Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
In this movie spin-off from Firefly, the crew of Serenity must protect one of their own – the ‘reader’ River Tam – who’s being hunted by an assassin…
Written and directed by Joss Whedon.
Best performance: Oh, let’s just say all of them. This is one of the great ensemble casts, and it’s so lovely that they got a chance to shine on the big screen.
Best bits: Listing every single one would go on forever, especially given how witty the dialogue is. So despite its length, this is still a cut-down selection…
* The opening scene, explaining the world for viewers who don’t know the TV series… which is then revealed to be a dream as we cut to River being experimented on in laboratory… a scene that’s then revealed to be a hologramatic recreation being watched by a mysterious Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
* The never-named Operative’s partly noble, partly sadistic way of killing people. It involves paralysing them and letting them fall on a sword.
* The first image of Serenity itself: a CG shot of the ship entering a planet’s atmosphere. (You can see Mal through the cockpit’s window: cute touch.)
* A 253-second-long take, which introduces the seven crew members on board and lays out Serenity’s internal geography – all while the ship rocks and rolls from the re-entry. The dialogue is smart and stylish, and the shot ends on key character River. (There’s actually a hidden edit halfway through the four-minute shot as Mal and Simon move from the ship’s upper level to the lower.)
* The crew’s hover-buggy vehicle.
* River’s steampunk goggles.
* The slick sequence of the crew robbing a bank, which of course goes badly.
* The zombie-like Reavers show up! (These savage, barbaric people were hinted at in early TV episodes, but then seemed to drop out of the mix. A 15-certificate movie allows them to be seen, not just discussed.)
* Mal kills someone rather than leave him to the Reavers.
* River: “I swallowed a bug.”
* Kaylee, frustrated that her crush Simon is planning to leave: “Going on a year now I ain’t had nothing betweixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries.” Mal says he doesn’t want to know that; Jayne says he could stand to hear more.
* River beating up a room full of people – an action sequence demonstrably performed by actress Summer Glau herself.
* Simon explains that he has a trigger word that will put River to sleep. When he nearly says it, Jayne panics – assuming it works on anyone.
* Mal and Inara’s guarded chat over a vid-link. It’s obvious they haven’t spoken for a while (she was planning to leave the ship as the TV show ended), while there are fun cutaways to Wash, Zoe, Kaylee and Jayne eavesdropping on the chat.
* Mal says Inara’s call for help is a trap. The others question how he knows that. “Do you see us fight?” “No.” “Trap.”
* Mal’s first confrontation with the Operative. There’s cagey dialogue, then the Operative says he’s not armed – so Mal shoots him.
* Mal faces mutiny from Jayne. “You wanna run this ship?” Mal asks in frustration. “Yeah,” says Jayne. Mal: “Well… you can’t.”
* Shepherd Book dies…
* Mal’s macabre plan to pose as Reavers.
* The saturated look to the scenes on the planet Miranda.
* A super, smooth, circular Steadicam shot of River as she freaks out.
* Oh, look: it’s Sarah Paulson from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
* Serenity crash-lands.
* Wash is killed! On first viewing, it was around now that I started to assume the film was going to kill off the entire crew – an idea that the story then teases you with as virtually everyone is injured or placed in a life-threatening situation. (According to rumour, Wash bit the bullet because actor Alan Tudyk refused to sign up for potential sequels without a big pay bump.)
* Kaylee resigns herself to the fact she’s going to die. But then Simon says his biggest regret is never being with her. “As in sex?” she asks, perking up. She then resolves to survive the battle.
* River dives into a room full of Reavers and the doors close… When we next see her – in a dramatically framed hero shot – we discover she’s killed them all.
* The coda scene of Mal flying Serenity with River as his co-pilot.
Review: This film faced a tough task: having to appeal to both fans and newbies. And given that Firefly wasn’t a mainstream hit, most of the audience for this movie version would be coming to it fresh. So the River situation – the biggest character arc from the series – is focused on again, but the script actually goes deeper than ever before so old hands don’t feel patronised. We get a decent story, providing lots of action, a huge amount of wit and plenty of suspense. It’s extremely entertaining. It’s well written too, with information smartly hidden beneath breezy dialogue, and looks very cinematic. (The camerawork is often expressive and classy.) Maybe what’s most impressive is the economy. Many scenes are doing double-duty, servicing plot and character, action and exposition, drama and comedy… There’s just a sharpness to everything, which means the film rattles along and is never boring. It has very little fat on it. In fact, you could say it’s gone on a diet – presumably writer/director/creator/geek god Joss Whedon thought having nine regular characters was too cumbersome for a movie script. So two of them are absent as the story begins, while Wash is reduced to a pilot with mostly functional dialogue. Inara only joins the action after 42 minutes; Book is little more than a cameo. But this streamlining works well, with maybe only Book feeling short-changed. It’s practically criminal that the Firefly story ended here.
Ten certain older civilised cultures out of 10