Serenity got some cautiously supportive advance reviews in the Free Press and I decided to catch it at a Sunday matinee when it opened last weekend. It is an adaptation of Joss Whedon's Firefly TV series. I wasn't familiar with this series - I went to the movie as a Firefly Virgin. Most or all of the regular cast of the series were in the movie. They have a fair number of TV guest credits and a few movie credits, but none of them have achieved any stature in the movie industry. Canadian actor Nate Fillion, who plays Captain Mal Reynolds, was in Saving Private Ryan. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who wasn't a regular in the series, was in Love Actually and Dirty Pretty Things. What this movie had working for it, to attract an audience, was Joss Whedon's reputation as the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the reputation of the series. After that it's going to rest on review and on word of mouth.
IMDb reports it did well on its first weekend. It deserves to do well. It's a clever, stylish production.
The story has a classical sf setting on the fraying edges of an interstellar human civilization. Ship's captain Mal Reynolds is a freewheeling smuggler, bandit and buccaneer, in the tradition of Han Solo. He has a past as a rebel soldier in an unsuccessful rebellion or civil war by the libertarian outer planets against the control of the more civilized inner planets and the central Parliament. His voyage becomes a mission and an adventure, protecting River Tam (actress Summer Glau) and her secret from the Parliament's sinister Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The acting is competent, perhaps a bit over the top - in the wise-cracking, ironic style of the early Star Wars movies and Buffy the Vampire slayer. The plot is tight and fast. The visuals and special effects are professional. There are a couple of great martial arts scenes which will certainly build Summer Glau's reputation. There is a strong ethical theme about peacefulness, aggression, social controls, free will, human nature and the messiness of life - think Brave New World or Clockwork Orange. We get an early glimpse of this in scenes of River's back story, when she was being educated and socially conditioned as a young child on a planet controlled by the Parliament. The Operative provides a second ethical theme. He is a perfect soldier, proficient in his technique, aware of the immorality of his violent intrusions into other people's lives and freedom, justifying it in the faith that he is working for a better world. Because he does have an ethical compass, there is a continuing tension in his character. But enough hints and spoilers
This movie has all the pieces and put them together very well.