“‘Serenity'”: Forceful Space Farce”
Even die hard George Lucas defenders will wish “Serenity” had been made years ago, as a reminder to his Royal Forceness of how much goofy fun a great science fiction thriller can be. Once upon a time, in a trilogy long ago, Lucas understood this. Make no mistake; “Serenity” liberally borrows the campy wit of the original “Star Wars” franchise and elements of many other science fiction films as well.
The triumph lies not with director Joss Whedon’s originality, but in his sheer confidence that audiences are willing to trade some visual awe for more guffaws. That’s a lesson that Lucas, in his second trilogy with its emphasis on grandiose effects rather than heart and soul, never resurrected.
Whedon fans– and you don’t have to be one to appreciate “Serenity”– will be happy to tell you what they’ve known all along. That his TV series “Firefly,” upon which this film is based, had a lot going for it before it was canceled back in 2002 after only a dozen episodes. His sure-handedness and sense of style was further crafted in his other, more successful TV projects, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” Whedon’s first big screen effort is sure to be loved by anyone who likes a good old-fashioned sci-fi thriller that never takes itself too seriously. “Serenity” is the anti-“Star Trek.”
Filled mostly with B-movie caliber actors who occasionally demonstrate their limitations, the crew nonetheless is up for the cheeky ride. Set 500 years in the future, the Serenity is a rebel ship commandeered by Capt. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). A crackpot band of rebel rogues picks up a young psychic (Summer Glau) during one of its smuggling adventures and quickly learns she’s wanted by the Big Brotherly “Alliance” goons, led by the smoothly ruthless “Operative” (Chiwetel Ejiofor-star of the underappreciated “Dirty Pretty Things”). Daring escapes, grotesque face-eating monsters, some martial arts exchanges, and lots of funny banter ensue.
“Serenity” owes as much to old westerns as it does to sci-fi action operas. Many crewmembers whip out what appear to be retrofitted Colt 45s. Yes, anachronisms abound– don’t ask why.
When films are good, and “Serenity” is mostly a blast, we say they “borrow” from their genre. When a film utterly crashes and burns, like this year’s “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” we say it nefariously “stole” its ideas. “Serenity” is everything “Hitchhiker’s” tried unsuccessfully to be. Sure, there’s a fine line between camp and crap, but Whedon knows which side of the line to toe.
Rated PG-13 for violence, brief gore, vulgarity, brief sex, drug use