As weird as it is to see the nice-guy, pushover boyfriend from “Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place” (Nathan Fillion) kill a guy, “Serenity,” Joss Whedon’s full-length extension of his failed TV series “Firefly,” manages to succeed as a reasonably enjoyable flash bomb of an old-school space adventure.
The title refers to an old airship manned by a crew of roguish ex-soldiers from a relatively recent interplanetary war. Having lost that war, its crew (led by Fillion) now lives as a band of criminals. Unknowingly, they take in an innocent-looking adolescent girl who turns out to be some sort of naturally born seer with an unparalleled aptitude for hand-to-hand combat – one that wouldn’t be so bad if she were not being pursued by powerful and unyieldingly brutal government agents.
Writer/director Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) wastes little time getting started. After a background briefing (albeit a streamlined one), the film immediately wrenches itself into full throttle and never eases off. Unfortunately, this creates a strange new monotony, one in which there are so many flailing swords and explosions that an audience builds up a kind of tolerance for them. After about an hour, guys eating other guys alive just doesn’t garner the same emotional poignancy that it might have had the action been broken up a little more.
This problem may arise from the influence of television via the original series, in which episodes are usually only an hour long. In that case, the audience doesn’t have time to go numb, but here, the longer format leads to chronic over-stimulation. The TV influence also shows through in the editing and in the set design; music comes in at unusual moments, and some of the ship’s control panels are comically artificial.
The ship also seems a little too familiar: An old crusier carrying a crew of rebels and one fearsome, prophetic fighter? I guess they’ve never even heard of the Nebuchadnezzar.
The huge redeeming quality of the film, though, is its intelligent dialogue. When the stars do put down their blasters for a moment, they usually have something meaningful to say – without resorting to the over-the-top magniloquence found in, say, “The Matrix” trilogy. “Buffy” fans will be pleased to find that the same lyrical aptitude present in Whedon’s TV shows is also present in this movie.
A thinly veiled series finale seems a little bit of a scant premise for a feature film, but “Firefly” and “Buffy” followers will no doubt go home with satisfied grins and a little under-arm moisture.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars