Flightplan, the new thriller with Jodie Foster, won the box office last weekend with a $14 Million take. Just behind it, at about $10 mil, was the new sci-fi opus, Serenity. I haven't seen the former, but I suspect that Serenity (which I have seen) is better. Way better.
What writer/director Joss Whedon has rustled up with Serenity is an honest-to-God western in space, in the best possible ways. Meaning: one, it's largely character-driven, and two, it's a great, rip-roaring action flick made all the more engaging because you're emotionally invested in the characters.
The principals, headed up ably by Nathan Fillion, display easygoing, humorous, and unaffected camaraderie. The self-contained mythology that Whedon and company create feels nuanced and genuine. The special effects impress without drawing attention to themselves. The villain (an assassin played with icily charismatic inscrutibility by Chiwetel Ejiofor) exudes unforced charisma. The script, while rooted in formula, takes just enough little turns to keep even a grouch like me pleasantly surprised. And Serenity may be based on a TV series (Firefly), but it hardly shows its seams, with Whedon marshalling some genuinely cinematic vistas and setpieces without underselling the human inhabitants of his little universe.
My exposure to Firefly was confined to a cursory glance at a couple of episodes. I admired what I saw, but I never became a hardcore fan. After seeing Serenity, the missus and I ran (literally) to pick up the TV show on DVD. That's powerful proof that Whedon's done something plumb right here.