowardly pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) and his tough-as-nails ex-military wife Zoe (Gina Torres). Everyone pulls their weight and know the characters so well that it’s just nice to be in the company of such interesting people. Ejiofor is fantastically sinister as the relentless unnamed cleric. His character ties the mythology of the show and film in further with the spaghetti Westerns of yesteryear. In fact, if you remove the technology, Serenity could easily be set in the old west and this is never more evident than in its captain.
Fillion’s Reynolds is similar to Star Wars‘ Han Solo, he is an honourable rogue, a charismatic leader and a noble thief. He is everything that you’d want in a central character, and his chemistry with the child-like River forms many of the films highlights. It is such a consummate performance from the journeyman actor as simultaneously funny, poignant, tough, cowardly and just intensely watchable throughout. He’s so good in fact that you can’t quite figure out why he hasn’t become a Hollywood A-list lead.
Like the TV show that inspired it, Serenity has become something of a cult favourite. Those that paid to see it on release waxed lyrical about its quality and encouraged as many people to see it as possible. Sadly it was not enough, and any hopes of a sequel were dashed by its poor performance at the box office (it didn’t quite take back its budget). Still, regardless of popularity, Serenity is one of the best science fiction action films of all time and is the only truly worthy successor to the Star Wars crown.