Serenity - DVD Review

'has a playful and methodical approach to the science-fiction genre, without ever heading anywhere close to being disrespectful of it'

People doubting the brilliance of Serenity need pay attention to just one scene.

Our hero Mal (Nathan Fillion) is harbouring a dangerous fugitive (Summer Glau) who is wanted by The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a deadly agent of The Alliance. We find Mal walking in to a trap, having been contacted by his estranged partner Inara (Morena Baccarin). Disguised loosely as a woman, Mal has made it to her quarters where he is soon confronted by The Operative. In any other film this would be a stock conversation between good and evil, ending in one of two ways but (writer/director) Joss Whedon is already on to that, having his characters engage in a conversation about how their negotiations should pan out;

THE OPERATIVE: That is a trap. I offer money, you'll play the man of honor and take umbrage; I ask you to do what is right and you'll play the brigand. I have no stomach for games.

So The Operative isn't messing around, he knows all the tricks of the trade, all the clichés of the genre. Instead he goes for Mal's modus operandi: protect what's yours;

THE OPERATIVE: That girl will rain destruction down on you and your ship. She is an albatross, Captain.

Of course, anyone with a generic national education certificate will know this is a reference to a poem (Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Normal action-spectaculars would leave the reference hanging but, quick as a flash, Whedon (and Mal) are on to it;

MAL: Way I remember it, albatross was a ship's good luck, 'til some idiot killed it.

A bit of banter between Mal and Inara follows and some more development between The Operative and Mal in a scene which has already started by setting out the fact that The Operative has the brawn but Mal the brains;

THE OPERATIVE: I have a warship in deep orbit, Captain. We locked onto Serenity's pulse beacon the moment you hit atmo. I can speak a word and send a missile to that exact location inside of three minutes.
MAL: You do that, you'd best make peace with your dear and fluffy lord.
[Mal tosses mechanism at the Operative]
THE OPERATIVE: [catching the mechanism] Pulse beacon.

And so, thus follows a fight which Mal has no chance of winning - he has used all of his charm and brain power and The Operative is now going to use all of his brawn and brute force to assert his and The Alliance's authority over the little man... that is, until Whedon decides to play with expectations again;

THE OPERATIVE: [to Mal] You are fooling yourself, Captain. Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena.
INARA: And that's not incense.
[He turns to look: the incense stick burns away - rather like a fuse - and FLASHES in an explosion of light and sound]

The charm and genius of Serenity, as embodied in that scene, is that it has a playful and methodical approach to the science-fiction genre, without ever heading anywhere close to being disrespectful of it. It is intelligent and witty but not afraid to include violence and problematic imagery that occasionally approaches risqué.

In the end it is let down by some action scenes which don't quite work (the final Reaver battle is a mess) and some acting which borders on awful (Adam Baldwin and Jewel Staite are particularly weak). Having said that, this is a film which entertains gleefully and battles manfully, as well as creating rounded, brilliant characters, such as Mal and River, all held together wonderfully by the smarts of Whedon. A fantastic, hilarious and visually exciting, science-fiction treat with many more scenes just as entertaining as this one.

Look further...

'sci-fi actioners with ingenuity are a rarity and Serenity has it in spades' - Nevermind Popular Film

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