Serenity - Spoiler-laden Review of Special Advance Preview Showing



One of the reasons I went to a preview was to see the movie before I inadvertantly got exposed to the big detail that I knew was in there somewhere.  I strongly, strongly, strongly advise that, if you have not seen the movie, even if you know a couple of the major plot-twists, don't read this - this is for folks who have seen the movie, and spoils even down to the detail level.

Start right off with the major spoiler (so if you're here kind of accidentally, and you don't want to know, stop reading and go away!) -

I should have seen it coming - it winds up being doubly predictable.  Wash in the movie has lost his unique position in the cast to a) Jayne and b) nobody.  His a) role is to be a voice of reason, a neutrally broader perspective to comment on Mal's plans when they're presented to the core group.  Jayne, for as much as this is done at all, takes that role here, which requires altering Jayne's role - although he still is the amoral son-of-a-bitch, all of those reveals are done in throwaway lines, mostly comical;  we don't see a character we shouldn't trust.  He can speak up and not be dismissed as just being concerned with saving his skin.  Wash's b) role is to be Zoes husband, present a unique relationship within the crew;  this solid, audience-linking bond is hardly presented to anyone who comes in not knowing them, especially prior to Wash's demise (and afterward, it doesn't come out, really, from the movie-Zoe, the not-series Zoe).  Wash is left to be the Funny Guy right-hand-man-who's-not-indispensable, so who better to die?  What worries me, and I hope I'm absolutely wrong about this, is the downplaying of this powerfully emotional and sexual interracial relationship.  It may have been a time thing, but I can't escape the nagging feeling that it's a Studio Thing ("Sorry, Joss, but that won't play well in [insert area of U.S. or international market here]).  Hope not.

And, of course, as a Whedon script, one has to expect such a major "twist," on a character with a strong emotional link to the audience.  In this case, it's just the tv audience, but still.  And the set-up, which is a lack of set-up, is Whedon schtick all the way.

I have some comments on how this was done as well.  The set-up had good features - killing off Book, which was well handled in perhaps the best scenes for a particular character in the movie, but which will probably misdirect the mildly-spoiled into thinking that they've seen the Big Thing that everyone has alluded to.  The bad feature is the actual death itself.  Structurally, its a double-surprise moment, and one drains the power from the other.  I had a large part of my consciousness going, "What just happened?" while another was "Oh my God!  Joss killed Wash!  That bastard!"  I believe a flash-cut showing that the danger really hasn't passed - an image through the port, an indication that Wash sees all is not well - would have a "boo!" quality separate from the "oh no!" quality of the outcome.

In other less big-time spoiler areas, it was satisfying that the movie strengthened some of the series' weaknesses:  it clarified what sort of "world," in terms of scope, that we are dealing with (even including a throwaway line that indicates that somehow the terraforming of a moon includes giving it Earth-normal gravity);  the technological aspects of this system held together better;  it downplayed the straight-from-wardrobe-storage Western oddities without losing the frontier flavor;  it did a better job of showing a culture with all sorts of Earth-culture influences blended together;  it improved the Mal-Inara relationship, removing Mal's mysogynist-disguised- as-whore-hater aspects.  They may still be there, of course.

The characters (and some comments on their potential if the 3-picture-deal works out):

Mal -
  there was some anticipation on my part that, without network input, Mal would be somehow grittier or darker, but he's very much like the series guy.  Nathan Fillion does a good job - a very good job - carrying this movie.  If it does well, he should reap much of the benefits.  Where Mal can go in a sequel is a little less clear.

River -
as mentioned in my non-spoiler review, River feels like more of a plot device than a character here.  If you know her from the series, I think that the movie will be more satisfying than if you don't.  And if you don't, you won't, as it seems that many of her problems are "cured" by events of the movie.  Its hard to imagine where the plots will go from here - how does this not become Buffy in Space and her quirky crew?  One other comment - the "young River" doesn't work, on a number of levels.  Given the nature of her flashbacks, the only reason to have another actress in that part was for the reveal, but too much is lost by not having Summer Glau injected into her own memories.

- much as he is in the series, no more, no less, although the character progresses a bit by the end.

Jayne -
a bit softened from the series, as described above, but a great part to play, something sure to open Adam Baldwin's options.  A character that a sequel could be built around.

- forced into a peripheral role by the plot, but not completely hidden.  A continuation of the series character.

Zoe -
warrior woman, for sure.  Mal's confidant and advisor, definitely.  Wash's wife, barely.  A soldier loses folks in a war, but her reaction to the loss of her husband is much too low-key.  It's not that it's not believable, but it's somehow not acceptable.  Without Wash, it's hard to see what Zoe will be.  Tonto, continued?  A new love interest (as long as its not Mal)?  The next casualty?

Inara -
also peripheral, although she gets a couple of good scenes.  Allows the gist of the Companion stuff to be introduced without having to get into the tangent of details.  Obviously a potential source of future plot lines.

Shepherd Book
- This is a character that really doesn't fit the ships crew in a movie, so even though there may have been movie-practicality reasons for removing him, it makes sense.  It's a shame we never got to know ye, Preacher (but they give him a clever line implying we never would), but he serves a critical emotional role in the film, and his death has meaning.  I also suspect that The Operative is supposed to be a version of Book's backstory - the clues are everywhere.

The non-spoiled version


Michael McDarby