Serenity (2005)
Directed by Joss Whedon

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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Some time in the future, mankind has moved to another solar system filled with a vast number of habitable worlds. The Alliance, the government of the most developed of these, has recently defeated the outlying planets in a war and brought them under its control. Mal (Nathan Fillion), a veteran of this conflict, who had fought on the losing side, now owns a spaceship, the Serenity, and, with his eccentric team, earns his living as an outlaw. Among Mal's crewmates are a doctor named Simon (Sean Maher) and his younger, apparently deranged sister, River (Summer Glau), both of whom are wanted by the Alliance. When a government operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) begins hunting the Serenity to acquire these two, Mal and the others come to learn of a dark secret that could bring about the Alliance's end.

Joss Whedon's Serenity is a reasonably entertaining but largely forgettable science fiction adventure.


First of all, I should say that I was favorably inclined towards the film prior to seeing it. I like the idea of a science fiction tale that is not epic in scope and that focuses on disreputable or marginalized characters. Regrettably, while Whedon comes close to taking such approaches, he does not actually do so. His story is fairly conventional and, ultimately, turns into a race to change mankind's destiny. His characters are models of humdrum quirkiness who, while on the wrong side of the law, are really good, honorable people fighting an evil system, and his vision of the future is both contrived and not especially creatively realized.

Sadly, these are not the only opportunities for inventiveness the director has missed. Several of the fight sequences Whedon has included, for example, are fairly disappointing, particularly two featuring River. With this character's incredible, impossible skills at martial arts, her battles could have been the best in the movie. Regrettably, for whatever reason, the director decided to film them in impenetrable darkness and has so edited them that it is often difficult to see what is happening. What the viewer can see is exciting, but everything is so obscured that any glimpses he gets just make such scenes even more frustrating.


That said, Serenity does have some thrilling moments. The heroes' flight across a barren landscape while escaping from a band of marauding, mutated cannibals, a space battle between the ships of these same fiends and the Alliance fleet, in which the vessels slide by one another with only the slightest distance between them, and Mal's final confrontation with the operative while climbing about on a narrow walkway are all fun to watch.

If such comments make the film sound as though it is a mixture of the inspired with the ineptly done, then I am giving the reader a good sense of what Serenity is like. In fact, the elements noted above are not the only ones that are uneven in this way. The director's mingling of wild west motifs with others apparently lifted from Bladerunner are similarly of mixed quality. This blending sometimes works and sometimes does not. When it does, it adds a quirky charm to the film that can be genuinely appealing. More often than not, however, such mixing is not as well thought out as it could have been and can, at times, be painfully hokey. Similarly, while I like the idea of bringing together elements of Chinese and American culture, as Whedon does, I simply cannot say that he has successfully combined them. The film's universe would have been far more convincing had the director merged these into something new instead of simply juxtaposing details from the pop cultures of those two nations. The concept is wonderful, but the execution is flawed.


Because there is so much in the film that is uninspired, Serenity often allows the viewer's interest to waver. The director's characters are never especially engaging. His story is much like those of countless other science fictions films, and his vision of a future world is fairly flat.

I came to Serenity hoping to find something different, but, I am sad to say, while it has a few eccentric details, it is a pretty ordinary movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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