When TV's resident horror-fantasy guru Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) had his series Firefly yanked after a single season, the outcry could have been heard from deep orbit. The show's melding of anachronistic Western mythos and futuristic starship trooping was the perfect genre melt; its repositioning of space from final frontier to wild frontier made it the freshest sci-fi serial in ages.
So the fact that there's now a second act for the motley crew of the smuggler's vessel Serenity, from the quick-drawing captain (Fillion) to the near-autistic psychic River (Glau), is manna for those who've worn a groove in their series DVDs. Despite the claim that this inaugural feature would serve as a primer for the uninitiated, the yarn is essentially a valentine to the hard-core fans. You can follow the plot, in which the gang must outwit a government assassin (Ejiofor) and discover what makes the human time bomb River tick, but those not steeped in the show's lore may find themselves struggling to fill in the blanks.
Still, anyone can appreciate Whedon's whip-crack dialogue and his dedication to imbuing all the whiz-bang with human relationships. It isn't a flawless transition—the director doesn't know how to compose for the big screen yet, and his heavy-message speechifying seems stilted when writ large—but the pluses outweigh the minuses. Thanks to Whedon's gifts, Serenity is everything—smart, funny, thrilling, moving—you'd want in a matinee space opera, and more.—David Fear