TV producer Joss Whedon brings his short-lived futuristic series Firefly to the big screen with Serenity. Long-awaited by its ardent fans, the feature film — his first — attempts to examine how young people deal with loss in a post-9/11 world.
Yet he can’t resist the urge to fall back on his TV-honed glibness and hackery, pandering to teen self-righteousness.
Whedon’s young hero Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) helms the spaceship Serenity. He’s a veteran soldier who lost a civil war against the Alliance, a ruthless imperialist power. Along with his rag-tag crew, Malcolm is now resigned to making money through petty banditry and shuttling passengers on his ship.
Unknowingly, he picks up two fugitives from the Alliance — a young doctor and his creepy sister. The girl, gifted with telepathic powers, has been conditioned by the Alliance to kill. When an operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) seeking to reclaim the girl targets Serenity, Malcolm and his crew are pulled into a war they sought to avoid.
Seeking to convey “realism,” Whedon dismisses the striking futuristic visions of films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. The lack of digital f/x would have been admirable had Whedon’s compositions been less shallow and offensively drab. But, unsurprisingly, Whedon has a TV eye; he degrades cinema.
As on Whedon’s shows, the characters in Serenity speak in variations of wiseass. Fillion’s hero appears less like a war-hardened space cowboy than a perpetually hungover college student. His adolescent angst is even more absurd when contrasted with the quiet intellect of Nigerian-British actor Ejiofor, the only truly adult presence in the film (yet Fillion’s crudeness and entitlement triumph). Only in a film made for children could a performer with such exquisite faculties be this wasted.
Opens September 30th