I Am A Leaf On The Wind Or, Review: Serenity

REVIEW SUMMARY: This is what a SF movie should be. Anyone who enjoys a good movie should see Serenity, not just Firefly fans.

MY RATING:

PROS: Strong characters, believable dialog, snappy humor, answers some questions about the ‘Verse.

CONS: Weak-ish ending, lackluster music, cheap SFX.

BOTTOM LINE: See it. Now.


MY REVIEW

I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the plot as you most likely know it or have seen the movie. Does Serenity live up to the TV show and was it worth the wait? Most definately.

We get everything that the TV show had: interesting and strong characters, great dialog, humor and the interesting ‘Verse iteself. In fact, right off it feels like the hiatus never happened. The crew interacts like old times and Whedon’s snappy, witty dialog is in full force withing the first few minutes. We learn how Simon managed to spirit River away from the Alliance and we come face to face with the best villain in a long time, the completely amoral ‘Operative’. Ruthless doesn’t begin to describe him, yet his demeanor onscreen hides that trait very well.

The action starts as The Operative begins tracking River to Serenity and slowly ratchets the tension up between the crewmembers to the point where you can see the stress of running has frayed everyone’s nerves and Jayne and Mal almost come to blows over River. Very believable and well executed.

Whedon manages to combine River’s story with the origins of the Reavers in a manner I didn’t see coming until almost the last minute before the reveal. Again, well done and unexpected. In fact, I liked everything story-wise about Serenity. Whedon knows how write interesting characters who use believable dialog and interact as real people do. We can only hope Lucas is watching, but he may be too busy lighting his cigars with a roll of $100 bills. But I do have a new tag line for old George: “Mal would have shot first!”, ’cause, well, he would have. I’m not going to delve deeper into the meaning of the movie or the motivations for the characters actions. Other reviews do that better than I could. I will say I bought into everything that happend, except for the ending. Well, the final confrontation between Mal and The Operative.

From what we know about The Operative, I didn’t buy into his actions at the end. They didn’t feel right given what type of person he supposedly is. It could be that he changed during the movie, but I didn’t see any clues that he did. That bugged me. There were also a few scenes/results that I didn’t buy either, but they were very few. I also found the music to be lackluster, and missing the psuedo-Chinese sound from the show. And the SFX were barely adequate. I’m surprised that $40 million doesn’t buy better effects. I will say I really likes the opening scene onboars Serenity that is basically one long take that traverses the ship. Outstanding.

All in all, I highly recommend this movie to anyone who likes good movies, not just SF or Firefly fans.

Arr! Here there be spoilers! Ye’ve been warned. Arrr!

And yes, there is one big surprise that no one saw coming. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the movie and your reaction was probably the same as John’s: “WTF?!”. I was speechless and Tim basically entered a state of catatonia. I believe I know the reason why. Spamalot. Don’t go looking unless you’ve seen the movie, otherwise it will spoil the surprise.

9 thoughts on “I Am A Leaf On The Wind Or, Review: Serenity”

  1. Um what spoilers? And while I will agree the Operative appears to have been easily taken care of, the justification for his statements can imply something deeper at work here. Let us say that there is a sequel (and yes Joss I am happy to plunk down another 6.50 to ensure that happens) then you could definitely have a multiple path storyline going about the failings of the Operative and his desire to return to the good graces of the Alliance and the crew of the Firefly – heck I would be interested seeing how Mr. Evil gets along after failing in his mission.

    Also, I was not catatonic. I was simply overwhelmed, but I will say the actions reinforce why shows like Firefly and B5 were good. The directors were not afraid to take chances that may not ring well with the fans, but do fit for the show. And once we have all seen it – I can pontificate some more.

  2. Personally, I found the events cathartic – I was simply in shock.

    The story did leave me with some questions that keep this from a 5-star rating in my book. (Still 4.5 stars is pretty darned good, too.)

    ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS ***

    1. We never see the completion of the Alliance/Reavers battle. What happened, exactly? Did the Alliance track the Reavers back to their home base? What percentage of Reavers followed Serenity back to Alliance territory?

    2. Why the heck did Mal let the Operative live? After what he did to all those people and, more personally, Mal’s true love Inara? Incidentally, the wife was speculating that the Operative will join the crew in any future installments.

    3. Why would the Alliance (the tribunal or whatever) not punish Mal for broadcasting the video? Don’t they already despise him for harboring River all this time? I just don’t buy the Operative’s “the damage is done” speech.

  3. See John – Here are my thoughts on this:

    1 – What if the reavers retreated? My feeling is thats what happened – the battle started going south and they pulled back to regroup. Also, I dont think the full “reaver fleet” followed Mal, but they could have and again could have pulled back after suffering significant losses (or collected enough “food”).

    2 – Mal let him live in the hopes he would suffer for his failure which would be much worse than dying for that guy. Killing him would have not punished him in the way I think Mal was going for. See by letting him live, the Alliance is now going to have to handle this operative for his failure – at least thats my thinking.

    3 – This is the most interesting question. Maybe they don’t recognize him as a real threat. I mean he is a single individual and they core worlds can easily be cowed into compliance by the illustration of how “nice” it is there. He is on the Fringe and maybe they are planning to dispatch him later or consider him dead already even given the transmission (which was never done with any IDs associated with him.) We assume the Operative was giving reports to the Alliance government, but what if he was given orders to take care of it (without specifying details about who and what “it” is) by any means necessary.

    Damn I sound like an uber fanboy here reading way too much into a movie that was darned fine, and a pleasant change from the standard fare that is shovelled at us.

  4. Serenity

    SFSignal: I Am A Leaf On The Wind Or, Review: Serenity The SF Site Featured Review: Serenity Reviews of Serenity are starting to hit the ‘Verse, so to speak. I myself saw it opening (last) night….

  5. Read the novelization and recommend it for its additional insights into the thoughts behind some of the things you guys are debating.

    As for the Operative becoming a crewmember, forget it. Mal tells him he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again (that’s in the book, seeing the movie tomorrow so not sure if that’s there or not) and though grateful for calling off the Alliance goons, Mal isn’t about to forget and forgive the path of death left in the guy’s wake.

    Also, the Operative’s mission was to stop River from revealing the big secret. And although he’s obviously ruthless, he sees his actions as necessary for the good of the future under the Alliance. His idealism has to be shaken by what he learns when the nature of that secret is revealed (and make no mistake, the Operative had NO idea what secret he was sent to keep). Added to the fact that he failed to keep the secret from coming out, he saw no reason to execute the crew and return River and Simon to custody. The foundations of his belief system have been shattered.

    The book never explains for certain why Mal left the Operative alive, though it seems he knew the Operative’s motivations and knew the secret would shake him to the core. And of course, he has to live so as to call off the goons. :~)

    And hope this movie does well, since all of the crew of Serenity are signed up for 3 movies. Yes, ALL of them. ;-)

    One last thing, I count 2 big surprises, not just 1.

  6. Great flick – go see it if you at all like Science Fiction.

    To John:

    The 3 questions you raise, in my mind, don’t weaken the film. Everything doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a nice little bow. I too would give it 4.5 out of 5, but for other reasons.

    1) The battle likely ended in a battle of attrition with the Alliance winning simply because they had more resources to draw from. The Alliance never saw fit to hunt down the Reavers in the past – why would they do so now? They likely responded to the immediate attack on their ships, rebuffed it, and went about their business.

    2) What Tim said – I felt this almost immediately. Mal realized the Operative would no longer be a threat, but that Mal could stick it to him in a way death wouldn’t. I was sure he was going to fall on his sword at the end.

    3) In my opinion, the Operative answers this by revealing that it was only a subset of Alliance leaders that directed him and that this group was weakened by the broadcast. They couldn’t bother going for retribution right away because they were too busy saving their own butts at home. Continuing to act in a ruthless and barbaric fashion wouldn’t help them in that effort – at least not at this point.

    However, I did feel there were some plot issues.

    – It sure was convenient that the Reavers stopped using ranged weapons there in the choke-point so River could go all medieval on them. Yes it was cathartic, but it sadly wasn’t realistic.

    – How could the Operative talk suddenly at the end? I thought Mal rendered him speechless? What did Mal due to him with that weird headlock thing – I figured it paralysed him, but obviously didn’t.

    – I annoyed me that Mal was able to, with just a couple of button presses, tell the broadcast system to send out the message. Usually the show does a better job with technology. It would have been better if Mr Universe had given him a program chip to run or told him to execute a particular program, rather than imply a UI existed just for this.

    – The crews reluctance to do what was necessary to get to Miranda seemed odd to me. It gave chance for Mal to play all macho, but it seemed out of character for the rest of the crew.

    As to the surprise – I’m sad we’ve lost the relationship that was so strong and real and fun to watch. I’m glad Joss did it though – it seemed very real and less like ‘super heroes in space.’

  7. Woot!! I liked Serenity too! But since I lack the depth that you all possess, I’ll just give my usual shallow, swine-like comments…

    I liked it because of the following features (told in an alliteration): Boobs! Bevy of Beautiful Babes! Butt-whopping Babe! Blasting! Big Battles! Badinage! Bravo!

    Since I’ve never seen FF on TV, I watched Serenity without any expectations. The movie made me want to go back and buy the TV Series on DVD just so I know can understand the back-story more.

    I certainly hope there will be a sequel!

  8. Mal is not a vengeful sort of character though, he wouldn’t have been trying to stick it to the guy, or leave him with a fate worse than death. Mal let the operative live in memory of the other operative he had come to know, Shepherd Book. He believed that once the operative knew what kind of ‘sinless world’ he was working toward the operative would have his belief system shattered. Thus Mal transformed the operative into another potential Shepherd.

    As for the spaceship battle in the upper stratosphere, I think the Alliance and Reaver contingents pretty much wiped each other out so that the only people left alive was that last squad that showed up after River had sliced and diced the last of the Reavers. It wasn’t tantamount to the story line to do the full battle in expose. As for why the Reavers quit using the ranged weapons, I think it is rather obvious that they would have wanted River alive to rape.

    Me and mine are speculating on which characters will be pushing up daisies after the next movie. I think it’s going to be the Simon and Jayne. Jayne, of course, going out in a blaze of glory gun battle. I also think Saffron and Niska will make return appearances.

  9. I’m not sure it’s just a matter of Mal “letting” the Operative do anything. At the end we see the Serenity being completely refitted and repaired, apparently at some sort of Alliance base thanks to the help of the Operative. It’s also not clear Mal could kill him after that point — it was a pretty darn close fight the first time, so it’s not like Mal can just assume he’ll live through another fight with the guy.

    I’m not sure the Alliance can just automatically punish Mal anyway — hasn’t the Alliance been trying to get River back from Mal and not succeeding? The Serenity is already a pirate vessel that hides out from the law, not just because it has been harboring River. Sure, it could get worse if the Alliance made a major push to get them, but perhaps that’s the Operative’s point — the Alliance bigs are pissed, but not *that* pissed, they have other things on their mind.

    I also thought that the Operative’s change of heart at the end makes perfect sense based on what we know of his character. He says something about doing evil things for a good end — he believes that his actions are needed because the Alliance is a force for good, even if he himself does evil. Seeing that transmission challenges the “force for good” part of the equation, leaving his evil actions substantially less justifiable. He struck me as being almost like a religious fanatic (or Jedi?) that worships the Alliance. Seeing the truth about the Reavers shook his faith in that worship prompting him to suddenly act very differently — helping Mal and the Serenity get repaired.

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