Reviews: Serenity

Even watching Firefly first, skip this one unless you think Whedon can do no wrong.

So I watched the series with a friend recently. And once I realized that it was not the greatest thing to ever hit the networks, I enjoyed it. It was fun, and I was sad to see it go. I wish I could say the same for the movie.

The film is not a conclusion to the series. Oh, it kills a few characters and destabilizes the political climate, but it doesn't really tie up any of the character arcs or metaplot threads the series sometimes toyed with either. Mal still has his UST with Inara, Book's mysterious past remains a mystery, etc. Part of the problem is that the plot doesn't really have anything to do with the main characters. There are plenty of reasons why the crew of the Serenity might run afoul of the Alliance for a grand finale, but the film uses none of them. Even River's plot sort of gets lost, as it turns out the villains are after her, not because she is a flawed super soldier prototype on the run, as implied in the series, but because they think she might have overheard information about a completely unrelated cover-up. She was always the McGuffin, and now she's not even that.

Speaking of villains: the Alliance clutches the Villain Ball hard, engaging in mass murder for flimsy reasons, to cover up an incident which is equal parts horrific and Narm (and provides some unnecessary Arc Welding for the Reavers, to boot. Sensible world building was never Firefly's strong suit, and the MST3K Mantra can only go so far when the entire plot hinges on it). The villain's extremeness feels like an artificial way to hit the Godzilla Threshold, making all the protagonists' (well, mostly Mal, who I have always suspected the writers find more sympathetic than I do) questionable ethics and suicidal tendencies the only possible recourse. Honestly, it got so bad that after the first few deaths, I started a betting pool in my head on how many characters would make it out alive (to the writer's credit, I severely underestimated the number).

So to summarize: the lovable characters are pushed to the side in favor of a plot that makes little sense and involves them only in the sense that it happens to them, and the villains are cartoonishly evil, seemingly to make the distinctly anti-heroic Mal seem good in comparison.

Not all that impressed.

I liked Firefly a lot when I first saw it. It wasn't the BEST thing I've ever seen, and I have to say it's not Whedon's best work. However, it is VERY good, and I would have loved to see it last longer. So, naturally I decided to watch Serenity after I finished the series.

I wasn't impressed. The series basically took every writing trick Joss Whedon has and shoved it in, whether it fit or not. Want a pointless death of a major character? It happens twice! Want too much time spent focusing on an uninteresting, troubled girl? It's here! Want moral ambiguity shoved in your face until it becomes mind numbing? Wait until the crew decorates a ship with the bodies of dead little kids!

But honestly? What irritated me the most about this movie was the memetic badass: River. I was kind of interested in River in the series, partially because she wasn't the focus of the entire plot. Her super duper fighting skills that came out of nowhere felt like they were there because Whedon just needs to remind us that women are the greatest creatures on this earth. Added in with the fact her craziness just seems so much more irritating in this movie for some reason and I just couldn't take it.

Also, the movie made it practically impossible to like Mal. Which, is almost as bad as the River BS because he was my favorite character in the series.

Gave it a chance, major Values Dissonance. Not recommended for franchise newcomers.

Ordered it on Netflix to give the poor, defenseless Browncoats a little chance after they were so callously Screwed By The Network. I had NO idea about the setting or it's characters, only that everyone I talked to thought it was criminally underrated. Right off the bat, River is in the Crystal Spires And Togas Alliance school, scolding them for "Meddling... meddling," only to see that the scary, evil Leftists are brainwashing her. Suffice it to say, I was not expecting a giant "all welfare states are Orwellian" anvil in the face mere seconds into the movie. I tried to give it more of a chance to see if there was any ambiguity in this situation, but all I saw was more sanctioned culture-bashing.

Mal is an Ethan Edwards Expy who gets multiple, angst-filled, Jerk Justifications to make sure he can insult Granola Girl Inara, or anyone else, as much as he wants to. Zoe's supposed to be a counterbalance, but all I heard from her was "aye sir" or something along those lines, and an objection to the ship-disguiseing scheme at the end. Kaylee seemed like an amped-up version of Eliot Ried from Scrubs, while river seemed more like a co-dependent fembot sex fantasy than an independent Action Girl. Shepard and the operative have roles as Magical Negro and Strawman Political, respectively, but most of the male characters just don't get enough screen for proper introductions. I had to check Wikipedia just to find out Zoe and Wash were married.

These are all my personal Epileptic Trees here, but, based on what I've seen, I can not recommend the franchise. I know Shurg of Joss forbids me from What Do You Mean Its Not Political, but as someone who's had to defend their beliefs in (some forms of) "big government" and multiculturalism, I can't help but feel I was being caricatured by the Alience's Obviously Evil image. It's a rude, sweaty Punk Punk Space Western, and I've experienced the same Values Dissonance with traditional westerns and American Civil War movies too; nothing wrong with liking them, but nothing wrong with disliking them either. I had no problem with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and, and really liked Dr Horribles Sing Along Blog.

Despite how it's been marketed, this is not a good intro to the franchise, it's for long time fans only. Seinfeld Is Unfunny and not even Serenity will amaze everyone.

The Film Serenity Only.

Watching Serenity without ever having seen the series Firefly, I have come to the following conclusion: Don't watch Serenity without first watching Firefly!

It really makes all the difference. With no knowledge of the plot or story of the series, I went into Serenity completely unaware of what to expect. The film is thankfully straight forward enough in exposition and story to make Serenity understandable to the outsider. Unfortunately, nothing else works. Fans of the series will love Serenity's quirky dialogue, larger-then-life characters and boisterous action. I hated it for all those reasons. Occasionally the dialogue was funny, but more often then not it sounded stupid to the extent that I'd write the whole script off as a dreadful case of Narm. Fans may treat every repartee or exclamation as a crowning moment of awesome, but I was appalled when confronted with lines like this:
The Operative: Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
Mal: Aw, hell...I'm a fan of all seven.
[Mal headbutts the Operative and pulls the sword out.]

Then there is the issue of the villain. The Operative (perhaps better known as Lando) along with the Empire Alliance, is largely evil just for the sake of it, elaborately murdering defenceless scientists, drugging little children, and murdering colonies. Most of it seemed completely pointless. The actor was doing his best to make the Operative intimidating, but his character's excessive behaviour and pretentious dialogue completely undercut any chance of him being perceived as threatening. Even the little mad girl, Rivers, came across as more intimidating (and for good reason). They say a flick is only as good as it's villain. The Operative sucked. Do the math.

I can't stress how much difference it will make, watching the series first. Outsiders like me will not empathise in the slightest with the characters or the story without first getting to know the character progression throughout the series. If you are a Fan of Firefly, you'll probably love the film. If you aren't, you'll absolutely hate it.