Firefly ended with a whimper in December 2002 when Fox finally broadcast the pilot. Yippee. Just in time. The last episode produced was a very well-made, tense episode written and directed by Joss Whedon and full of existentialist philosophy. It’s good, but not much of an ending, especially since a guest star steals most of the scenes from the regular cast. Luckily, Firefly did well enough on DVD that Universal gave Whedon the chance to make a feature length film that wraps things up quite nicely.
The differences from the regular series are rather dramatic. The lighting is better, the effects are superior, and the stakes are higher. Generally, all of these changes are for the better…though there’s now sound in space battles. The film dives into the central unresolved plotline of the series: what exactly has the Alliance government done to the girl River, and what will be her and her brother’s fates as runaways from the powerful interplanetary government. The government hires an assassin (the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) to track River down, and he draws her out by triggering her to beat up a bar full of people. Mal and the Serenity crew go on the run, and stumble upon a secret colony and hints about the origins of the brutal, mindless Reavers that plague space. It’s fast-paced and full of action. On its own, the fact that character moments tend to be overwhelmed by the fighting and the chasing and the shooting and the stabbing would be a problem. But, as the pay-off of an entire season of a character-focused show, it’s perfect.
So, it’s a great capstone. I know a lot of people who have watched the film without the show and enjoyed it find, but I think it comes off best as an over-sized, bigger-than-television series finale for a show that clearly deserved one. It’s not perfect – there are a few clichéd absurdities (people always live long enough to give a dying speech; an impossible to reach piece of equipment straight out of Galaxy Quest), but I found them pretty easy to overlook. My only real problem with Serenity is that there’s no more material with these characters (well, except for some comics).