2005’s Serenity, a sci-fi tale of future smugglers getting caught up in a government conspiracy, is something of an odd duck in the film world. Movies based on TV shows are not unheard of, but they are most commonly reboots or parodies in the style of the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson adaptation of Starsky & Hutch, or the Dukes of Hazzard film starring Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott. These films are essentially small reboots, not intended to remain in-continuity with the original shows any more than Batman Begins is meant to be a ‘lost episode’ of the ’60s Batman series. Serenity is unique, in that it was released less than 3 years after the 14-episode TV series Firefly which it acts as a continuation of, and is very much intended as a canon ‘series finale’.
But first, the summary. In the year 2518, with humanity having left the ruined Earth behind for a new solar system and terraformed many planets and moons, smuggler Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew traverse space, taking any job they can. When the top assassin of the ruling Alliance Parliament catches up with Mal’s crew – and River Tam (Summer Glau), the psychic fugitive they harbour – they are forced with the choice of running and hiding, or unlocking River’s secrets and revealing them to humanity. This plot stems from the events of the series, where River and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) joined the crew, and viewers learned a great deal about the characters and setting.
Firstly, do I recommend Serenity in general? Yes, I do. I find it a brilliant, unique piece of science-fiction with a powerful story and an amazing cast. The low budget barely hampers the film, as writer/director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron) applies his funds wisely with a strong mixture of practical and digital effects. The bigger question, to me, is one of the importance of seeing Firefly before Serenity. Does watching them out of order ruin the experience? I would say the experience is not ruined, but is most certainly diminished. Serenity by its nature falls on the side of pleasing Firefly fans, and while it is largely understandable as a standalone tale, much of it would be rather confusing. Beyond that, watching Firefly first will at the very least be an improvement – prior understanding of the characters and setting makes it easier to focus on the tale, and gives greater impact to the twists and turns of the plot. All this, of course, is merely additional to the prevailing opinion that Firefly is an amazing 14 episodes of entertainment, and comes recommended even in isolation.
Serenity has been one of my favourite films for a long time, and I consider it brilliant. But any grade of the work must take Firefly into account – the two pieces of media are much too strongly connected for anything else.
7/10 for those seeing the film in isolation.
10/10 for Firefly viewers.