'Serenity' (2005)/Written & Directed by Joss Whedon/Grade: A+
TV-show-based movies tend to suck so hard. There are, of course, rare exceptions, i.e. The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (2004) and Downton Abbey (2019). But Joss Whedon's Serenity (2005), the continuation/finalization of his cult classic series Firefly (2002-03), stands out as a particularly thrilling and moving payoff for its characters and story. I always find myself particularly moved by the arcs of Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, in his best performance to date), the captain of the titular spaceship, and River (Summer Glau), a mentally ill, traumatized girl who is wanted by The Alliance, the main antagonists. I relate to both of these people in a big way. Mal I relate to because he comes from a place of having faced tragedy and loss, and finally comes to grow past that and open up more to connection, which I have also managed to achieve myself. Fillion reflects that masterfully in every little gesture, every raise of the eyebrows, every every solemn expression.
River is relatable to me because the way she is written and performed is an incredibly compassionate portrayal of dealing with trauma and mental anguish. The progression from sheer internal torment, to discovering/facing its origins, to finally having that sense of relief when she comes to terms with it.
Additionally, The Operative, the villain of film as portrayed by Chiwitel Ejiofor, is a surprisingly intimidating portrayal of a true zealot. Dedicated to his cause beyond all reason or questioning, he's a perfect example of the dangers inherent in adhering too rigidly to one dogma.
The movie's visual effects are not exactly convincing, but they are energetic and made with passion, as are the action sequences. Largely consisting of fight scenes, these scenes are well shot by cinematographer Jack Green, well-choreographed, and slickly edited by Lisa Lassek. There's a fun chase which follows a bank heist the gang pulls off early on. The only time the action isn't so compelling is with a ship-to-ship battle in space. We've just seen this routine done so many times since it was popularized through Star Wars (1977) that it doesn't feel fresh anymore. However, Whedon makes up for that by raising the stakes throughout, in ways I won't spoil. What I will say, is that unlike X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), this has the balls to follow through with its dramatic choices. If you've not seen it or its source material, definitely check them out. It's one of my favorite movies, and the series my favorite show, for very good reason.