Serenity

That might sound like fanboy exaltation, not that there is anything wrong with that, but “Serenity” succeeds where many other sci-fi films fail because it does not rely on intricate techno-jargon and strange mysticism to create an unnecessary profundity. It succeeds not because of its astonishing space battles (which it most certainly has, and are quite extraordinary) but because we care about what happens to this crew we follow. And “Serenity” succeeds because Whedon has done something rarely seen in movies anymore: he continually puts every major character into continual mortal danger, and is not above killing off one of his precious heroes, for he understands there are always consequences to our actions, good and bad, and that there are always casualties in war. That is something not even George Lucas could understand, despite the pleading of Harrison Ford to kill off Han Solo before the end of “Return of the Jedi.” Risking the admonitions of his many fans because the story requires a true sacrifice is not something most filmmakers are willing to do, and this is one of the many qualities that has made Whedon not only a favorite with millions of adoring fans but with Hollywood executives who have brought him on to work on some of the biggest hits of the past fifteen years (including “Speed,” “Toy Story” and “X-Men.”)

Those filmgoers who are not familiar with the show from which this film is based on need not worry about being left out of the loop, for while the film does start out with a replay of one of the major events from the series, it is merely a juicy morsel that gets everyone to the present of the story, several months after the end of the aborted series. River Tam (Summer Glau), a teenage girl with mysterious powers, is being sought by sinister Alliance government officials (could there ever any other kind of government officials but sinister onesr) after being extricated from a top secret base by her doctor brother Simon (Sean Maher), and are willing to go to unfathomable lengths to find her, sending out a ruthless unnamed and “unofficial” Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to get her back at all cost. River and Simon have been hiding out with the crew of Serenity, a junk spaceship operated by Capt. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his “family” of former freedom fighters, mercenary for hire and mechanic who work with the Captain to take any job in the galaxy they can get, illegal or not.

Sure, there is a big back story to this film, thanks to the 14 episodes that were produced in 2002, but the enjoyment of this film is not dependent on having seen one or all of them. “Serenity” is enjoyable for novices to this world, those who know every line of every episode and everyone in between. You don’t need to know going in that Reavers are really really bad men who should not be messed with (that becomes painfully obvious rather swiftly). You don’t need to know how everyone on Serenity came to be on the ship (especially since a number of those stories never were developed before the series was cancelled). You simply need to show up with a willingness to be entertained. Thanks to their familiarity due to the show, the camaraderie between Reynolds and his crew is instant and agreeable. When they disagree, they do so with a modicum of respect for each other. When they laugh, they do so because they have become a family, one of the things the “Star Wars” films and “Blade Runner” lacked, since Luke and Leia and Han never really spent all that much time together, and Deckard barely had Rachel.

But be forewarned, “Serenity” is not for the very young. The Reavers are very nasty cannibal barbarians, and the Operative takes malevolent pleasure out of incapacitating his victims and letting them slowly slide onto his samurai-like sword (replete with the faint, sickening sound of flesh and blood gradually sliding down sharp polished metal through the surround sound system). There is a lot of cursing (almost all in Chinese), many painful shots of people getting injured or worse, and several scenes of the aftermath of a village slaughter. “Serenity” touches upon some very dark issues, some which eagle-eyed and politically astute viewers will be able to find modern parables to, but it also celebrates the power of friendship and collaboration, and how the world can be a better place if we stand up for our beliefs.

In a just world, there would not have been a need for “Serenity.” That so many vapid “reality” shows have found a measure of success with the masses while shows of true character like “Firefly” are given the heave-ho after a few months is a sad statement on what passes for leisurely distractions. But Joss Whedon and his team have gone to great lengths to take advantage of the opportunity to have the last laugh. (There will never be a “Surivivor” or an “Amazing race” movie… hopefully.) “Serenity” is a right step towards reestablishing a balance to the entertainment universe, and the start in what optimistically will be the start of something bigger and better.

Rating: A+
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