"This is the captain, we might experience some slight turbulence...and then explode"
Serenity is a highly entertaining and fast-paced sci-fi adventure from Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Angel fame). The original cast of the series Firefly are reunited following the decision by Fox to shelve the show after the first series. Apparently Fox showed the episodes once, in the wrong order, before pulling the plug. They are no doubt regretting that decision now!
The action takes place five hundred years into the future. Earth´s population has grown so large that the planet can no longer support them, forcing the colonisation of a new galaxy, where they can terra-form numerous planets to sustain life. However, the all powerful (and distinctly fascist) Anglo-Sino Alliance has imposed their control on the new "verse" in a civil war with the browncoats (rebels). Mal (Nathan Fillion) is a veteran of the civil war against the Alliance who survived the most brutal campaign of the war - the battle of Serenity Valley. He and his motley crew survive as pirates and smugglers at the edge of Alliance territory, in a Firefly class spaceship, named Serenity.
The Alliance are keen to develop behaviour modification technology to enhance their control of the human race, and conduct utterly unethical experiments on a young psychic named River (Summer Glau) which essentially turn her into a devastating (if unpredictable) weapon. In an explosive opening scene her brother, Simon (Sean Maher), breaks into the lab to free her. The pair are forced to seek refuge on board Mal´s ship, but the Alliance (fearing that River has learned a terrible secret) send an elite "operative" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to hunt them down. To make matters worse, the edge of the "verse" is populated by "Reavers" - a crazed race of cannibals who were once human, but now like nothing better than to rape, eat and then wear their victims!
Considering the frenetic pace, the characters are pretty well developed, and very likeable. Mal is clearly a good guy at heart - but not too good to shoot first (unlike the re-worked Han Solo). Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is a tough fighter with a penchant for blowing things up and an endless supply of one-liners, many of which made me laugh out loud. Zoe (Gina Torres) is another survivor of the civil war whose loyalty to Mal is second only to her loyalty to her husband "Wash" (Alan Tudyk) who is an expert pilot. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is an incredible mechanic who is both endearingly naive and amusingly forthright. Together they make up a believable, if slightly dysfunctional, family. This is partly due to the quality of the cast, many of whom were pretty much unknown before the film´s release.
The action is beautifully choreographed; in particular the deadly grace of the psychic River makes her character believable and contrasts nicely with the low-tech weapons of the crew. Serenity is not set in a shiny hi-tech environment. Everything is dirty and battered and the ship appears to be held together by sheer willpower. Similarly, the human race is not unrealistically moral or evil.
The special effects are impressive, in particular the space battle near the end of the film, but the story and characters are not dwarfed by effects. The script is full of the darkly comic touches Whedon displayed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and plays nicely with the idea that "knowledge is power" and that true evil is born from the attempts to impose absolute control on the naturally contrary human race. The characters of Mal and the Operative also balance nicely. Mal apparently believes in nothing, yet when it comes down to it he risks his life to expose the Alliance's dirty secret. The Operative, however, truly believes in the goals of the Alliance and so is capable of committing incredibly evil acts without remorse. Chiwetel Ejiofor does a great job of bringing the operative chillingly to life.
This is one of the best sci-fi films I have seen in some time; leaving the recent insipid Star Wars episodes and the over clinical Star Trek films in its wake. There is plenty of action, for those who are that way inclined, but the film also has enough depth to keep the more thoughtful viewer happy and sufficient humour to lighten the mood.