Aug 22, 2007 at 12:00 am

From the Vaults

Imagine if instead of three lame-ass Star Wars prequels George Lucas had decided to make a kick-ass Han Solo movie instead. That'd be pretty cool, huh? As my Aunt Millie used to say, "From your lips to God's ears."

Luckily, TV wunderkind Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) stepped up to the plate and created the next best thing: FOX's short-lived sci-fi series Firefly, a swaggering space western that followed the exploits of a cynical Han Solo-style smuggler named Malcolm Reynolds. Scheduled, rescheduled and broadcast out of order, the show (for reasons FOX execs could never understand) never found an audience. That is, until the series was released on DVD. Some 300,000 units later, Whedon talked the studio into letting him make the modestly budgeted Serenity.

Compressing what is obviously a season's full of revelations into a single movie, Whedon delivers a relentlessly entertaining adventure filled with colorful characters, creepy villains and a universe that feels familiar yet fresh. It's a tricky juggling act the writer/director tries to pull off — satisfying fans of the original series while delivering a film that won't confuse newcomers — and, remarkably, he almost succeeds.

Though Firefly fans may complain that the show's beloved supporting players get pushed to the margins, Serenity is filled with enough personal moments, thoughtful plot complications and rambunctious charm that it overcomes its narrative missteps and thumbnail characters.

What stands out most is Whedon's savvy use of humor. His snappy one-liners consistently delight, emerging from the character's personalities rather than some file drawer filled with stock repartee. As a result the laughs are always earned and never feel forced. This provides an effective balance to Serenity's sociopolitical subtext and brutal willingness to kill off likable supporting characters. Where most films end with a lot of empty noise, Whedon generates tension with an action-packed climax that threatens real loss.

Immersive and fleet-footed, Serenity is an engaging space romp that boldly and frantically blends genre conventions while taking its audience, but never itself, too seriously.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].