When Firefly was cancelled by Fox in 2002, many fans were left wanting. The show ended with a very vague sense of finality, but a lot of plot threads were left unanswered. Once the cancellation was announced, fans of the show (called Browncoats) organized and made an attempt to rescue the show. Although they failed to find Firefly a network willing to carry the obviously popular series, their efforts lead to the DVD release of the show a year later. Behind the scenes, Joss Whedon (Firefly creator) was hard at work trying to find a way to continue the series. When it became apparent that it could not go on as a television show, Whedon decided that the only course of action would be to continue the story as a film. The brilliance of the show accompanied by the large and dedicated fanbase lead Universal Studios to greenlight the TV show’s sequel, Serenity.
Set one year after the events of Firefly, Serenity finds our crew in hard times. Due to the presence of Alliance Fugitives River and Simon Tam (Summer Glau and Sean Maher respectively), the crew of Serenity are having trouble finding jobs that will keep them out of sight of the Alliance. Unbeknownst to the crew, the Alliance has unleashed upon them the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a highly trained agent who will stop at nothing to capture the siblings.
There’s a very clear advantage to making a movie that is based on a TV show; with Firefly as its source material, Serenity is freed from the burden of telling a boring origin story for a second time. On the other side of that coin, if you’re walking into this movie without any knowledge of the show that it’s based on, you’ll be left entertained but ultimately confused. Whedon makes a very earnest attempt in the opening to give this movie a clean start in a very clever way that also benefits existing fans.
The film opens and we are reintroduced/introduced (depending on your status with Firefly) to River and Simon Tam, once again played by Summer Glau and Sean Maher respectively. The opening sequence sets the plot of the movie as well as quite wonderfully introduces two of the main characters. This intro also acts as an answer to the long-standing mystery for fans of how Simon actually broke River out of the Alliance camp. Quickly we hit a speedbump that derails the movie for newcomers when we return to the titular ship, Serenity.
Very quickly we are introduced to the crew of the ship, but there are so many to throw at the audience in such a short time. The show had fourteen one-hour episodes to make us fall in love with these characters (the really did it in three episodes). Newcomers are instead treated to a very general description of the characters by way of whatever they are doing whilst being introduced. This does the job but undercuts the final moments of the movie in a devastating way. So, as with any other movie, the focus is placed upon two, maybe three main characters and an antagonist.
As with the TV show, Summer Glau plays the most important role of the film. This time around, River is the entire focus and is given loads more to do. She again brings with her that heartbreaking innocence that made you care about her in the show but brings a massive helping of scary intensity. With revelations of what the Alliance did to her as well as exactly what is terrorizing her brain, the story of River is beautifully brought to a close in Serenity.
The other, almost equally important main character is River’s brother and the ship’s doctor, Simon. Of all the performances, Sean Maher’s as Simon is easily the most evolved. He starts off on the show as the quiet and mysterious doctor but by the show’s end, Simon had become vocal and somewhat boisterous. The evolution of Simon reaches an apex in Serenity. In every scene he is in, Maher commands your attention. The truly impressive part is how he is able to perfectly balance both fear and bravery while being chased throughout the galaxy by the film’s villain, the Operative.
There is something truly terrifying about Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as the Operative, which is perfect. The Operative is an unnamed (obviously) man with no given rank, but with a particular set of skills not unlike Bryan Mills. He’s cold and merciless, and Chiwetel Ejiofor plays him with scary accuracy. It’s particularly cool that he is given very little backstory, which gives him a dangerous and mysterious element.
As I said in my review of Firefly, the effects were top-notch and still stand today. Because the movie had a considerably higher budget than that of the TV show, you would expect much better effects… and you won’t be disappointed. From the ship itself to the scenery, everything they did for this movie was of the highest quality. The only thing that bothered me slightly was the addition of sound to the once silent space scenes. There are still moments of some silence, but most scenes have added sound effects.
I’d be lying if I were to say that Serenity lives up to the glory of Firefly. To be honest, Serenity had a lot to live up to. The story is fantastic, the performances are golden, and we are given the same drama/action/humor balance that made Firefly stand out. But there is a bit of the magic that is just gone. The switch to a higher-quality camera and a shift in the style of shooting is jarring and just makes me want to go back and watch the show again. A lot of the characters you loved from the show are given very little if anything to do. As a fan of the show, I do love this movie. It’s clear that Whedon is appreciative of the fans and wanted to give them the ending that Firefly deserved. As the average moviegoer, I would have been enthralled by the action and story but left scratching my head at what must feel like in-jokes that go over your head.
Firefly Fan Rating: 8/10
Average Moviegoer Rating: 7/10
All Images Courtesy of Universal Studios