There is a seemingly simple scene near the very end of Serenity that perfectly captures the layered essence of the film (and all things Whedon for that matter). The scene in question takes place between Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the captain of the title boat who is an intriguing mixture of Jimmy Stewart’s western characters, Captain James T. Kirk, and Han Solo; and his first mate, Zoe (Ginna Torres). These two characters have a long history together (fans of the show Firefly on which the film is based will know this, but newbies will still enjoy the film), and they have just experienced a taxing battle. Battle may be the wrong word. It’s more of a near suicidal effort to do the right thing. There has been damage. There have been casualties. Mal asks Zoe if the ship will fly. She says it will be bumpy and they’ll have to weather the storm, but they’ll make it through, like they always do. Now, there is a storm, and the ride will be bumpy; but Zoe and Mal are talking about so much more with this little exchange.
This kind of writing is part of what makes Joss Whedon a genius. Whedon has an astonishing (pun intended, Whedon currently writes Marvel’s “Astonishing X-Men,” THE best X-men run since Claremont and Byrne’s definitive run 25 years ago) ability to come up with ideas that sound ridiculous and make them supercool. A Valley Girl who fights vampires? Yeah. A vampire with a soul? That too. Toys that come to life? Yep, Whedon wrote Toy Story. A Western set in space? Welcome aboard Serenity. He takes these bizarre concepts and creates intricate new worlds for them to exist in and populates them with fun, interesting ensembles that feel like real people with real feelings and real problems existing in fantastic realities. Whedon also seems to have an uncanny ability at discovering amazing new talent or hidden talent (see Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, Nathan Fillion, et al). Don’t let the fact that there are no “stars” in Serenity keep you from seeing it. Though their names might not be recognizable, the cast of the film is beyond capable. Fillion was born to play Mal. He perfectly captures Mal’s loss of faith due to his war experience (forgive me that, as a Browncoat, I cannot fully separate the character arcs in the film from the ones in the overall story of series and film), his staunch loyalty to his crew, and his passion for his boat. Torres, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Ron Glass, and Sean Maher all round out the lively crew. Chiwetel Ejiofor is introduced as the chilling and mysterious villain known simply as The Operative. David Krumholtz portrays the amusing new character Mr. Universe (who has his own version of the Buffybot).
I love this film. I admit it is very hard for me to be objective about it. Even before seeing it, I was very emotionally attached to it. I am a Browncoat who has followed this story since it was on Fox, to DVD, and through the long journey to the big screen. The climactic battle of the film is symbolic to me of this ‘verse. As the beautiful ship Serenity is defaced to pass as a Reaver ship, I am reminded of how Fox buried the show on Friday nights and aired the episodes out of order (what genius decided to air the pilot last? Please.). When she crashes, I feel the sadness of the cancellation. But just as the ship is rebuilt and flies again in the end, Joss and the fans didn’t give up, and due to their efforts, the story has returned as an amazing space opera adventure. However, like there are losses in the film, some things will never be the same again no matter how many more movies might one day be made. Firefly, in a fair world, could still be on the air now in what would have been the fourth season. I think the movie is great, but I know that Whedon is unparalleled in his ability to play out a story in just the right way over the course of a TV season. Serenity is awesome, but that story as a season of Firefly? I can only imagine how much more awesome it might have been. In the end though, I am thrilled that I can go into a dark theater and go on another adventure with my “big damn heroes.” Fox may have cancelled our show, but they can never kill our passion. As the show's theme song says, “you can’t take the sky from me.”
I'm also a Browncoat and I think you gave an excellent review of "Serenity". I truly hope that the legacy will be continued in some form either through sequels or bringing Firefly back to the small screen. For now the Browncoats just need to keep believing.