Monday, July 17, 2006

Guiltless Review: Serenity

or "River the Reaver Slayer"

Yes, its been awhile, but I haven't stopped watching movies. Specifically, I've watched just about the entire Joss Whedon oeuvre this year, from Buffy to Angel to Firefly to Serenity.

Ok, I admit I skipped most of "Angel" and just about all of "Firefly," but judging from "Serenity", I pretty much gather what happened. Serenity is a movie I liked overall, but had some distinctly tiresome "Whedonesque" touches in it. In any case, there'll be time to discuss it in the context of his other work later, for now its onto the guiltless review.

Malcolm Reynolds (or Mal played by Nathan Fillion) is captain of the titular transport ship. He's also a smuggler and a thief, just trying to make a free and dishonest living in a galaxy dominated by the rule of an oppressive "Alliance." He's surrounded by a crew of old war buddies and like-minded freedom lovers who form something of a makeshift family.

Reluctantly, during the run of Firefly (which precedes this film continuity-wise) Mal took on two passengers that have caused him no end of trouble: Simon Tam and his sister River. River doesn't speak much and has a mysterious connection to the Alliance. The Alliance has since been hunting down Serenity. To that end they have assigned The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who may just be smart and resourceful enough to succeed in catching her.

Twists: 7
I'll start here because this is what the movie really has going for it. The story drew me in, despite the fact that I didn't see most of "Firefly." I won't ruin things by divulging too much plot. Suffice it to say that what passes for civilization in this interplanetary society lives in fear of "reavers"; people who have gone mad by living on the isolated fringes of space for years. The origin of the reavers is revealed here in a disturbing way that sets the tone for the second half of the movie.

Immersion: 9
This is a fully realized fantasy universe. Just learning more about this universe kept me interested. In addition, the pacing of the movie is excellent, Whedon accomplishes a lot with most of his scenes, wasting no time in moving a dense plot along. For example, an early shot that follows Mal around his ship and serves to introduce the entire crew is particularly impressive.

Laughs: 4
A couple of decent chuckles here. The script is witty but not nearly as funny as say "Buffy" was.

Investment: 4
Ok, this is one of the oddest numbers you'll see for a movie I liked. Usually with dialogue this sharp, acting this good, and a plot this involving I will get more invested in the characters. However, I think some of my Whedon-overload may have worked against the movie here.

If you've seen the later seasons of Buffy or Angel, you'll know what I mean. Whedon has a tendency to use shock tactics (think sudden deaths of major characters) to add a sense of "tension" to the proceedings. Sometimes this works dramatically and sometimes it doesn't. For me, it removes a layer of investment I would otherwise have for characters knowing that they are subject to such whims. As a result, what should be a high level of tension turns into a detached coldness. It diminishes how much I cheer for the heroes or am saddened by their tragedies. It all ends up feeling like a cold writing exercise rather than a dramatic story. This might be by design; I'm sure the morbid 18-year old death fetishists eat it up, it just doesn't work for me.

Bizareness: 2
A very loud '2' here. The reavers get such a build up and a great back story, but end up looking pretty lame. So much potential wasted.

Thrills: 5
One really cool thrill comes late in the movie when Serenity is being chased by about a zillion reaver ships. The hand-to-hand fighting involving River is just a tad less cheezy than classic Buffy-Fu, that is: not very thrilling.

Final Word:
I enjoyed watching Serenity, but honestly don't really care to watch what I've missed of Firefly or if there is ever a continuation of this story. Despite being entertained, I'm just not invested enough to care about what happens next. End of non-spoiler review.


Knowing Whedon, such a continuation would inevitably include the intergration of the operative to Mal's crew and more tediously bad kung-fu. My brain starts to hurt just thinking about it.


Stacey said...

Good thing the spoiler didn't make any sense to me... I'm curious about firefly...

Chris said...

For some reason Firefly enthusiasts (browncoats) bother me, not sure why.

Lauren said...

Firefly is perfect for when you need something new to watch because you're bored with everything else. I wouldn't quite say 'Love it' but definitely enjoyable, and not just in an X3 kind of way.

Lauren said...

I think the humor in Buffy and Angel totally makes up for the "Whedon Overload." It is just so exactly my sense of humor that even when it was a long time between funny episodes (Angel seasons 3 & 4) I still never lost patience with the shows. Can you say variable rate of reinforcement?

I'd totally watch another serenity movie in theory, but because of (spoiler) I don't know if it would really be the same.

Roe said...

I must admit I've been curious about Firefly too... I think Mike bought Serenity, maybe I'll watch it one of these days.

Chris said...

I hear you Lauren, but for me, about 4 episodes into season 3 of Angel I reached my breaking point and just stopped caring.