Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Serenity (2005)
Director: Joss Whedon
Genre: Sci-Fi
Universal Pictures

Serenity is as good as Star Wars. It should be held up in pantheon of spaceship movie royalty alongside Wrath of Khan and Alien. It is relentlessly fun, a master class in pacing, has a huge share of gorgeous moments both big and small, and features one of the greatest movie villains of all time. Now, full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Firefly, the TV show to which this movie is a sequel/prequel. I saw the movie on TV, loved it, went back to watch the show, and couldn’t get through it. I don’t know why. I’ll probably try again one day, but it left me cold. That aside though, the movie is in my top ten of all time.

Sometimes you just want a movie that is pure fun. A movie that the actors look like they’re having a great time making. A movie that has explosions, one-liners, fights, chases, cool characters, and derring-do. This movie is that. This movie turns me into a sugar-addled kindergartner when I try and talk about it. (My first draft of this article didn’t contain punctuation.) It is stuffed wall-to-wall with cool sequences and great characters.

Nathan Fillion’s Mal is a character for the ages. He is like Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and The Man with No Name all fathered a kid with Furiosa. He is no-nonsense, capable, quick to shoot people, amoral, witty, wounded, and stuck with the knowledge that in the end he’ll have to do the right thing one way or another. He is perfectly countered by one of the greatest villains of all time, The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Operative is simply cold precision, a scalpel sent to remove something that is infecting the nefarious Alliance of Planets. Every line out of his mouth is incredible. He kills indiscriminately and without passion. In opposition to Mal’s world-weary improvisation, The Operative is all pragmatics, doing what needs to be done for the greater good.

This is Joss Whedon’s first big screen directorial job, and it doesn’t show at all. His opening unbroken tracking shot, introducing us to the main characters and the ship is confident and assured, full of jokes, character moments, and exposition without feeling showy or pointless. He stages his action like a pro, though a fight scene in which a young woman beats the shit out of a huge group of attackers was probably bread and butter to the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Throughout, he manages to not lose focus. He has a big ensemble to work with here and unlike TV where you can side line a character or two for an episode Whedon needs to give everyone a point and purpose, which he does. He knows where the main focus needs to be, Mal and River, but no one gets short-changed in their supporting roles. Watching this post-The Avengers, and it’s clear why Marvel came knocking at his door. He has a deft hand at doing big and small at the same time. He can stage a huge space fight, but he knows that the real story is inside the spaceships rather than outside watching CGI dogfights. From the get go it’s clear he loves these characters and wants us to love them, too.

The movie is packed with set-pieces and character moments, and Whedon fills it with great lines, brilliant sequences, and brutal deaths of beloved characters, because that’s how Whedon rolls. In conclusion, Serenity is as good as Star Wars because it creates a gorgeous world and populates it with amazing characters and adventures. It is funny and sad, while also quiet and exciting. It has scenes like River Tam’s bar fight and the final gambit with the Reavers. Its characters pop with energy and life. And, most importantly, it is fun. From minute one until the credits roll, you’re having fun watching it. And when it’s done, you want to watch it again.