A stand-alone spin-off from the cult science-fiction TV series ‘Firefly’, the ill-fated, most personal and most accomplished work to date from Joss Whedon, creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. The worst fate that could befall ‘Serenity’ would be if it failed to reach a non-genre audience, because it works very hard to welcome newcomers to its textured futuristic mythology, while daring to push existing fans way beyond their comfort zone. This is what the ‘Star Wars’ prequels could have been, if George Lucas were a purveyor of hip, ultra-smart pop culture, rather than… well, choose the epithets yourself.
Five centuries from now, ex-soldier Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his ragtag crew ply their semi-legal transporting trade on the sparsely settled fringes of space. When Doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his fugitive sister River (Summer Glau) seek sanctuary on his utilitarian spaceship, Serenity, it is targeted by The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a glacial assassin employed by The Alliance. River is an unstable and troublesome telepath – created by The Alliance’s own Frankensteinian scientists – yet the anti-heroic Reynolds and his renegade crew risk all to save her.
With its Hawksian attention to group dynamics and its skilful definition of character through action, this supremely entertaining hybrid-movie plays like ‘Rio Bravo’ in space. The textured narrative is peopled by precisely delineated characters who employ a salty retro-future-speak, in which twenty-fifth century slang is morphed with frontier Western archaisms (‘take umbrage’, ‘confound these bungers’). The settings and tone are hyper-real, yet the human behaviour is grounded and credible, the moral conflicts complex and involving. Shiny, intelligent fun.