I haven’t seen the “Firefly” series, which was pulled out unexpectedly by Fox and for which “Serenity” is a conclusion, or, as many hope, a continuation (there is enough room left for sequels). The writer-director Joss Whedon perfectly solved the difficult problem of making a movie interesting for “Firefly” fans and understandable by newcomers.
As a standalone movie “Serenity” may be considered as a short, low-budget, and better version of all 6 “Star wars” movies together. It is not overloaded with CGI, and does not suffer from a very convoluted plot as “Star Wars” does. Special effects are not “dubious”, as Roger Ebert wrote, but brilliant and show how much you can get without CGI. And “Serenity” is more human. Most of the characters in the movie are humans like us, just more willing to fight for their freedom if forced. Only River Tam (Summer Glau) is somewhat crazy at the beginning and... I stop here; I hate to give the plot away. Thanks go to Joss Whedon for the total absence of discussions in a galactic parliament and even the parliamentarians themselves (although they play a role).
Surprisingly, in addition to non-stopping action, spacecrafts, a computer geek and other necessary attributes of a space war craft movie, “Serenity” contains a quite important political message. It is packed in few phrases in just two episodes, but it is tremendously important. Roger Ebert tries to dismiss it by saying that “Serenity” contains “a little political satire”. No, these few phrases are about a key aspect not just of the world of “Serenity”, but of our world. Watch for them. And in “a little political satire” one does not expect indirect references to A. Huxley through W. Shakespeare (you will understand everything if you miss them; they are a sort of watermarks).
“Serenity” did not performed as expected at the box office. Well, if you give the director 200 millions instead of 40, actors, known to everybody (Harrison Ford or Russell Crow would fit in nicely), you well get a blockbuster, but a superficial one. If you give 40, you will get a good movie.
Even if you not a sci-fi fan, but still can tolerate nearly steam punk spacecrafts, give it a try.
By the way, “Serenity” is a rare western movie where a futuristic city was filmed on location in the USA and not in Shanghai.