So I saw Serenity at the weekend (warning, some spoilerage ahead). And I thought it was quite a good film: the plot is coherent and keeps moving, the dialogue is well-written and rarely plods, the effects are nicely done and the actors are pretty good.
But I don’t think it quite gets the gushing plaudits everyone has been giving it (such as these). It is already #125 on IMDb’s top 250. Yes it’s good, but it has its flaws. The political allegory is simplistic and in-your-face. The romantic subplots are clich? from start to finish (X and Y each holding a torch for the other without realising the other’s own feelings; P and Q have split up but Q has been longing to get back with P, although she doesn’t know it).
And the characters…. well, it illustrates the problem with TV series spinoffs. While regular fans of Firefly will be more than happy with the film, an outsider who has hardly watched any of it (like me) will take the film will see it and find them quite lacking. There’s too many of them, it’s tricky to empathise with them, to get a handle on any sort of development through the film. The only character of real interest was the nameless assassin (played quite excellently by Chiwetel Ejiofor), the dark, amoral but also highly moral killer – which isn’t surprising, since he was not in the regular series and so the film has to work a bit more to paint his picture.
This is pretty much endemic to any TV series spin-off (e.g. the Star Trek movies), with so much characterisation covered by the original series, the films can take it as a given. Fine for fanboys, not so good for the rest of us. To Joss Whedon’s credit, he has remembered this and made the rest of the movie so good that the layman can still find plenty to enjoy – even though I found myself not caring whether Dr. Tam died or not at the end. Go see it and enjoy it, just don’t expect it to be a stand-alone classic.