Joss Whedon's feature-film adaptation of his much-loved television program Firefly marks his big-screen directorial debut. The movie may enchant some newcomers, but it was obviously constructed primarily for the enjoyment of the series' hardcore fan base. This can create a very sharp divide among viewers, as pre-existing fans will most likely remain enthusiastically approving of the film, while outsiders will probably find it less compelling, despite some backstory offered in the narrative to let its story potentially stand alone. This may be a simple matter of target audience, however, as Serenity unabashedly offers itself directly to its cult followers -- though it gracefully avoids indulging in the in-jokes that rendered the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie franchise too embarrassing for general consumption.
Nathan Fillion, the only member of this ensemble cast that could arguably be described as a protagonist, delivers a likable and nuanced performance as Mal, the ragged captain of the freighter ship for which the movie is named. Mal's resilience is tempered with a wry cynicism as well as with a humanity that only selectively becomes more than a subtle internalization. The surrounding cast members offer nothing less than their absolute best performances as well, though fans may be disappointed that the time limits don't allow all characters extensive screen time.
The fight, flight, and general action sequences in Serenity are beyond engaging, and the resolution of each would cause any enthusiastic audience to erupt in applause. The plot itself is smartly written, exploring and explaining cliff-hanging elements of the series that would no doubt have been fleshed-out had the show not been canceled. It brings each of the characters -- all of whom are portrayed with elegance and affection -- to a completely new place both personally and logistically. This is what makes Serenity so much more than an elongated episode of Firefly: the landscape in which the story takes place has been reformed, creating in many ways a completely different world for these people to explore. In the end, Joss Whedon triumphantly breaks new ground in the genre of science fiction, defying all odds to tell his story. It's very possible that even some sci-fi fans who've never seen Firefly could enjoy coming along for the ride. It's refreshing to see a universe that is neither utopian nor dystopian, characters who are both flawed and forgivable, and a sense that none of us are safe, but none of us will survive without hope that we will be.