Friday, May 02, 2008

Serenity is a pile of steaming poo

Geez, where to begin?

You know how there are those times that you watch something, and it's nothing special, but all your friends seem to like it, and so you guess the problem must be with you and you give it a second go and - WOW! - why didn't I notice how great this was the first time? Like with Beavis and Butthead for me. And then you know how there are those other times that no matter how much your friends like something it just doesn't bleedin' matter because you know what you saw, and it was horrible, and you kinda just don't wanna talk about it because you might end up hating your friends for liking it? Yeah - Serenity is this kind of thing.

I won't say it's the worst movie I ever saw - because Jesus still won't let me unsee When Harry Met Sally or Flashback or Knocked Up. But it's certainly low on my list.

The only nice thing I could possibly say about this movie would require me to know, first-hand, that Joss Whedon had made a bet with someone to see how many tired Hollywood cliches he could cram into a 2-hour trainwreck that people would actually pay to see. And even then it would only carry so far, because he left out the mother-of-all-scifi-cliches - the "Hi guys, this is my ex-lover who walked out on me under mysterious circumstances 7 years ago, and did I mention she's now evil?" So he probably lost his bet. But if he did it wasn't for lack of trying.

But who am I kidding? This "film" wasn't made on a dare - it was actually meant to be taken seriously. And I just can't get my mind around that.

So what do we have? Well, on the surface, it looks like the big screen continuation of a show I really enjoyed. We have something that looks kinda like the ship. Check. And then there are all the same actors I remember from before. Granted, they have gratuitious "we're in a movie so we changed our hair" hairdos, but whatever: Check. And they still drop into Mandarin occasionally and say corny-country things like "I aim to misbehave." Check. And the characters all have the same names they did in the TV show, and the character names go with the right faces. Check. And this still thinks it's clever for boldly going where everyone has been before and blending space opera with western. Check. But aside from these superficial similarities, this just ain't Firefly.

Even from the beginning it isn't. We're treated to an insider's view of Simon's rescue of River from the facility, only it just can't have actually happened this way. In the series, "what happened to River?" is sort of the central mystery. Simon doesn't realy know - just that some experiments were done on her. Indeed, the whole McGuffin of the Ariel episode was that Simon needs to sneak into a core world hospital to do a proper brainscan to get his first clue what went on with River. But now we know he could have saved himself the trouble and just let his memory of Expository Dialogue he heard a year ago do all the work for him. Because in this new version of events, Simon just waltzes into the top secret facilities, asks the doctor what's going on, and the doctor tells him - all while his sister's sitting there with a very conspicuous needle in her brain. Christ almighty, Joss Whedon really is liberated from this bourgeouis "continuity" thing, eh? And then there's the idea of Simon - SIMON TAM - pulling off a kidnapping caper. A - HEM. Certainly not the Simon Tam we know from the series. I mean, yeah, wheeled her out through the front door in a wheelchair pretending to be a specialist, sure. But full-on breach-of-security hang-from-the-ceiling and run-past-the-shooting-guards? Don't think so.

But hey, Simon's not even the worst of the lot. Each and every one of the characters we see is an imposter. They look like the characters we know. They sound like them. But they're not them. They're pitiful, one-dimensional stunt doubles who in place of dialogue now speak near-fluent "One-Liner." No evidence is to be found anywhere that Whedon didn't simply have a computer generate the script. Let's cut right to the chase and start with Kaylee - because she's the worst of the botch-jobs on parade here. Since when is Kaylee brave? Kaylee's a sweet kid, and violence absolutely shuts her down, as we saw clearly in War Stories and Objects in Space. Yet suddenly she's a gun-blazing frontierswoman? And yeah, we knew she was horny - but in the series this was done right - because she's very girly about it. She's fixated on Simon, but since Simon constantly drops the ball she'll settle for Tracey in The Message. The point in both cases being that she wants male attention as much as sex, and while she'll flirt and prod, she won't ask. The amazon who's taken her place, though, complains loudly that she hasn't had more than a vibrator in over a year, and all but tells Simon to get his ass in gear. So yeah, the ship's mechanic is still a female who happens to be named Kaywinnit Lee Frye, but she ain't Kaylee. And Mal isn't exactly Mal either. Right, yeah, I got it - it was established in the pilot that Mal has a harsh edge when Inara's not around. And in the pilot, that was an admirably subtle bit of characterization. Here in the movie? He's just a meat-headed bastard who alternates between stock self-congratulatory jokes and yelling at people. And remember the Mal who told Simon in Safe that he went back for him because he was part of the crew?

You're on my crew. Why we still talking about this? (his back to him, as he goes) Chow's in ten. No need to dress.

Yeah, well, that guy's nowhere to be seen. The man in his place is openly resentful of all the trouble that Simon and River have put him through and constantly reminds Simon how much they owe him. Jayne? You know, the walking macho stereotype who as early as the first episode shows signs of complexity when he secretly keeps watch over an injured Kaylee? The "dumb guy" who's sharp enough to be the first one to see through Shepherd's front, even though he doesn't say anything? The "meathead" who sends half his take to his mom and gets genuinely excited when she sends him a goofy home-knitted hat? In the movie, he's just the dumb muscle Rambo-stereotype half of this equation. They went and forgot all the other stuff. And so it goes with character after character. Wash is no longer the happy-go-lucky out-of-place but witty joker. To the extent he has a role, it's mostly to pull off Scotty-maneuvers (you know "Cap'n the engines are gonna blow!" "We're counting on you Mr. Scott." "Ok, done.") and get killed. (OOPS! I mean: spoiler warning!) And Inara? The less said about Inara the better. Aw, hell, even I'm getting tired of this. The characters just aren't the characters we came to know and love.

There is actually a plot, but it doesn't exactly work. The Alliance sends a psychopath (you can tell, 'cause he's a conspicuously BLACK, and in Whedon's universe, that's all you need to know) to track down River. Never mind those dudes with the blue gloves. Pretend you never saw them. Instead, now, we have "The Operative." And in this character we're treated to a main course helping of Joss Whedon's "I'm clever because I included a cracker-jack surprise TWIST in your corn flakes." You see, The Operative is a bad man with a good motive. He wants to build a perfect future, and he's discarded all morality to make it happen. Get it? This is Complexity™. The sad thing is, this is an important theme, and I'm glad to have it in a Hollywood blockbuster. Ideologically, I couldn't possibly agree with this movie more. The leaden Point that it hammers is that Social Engineering = Bad. Right! That's absolutely freaking right. That's the whole core of my politics. So I WANT to like this movie, and I WANT to believe in the Operative as a character because he IS the very model of evil to me.

Unfortunately ...

They destroy all the credibility they built up in a puff of pale blue powder at the end. All it takes is a single video of something nasty the Alliance has done to convince the Operative to change his mind - in the nick of time, no less, saving our heroes from death in a hail of bullets. Bucept this change of heart is COMPLETELY IMPLAUSIBLE for someone who has been killing innocents left and right up to this point just to find one girl. I mean, this guy's whole moral code seems to consist of only "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs." So the Alliance broke some eggs trying to pacify a population. The experiment failed, granted, but everything the Operative has said up to this point makes clear that he approves of this kind of thing, and would think that a couple of botched jobs are par for the course in the service of History. Something about this one was just special, I guess...

Oh, it's just too much. This movie is a pile of steaming poo, and the best thing I can say about it is I will never, ever, have to sit through it again.


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