Serenity (2005)

Rating: ****
Written And Directed By: Joss Whedon
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor

"Serenity" continues the story of captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew after the short lived sci-fi TV series, "Firefly" (2002). The crew is at the breaking point, strapped for cash and resources, and their resident psychic River Tam (Summer Glau) is on the government's most wanted list. She holds a terrible secret and The Alliance will stop at nothing to destroy her. A ruthless operative (excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) is on the case and chases the Serenity and her crew across the solar system, causing them no end of grief and hardship. When the secret is finally revealed, Malcolm and his crew make a desperate stand to see that the word gets out, with dire consequences.

Having never seen the original series, the film does an excellent job of bringing the viewer up to speed quickly with a minimum of exposition. Writer/director Joss Whedon understands that characters are best defined by their actions, not by dialog and narration. While the film is based on science fiction themes, it's really more of a balls-out action film, overflowing with high speed chases, gun fights, martial arts combat, and grand space battles. It moves at an exhilarating pace, packing in as much action and drama as it can. The performances are quite good, and Whedon's devious plotting creates a palpable air of tension that propels the story forward. Unfortunately, while all of the characters are interesting, none of them are very likable, which makes it difficult to sympathize with them.

The special effects are good for the most part, although there are definitely a few that should have been reworked. The spaceship choreography and editing is very frantic and jerky, making it difficult to identify individual parties and follow the action. Fortunately, apart from the Serenity, everyone else in the sky is a bad guy so recognition isn't such a big deal. What surprised and satisfied me the most, however, is the fight choreography, which is amazingly well executed for an American film. Whedon definitely has the right people working on his stunts, and has a good eye for action. The fight choreography and execution is very technical, precise, graceful, and brutal, and overall, quite convincing. The editing is more fast paced than I prefer, but the timing and cadence create a very balanced flow and the sequences never end prematurely. Joss Whedon takes some surprising risks with his story that will leave many fans angered, but they marvelously set up a very intense climax that puts us through hopelessness, despair, rebirth, and ultimately, hope.