I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Joss Whedon's Serenity last night. I'm definitely seeing it again this weekend, and I'll probably do another post about it then. But here are my initial thoughts. I'm not bothering to spare people for spoilers, but I'll try not to give anything too huge away (yes, there are huge things to be given away). Almost all of it is from the first few minutes of the film, if that makes a difference.
[SERENITY SPOILERS WITHIN]
If you're not a "Browncoat" (i.e., you're not so deeply invested in this film and the original series Firefly that you know this already), I'll give you the basics. The setting is 500 years in the future. The concept is a mix of Western and Sci-Fi. The culture is a mix of American and Chinese. "The Establishment" is represented by The Alliance - a core group of central planets whose mission in life is to create a kind of Utopia. Our heroes - the crew of the spaceship Serenity, led by Capt. Mal Reynolds - are part of the other folk, those who refuse allegiance to The Alliance and who fought a losing war against it. Gosh, this is sounding boring. :P I promise it gets better.
Aboard Serenity are Mal (the captain), Zoe (first mate), Wash (pilot and husband to Zoe), Kaylee (mechanic and resident sweetheart), Jayne (ambiguous badass), Simon (a doctor), and River (his sister with special needs who he smuggled aboard). River is quite gifted and her mind has been meddled with by The Alliance. There is quite a bit of tension between Mal and Simon because River is a handful, and Simon doesn't like that she's constantly in danger (he thinks). It turns out that, as part of her brainwashing, River has been conditioned and trained against her will as a skilled assassin. Think Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. To further complicate matters, The Alliance has hired an assassin of their own to collect River and keep her from telling Alliance secrets.
All of this is set up rather brilliantly in the first few minutes. I was concerned about how they would introduce all the characters without seeming like they were, you know, introducing all the characters. I think the movie probably could have done without some of the exposition - particularly the voice over at the very beginning - but it's not too distracting, and things get interesting soon enough. The film's first major sequence is a (sort of) flashback to Simon rescuing River from The Alliance, and it was great to see Simon be the Hero for a change.
Soon after this, we meet a man we only know as The Operative. This guy was my one major complaint with the movie. He seemed like a fairly boring villain, and one of those bad guys that has to tell you why they're bad, which is just a copout to me. But by the end of the movie I had changed my mind about him, because the real villain of the piece is The Alliance. They control The Operative just like they control River. So if The Operative seems like he's playing a "bad guy" character it's because, well, he is playing a character of sorts.
The plot with River and The Operative is certainly the major arc in the film, but I was amazed at how much of the other relationships among the crew Whedon was able to cram into the rest of it. One of the things I loved best about the show was the sense of family among all of them, and I think that absolutely translates into the film. There were a lot of great emotional moments. As it was in the show, I think the greatest relationship in the story is that between Simon and River. I mean, there's some great stuff with Simon and Kaylee, too (and Mal and Inara), but that fraternal love is just so pure and heart-grabbing.
I won't go into specifics, but the reveal of the big mystery is probably my favorite thing about the movie. Just outstanding. And you can completely buy that this is the kind of thing that Mal would stand up and fight for. It just really, really works. There are so many good things about the movie. I was worried about the action sequences - River's fighting in the trailer seemed a tad Patrick-Swayze-in-Road-House to me - but it's very exciting, edge-of-your-seat stuff. The flying and battle sequences leave Star Wars in the dust, as far as I'm concerned. And any qualms I had about the fight scenes with River were more than allayed by the time she went Black Mamba on a room full of Reavers.
Above all, I think the film really succeeds at being much more than just a longer episode of the show. The show could afford to take it's time, but the movie has no problem moving the story along a good little clip. It is very much a film, and doesn't for a moment get swallowed by the big screen.
I realize a couple of things as I type this. One, that I'm preaching to the choir with any Firefly fans that read this. You guys love the show, and you will no doubt love this movie. And two, that for the rest of you, I'm probably not the best person to be trying to give you an objective point of view about this movie. I'm head over heels in love with this story and the characters, and my opinion is severely biased. But I've really tried to look at it as a film and not just an extension of the fandom experience.