-- Brandon Gray
“Sci-fi is not the easiest thing to market, but if the story is strong enough, it will do well, regardless of the genre.”
-- Brandon Gray
I put the above quote on here because Serenity's the exception that proves the rule. With an 8.0 rating on IMDb, an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.0 user rating on Metacritic, you can't find a review site that doesn't agree that Serenity was incredible. And yet, it failed to make back its production budget until its home video release. It's a shame, because if this had been released in the present instead of 2005, where the trailers could tout "from the Director of The Avengers", this thing would've made some pretty crazy money, and we would've been treated to a likely franchise built around a promising start. Unfortunately, we live in the world where this was released 9 years ago, and will stand as the lone entry in its franchise until the end of time. That means it's my duty, nay privilege, to convince you to see it on the aforementioned home media. I promise you won't be disappointed.
The cast from the show "Firefly", upon which the movie is based, all return here to reprise their roles, although some of them are altered slightly to be more big-screen friendly. Because we don't have the time that a serialized TV show allows, we can't just cram 9 interesting characters onto the ship and trust that we'll give them all their time in the spotlight eventually. This allows us to focus on the ship's core crew of the Captain, Mal (Nathan Fillion), his first mate Zoë (Gina Torres), pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), muscle Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite). The movie is focused on the government's interest in the enigma River (Summer Glau), so she and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) who serves as the ship's doctor, also feature prominently. Along with The Operative, Inara, Shepherd (moved off the ship for the movie), and the crew's ally Mr. Universe, it's quite a cast of characters to juggle, but if that listing sounded confusing, I need only remind you how well Whedon juggled a similarly large cast in The Avengers.
Speaking of The Operative, one of the reasons it's a shame that more people didn't see this movie is that they missed out on a truly memorable villain. Acting on behalf of The Alliance, the ruling government, he has no name or official rank, but as he works directly for parliament, he receives deference from everyone else on The Alliance's side, commandeering ships and killing without consequence to achieve his goal. That sort of power alone doesn't make him memorable, however. How he views that power does. Admitting that he is a monster, he believes his actions will help create "a world without sin", one he freely admits he will have no part in. That sort of blind, devoted fanaticism along with several of his "trademarks" elevates him past most movie villains and into the sort of stratosphere normally reserved for the most revered of blockbuster villains.
Of course, a great villain is nothing without a great story (I'm looking at you, The Phantom Menace), and on that front, Serenity doesn't disappoint. It takes the bogeyman from the TV show, The Reavers, and tying them and the revealing of their origin into the government's hunt for River, gives the movie plenty of ground to cover. Whedon is obviously up to the task, and you'll see the roots of plenty of The Avengers dialogue in the witty, sarcastic banter between these characters. He makes incredible use of his film's meager (by sci-fi's standards) budget ($39 million), with plenty of different sets, planets and space battles, complete with visual effects that put plenty of higher-budget entries to shame. The acting is also top-notch with Fillion and Baldwin in particular definitely enjoying their roles, so it's no surprise that many of the cast members have gone on to further success in different TV projects, with "Castle" and "Suits" boasting several veterans of "Firefly".
Fox mismanaged "Firefly" from the beginning, choosing to air an episode out of order for the premier, so it's no surprise that it was cancelled after one season, but if you see the 14 episodes that were shot along with Serenity, you'll feel pretty disappointed that that's all the time you get to spend with the characters. If you had told me when "Firefly" was on the air that some aspects of the show, beyond the visuals (with the extra money a movie gets), could actually be improved by a switch to the big screen, I would've said you were nuts. But after seeing Serenity do just that, trading the slow reveal of multiple backstories for a greater focus on the story, showing no growing pains in its migration to film, I would like to propose a tweak to the above quote. "Sci-fi is not the easiest story to tell, but if the story is strong enough, it will translate well, regardless of the media."
The pinnacle of what sci-fi can be with witty dialogue, impressive visuals, and an underlying message