It's no matter, though, as Whedon gets the uninitiated up to speed quick: 500 years in the future, most of the human-colonized galaxy is controlled by the autocratic Alliance, who won a war some time ago against the rebel Independents, now roaming the fringes of explored space. This is where we find the rattletrap freighter Serenity, crewed by a loveable gaggle of rogues who want to be free to wander at will and maybe pull off the occasional crime. The unusually personable crew is led by Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a sarcastic loner with a not-so-secret heart of idealism. A shambling kind of hero, he's about the best thing to hit movie screens since Harrison Ford lost his sense of humor. Since every good hero needs sidekicks, Mal's backed up by badass Zoe (Gina Torres), her geeky husband Wash (Alan Tudyk), weapons-crazed lunkhead Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and wide-eyed girl mechanic Kaylee (Jewel State). There's also some new crewmates: a doctor, Simon (Sean Maher), who we've seen busting his teenaged sister River (Summer Glau) out of an Alliance research facility where she'd been being turned into a psychotic killing machine. Now River just mopes around the ship, occasionally having psychic flashes, while Simon ignores advances from lovestruck Kaylee.
At film's start, the Serenity is touching down on a remote planet to pull a bank heist; nothing too violent - they're good guys, after all - just get the money and haul ass. Problem: In the middle of the job, the town is sacked by a shipful of Reavers, a crazed band of marauding, nihilistic cannibals who seem to exist only to destroy. Bigger problems are in the offing, too, as the Alliance isn't ready to give up on River yet, and have sent a smooth-talking assassin (serene theater actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, practically walking away with the whole film) to get her back from Serenity's wisecracking crew, not all of whom are so jazzed about hanging on to her.
Whedon's seen more than a few Westerns in his time and has fully absorbed their laconic sense of heroism. Unfortunately, he's also been writing for TV shows for years, and Serenity, his feature directing debut, shows the limitations of the small-screen form. While Whedon's script is fortunately motivated more by punchy (and surprisingly funny) dialogue than action, this also tends to lead to a static structure, as well as some interminably clumsy fight scenes and ratty-looking sets which look to have been picked up from one of the lesser Star Trek spinoffs. Whedon also has a comic geek's affinity for hammy emotional payoffs and killing off characters just when they start to get interesting, neither of which will endear the film to a mainstream audience.
Those quibbles aside, this is wonderfully satisfying pulp sci-fi in the grand tradition, a film which never loses its humanity and reminds us that without Han Solo, Star Wars would just be guys with funny names chasing mythological clichés and playing with ray guns.
If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. Stop leaving bodies on the stairs!
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th September 2005
Box Office USA: $25.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $38.9M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Barry Mendel Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 147 Rotten: 32
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Joss Whedon
Screenwriter: Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion as Mal, Gina Torres as Zoe, Alan Tudyk as Wash, Morena Baccarin as Inara, Adam Baldwin as Jayne, Jewel Staite as Kaylee, Sean Maher as Simon, Summer Glau as River, Ron Glass as Shepherd Book, Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe, Michael Hitchcock as Dr. Mathias, Sarah Paulson as Dr. Caron, Yan Feldman as Mingo, Rafael Feldman as Fanty, Nectar Rose as Lenore, Tamara Taylor as Teacher, Glenn Howerton as Lilac Young Tough, Hunter Ansley Wryn as Young River, Logan O'Brien as Boy Student, Erik Erotas as Boy Student, Demetra Raven as Girl Student, Jessica Huang as Girl Student, Marley S. McClean as Girl Student, Scott Kinworthy as Ensign, Erik Weiner as Helmsman, Conor O'Brien as Lab Technician, Peter James Smith as Lab Technician, Weston Nathanson as Trade Agent, Carrie 'CeCe' Cline as Young Female Intern, Chuck O'Neil as Vault Guard, Amy Wieczorek as Lilac Mom, Tristan Jarred as Lilac Son, Elaine Mani Lee as Fan Dancer, Terrence Hardy Jr. as Mining Camp Boy, Brian O'Hare as Alliance Pilot, Ryan Tasz as Black Room Soldier, Colin Patrick Lynch as Black Room Soldier, Terrell Tilford as News Anchor, Joshua Michael Kwiat as Slovenly Beaumonde Man, Antonio Rufino as Bartender, Linda Wang as Chinese snake dancer, Mark Winn as Futuristic Worker
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