By James Lynch

The movie Serenity proves that a film can stay firmly rooted in conventions of a genre and still be entertaining and original. Writer/director Joss Whedon continues his “cowboys in space” story, begun with his TV series Firefly, to create a story that is exciting and surprising.

In the far future, the Alliance government seeks to spread enlightenment through the universe – through force to those who don’t submit to them. Starship captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) uses his ship Serenity to commit burglary jobs, stealing from the Alliance while keeping his crew paid and his ship running. If his ship barely holds together, the same is true of the crew. There is tough, violent Jayne (Adam Baldwin) who’s only out for himself; doctor Simon (Sean Maher), concerned with protecting his psychic, sometimes psychotic sister River (Summer Glau); perky engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), who has a crush on Simon; nervous pilot Walsh (Adam Tudyk) and his wife, first officer Zoe (Gina Torres). They are an uneasy family, supporting and fighting in equal amounts, as they take on work to keep going.

The stakes are raised with the introduction of the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He is an Alliance captain determined to capture or kill River before she can reveal the secrets she was accidentally exposed to while under Alliance training. The Operative is polite, a true believer in the future and goals of the Alliance, and willing to do anything to reach River. Matters are further complicated by the Reavers, a barbaric race of starfarers who rape, murder, and butcher any non-Reavers they come across. And River herself turns out to be capable of extreme unpredictable violence, making her a threat to her enemies – and the crew of Serenity.

Ragtag rebels fighting an oppressive government are not new, and the Western influence – from six-shooters to dialogue (“Come a day there won't be room for naughty men like us to slip about at all. This job goes south, there well may not be another. So here is us, on the raggedy edge.”) – does not automatically make for a great movie. What does is writing and pacing. Serenity opens with a seamless introduction to this whole universe and doesn’t slow down from there. Fans of Firefly will enjoy appearances by several regulars from that series, while those entering this universe for the first time will have no problem following the developments. The characters are all believable, the action is intense and works in perfect sync with the ideas behind the action. And far from being predictable, the movie has several twists and turns, including a few very surprising deaths.

Science fiction fans have kept supporting mediocre movies or shows based on once-great franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek. Joss Whedon’s Firefly lasted only one season, and Serenity didn’t fare too well at the box office. This is a pity, as Serenity is that rarest of beasts: an intelligent and exciting action movie. If you’re looking for something great, check out Serenity.

Grade: A-

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