Serenity is a very, very satisfying movie, and that was a tough trick to pull. A movie based on a beloved (yet short-lived) TV series and written and directed by a man frequently called a genius has to be great to satisfy. I really don’t think that this movie would be any good if it was merely good.
On the way to the theater I expressed this fear to my wife, and she said, “Of course it will be great! It’s Joss Whedon, he’s a genius!” I replied, “Ever seen Alien: Resurrection?”
What really stood out was the writing, of course. The characters are mostly drawn from action film archetypes (there’s the amoral tough guy, the spunky woman [well, several spunky women], the conflicted leader) and they could have been cardboard flat. Instead they were all very human, reacting to situations and each other unpredictably, but always in ways that make sense. There were also lots of classic Whedon bits: extremely funny lines in the middle of intense action, emotionally crushing blows, and lifting moments of victory. Sometimes all three in the same shot.
Afterwards, Zombyboy (he’s got a review with links to other reviews posted here) mentioned that he saw a strong anarcho-libertarian thread running through the picture. He’s absolutely right. Mal, the captain of the Serenity, fought on the losing side of a rebellion against the autocratic Alliance. Now he thinks only of himself. Well, only of himself and his crew. Well, only of himself and his crew until the good of the entire universe gets in the way.
That might seem like a contradiction, how can one be an anarcho-libertarian while trying to better the whole of humanity? In fact, at one point Mal says, “The Alliance is trying to make us better, and I don’t hold to that.” But Mal isn’t trying to make anyone better, he just wants the freedom for everyone to be better (assuming that’s what they choose). And he’s using the most powerful weapon he’s got to fight government control.
That weapon is information. One important character is a kind of hacker whose tagline is, “You can’t stop the signal.” It’s a great summary of the power of information disseminating technology, whether it’s the printing press, TV, or blogging. (It’s also the title of Steve Green’s review, not-so-incidentally.) The idea that a small band of individuals working together, even though they have different and sometimes conflicting motives and goals, can manage to do more for the cause of freedom than an armed rebellion is very powerful, and is the real theme of Serenity.
That sounds really heavy (and boring) but trust me, the movie isn’t. It’s hilarious, moving, intense, and just plain wonderful. Please see it this weekend so they’ll make another.
(I figure I should say just one negative thing about the movie: the great theme song from the TV show was [almost] entirely missing.)