I never saw the television series Firefly, upon which this movie is based. However, after two hours of Serenity, I'm searching the Sci-Fi channel for reruns of this doomed series, which was cancelled before all the episodes were aired. Even from my uneducated perspective, this film is engaging, provocative, and downright fun. No prior knowledge of Josh Wedon's series (the same guy who helped pen Titan A.E., the original Toy Story and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is required. Simply sit down, eat popcorn, and enjoy... that is if the violence doesn't overpower the solid script... but more about that later.
Opening with an overpopulated Earth, a common sci-fi concept, the film quickly introduces the crewmembers of a rust-bucket starship called Serenity. They, along with the rest of the humans, flew the big blue planet coop, and now inhabit another solar system where dead globes have been terraformed into life-supporting ecologies. Unfortunately, no matter the amount of technology, humans will still be humans. Consequently there is fighting amongst the planets, with political ideology being forced upon the outer "Independents" from the central "Alliance."
A key power in this galactic civil war is a man known as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a heavy-handed ruler who is not averse to employing highly unethical practices to keep the population in line. One of these "techniques" involves a young woman named River (Summer Glau). Possessing telepathic gifts, the girl has been the unwilling participant in some government experiments.
On the other side of the battle is River's brother Simon (Sean Maher). In a bold move, he manages to rescue his sister from the laboratory where she is confined with a long probe stuck in her forehead. To keep her out of harms way, he turns to Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a cynical veteran of the war fighting on the side of the Independents. Now the commander of the aging Serenity, with the loyal company of his misfit team, scrapes by doing transport-for-hire and committing the occasional small crime.
Agreeing to take Simon and River, the Captain (who goes by "Mal") has no idea what he is getting into. Used to keeping a low profile, he and the gang are about to be pulled into the center of the conflict. They are also going to have to deal with the Reavers, a group of incredibly aggressive cannibalistic humans that haunt the edges of their planetary system.
These beasts are responsible for many of the gory scenes contained in this movie. While we never actually see people devoured, many cast members (men, women, and children) are shown being impaled by spears, swords, and knives. Blood is also the result of other violence inflicted by guns, kicks, punches, and hits from a vast number of objects. Thankfully, sexual content and language are much less abundant, allowing this film to slip by with a PG-13 rating. Parents however, should carefully consider the ability of their family members to cope with such images.
Yet what allows this film to still be considered for viewing by older teens is its superb story, which questions whether we would be better off living in a perfect, sinless society under the hand of regulation, or have the opportunity to make choices for ourselves and live with the associated consequences. It is this latter scenario the outlying colonies are fighting for--including one group that practices Christianity.
These relatively unknown actors turn in fine performances, while the computer-generated effects rank with the best on the screen. Can a successful movie be born from a dead television series? If it ever could happen, Serenity has the best chance.