Now that my seething hatred of Joss Whedon and all his works has subsided a bit, I’m going to actually review the movie.
Setup: Malcolm Reynolds fought on the losing side in a civil war. Eight years later, he has a rundown ship, with which he and his crew take on not-very legal jobs on the outskirts of the society that beat his side. Two of the crewmembers are fugitives from the government: a doctor and his little sister, who was experimented on by a Top Sekrit Project to produce a telepathic supersoldier. The experiments suceeded, in that the little sister is very dangerous and telepathic, but she’s also a whack job on a fairly regular basis.
The plot revolves around River, the sister; as the Operative sent to retrieve her says, “You had ‘key members of Parliament’ here, and you put them in the same room with a telepath.” She’s discovered a secret that the government doesn’t want known, that being that they killed 30 million people on a colony planet, essentially by accident. They put a drug in the air supply that was supposed to make people calm and passive…and it did, so much so that all the colonists just sat down, stopped eating and starved to death. Except, of course, for the small percentage who became utterly mad, psychopathic flesh-eating Apache/zombies. (The Firefly universe is essentially a western, and in this western the Indian-analogues really are going to eat you alive, rape you to death, and use your skin for leather.) In the end, the crew manages to get evidence of this atrocity out to the public in general, at the cost of several crewmembers’ lives.
I have already mentioned how angered I was by Wash’s death, so I am not going to go into it further except to state that I wonder what it is about Joss that has made him decide that no happy relationship can go unpunished.
Granted that the diagram we’re shown of the solar system they inhabit is inside the head of a young lady who is not precisely sane; still, River’s the type who would have that sort of thing accurate even while her fantasy teacher is stabbing her in the head. We must assume that the clearly-out-of-scale system circles a large, young, hot star with a habitable zone several dozen AU in radius, starting much further out than Sol’s. I still suspect that the orbital dynamics just aren’t going to work.
We also have to say that the colonists left Earth before developing their terraforming technology; otherwise they could have fixed whatever went wrong. As there is no evidence of FTL travel, there’s plenty of time for the generation ships to figure this stuff out on the trip.
Next: Miranda and the Reavers. Explain again how the death or madness of 30 million people was covered up? I didn’t quite get it the first time. Not to mention that Miranda is shown to be out on the edge of nowhere, but it looks like a Core planet in terms of buildings and so forth. Perhaps it was settled on the sly for the express purpose of testing this drug, with a population drawn from those willing to leave their old lives behind in return for comfort? Plus, if it’s a drug that made the Reavers mad, how can they make new ones (Bushwhacked)? Maybe they start secreting the stuff themselves; maybe it really is psychological.
Mr. Universe. How can a character be a problem, you ask? That’s exactly it: he’s not a character. He’s a plot device. I didn’t care about him, and in the words of Wash “Curse your sudden yet inevitable betrayal!”
River’s final fight with the Reavers was wrong, wrong, wrong. I am willing to buy that she could take several dozen zombies, even in a space that small. What bugs me is that she did it starting from what was, for her, the worst possible state: already grabbed. These (5 or 6) guys should have been chewing on her ankles even as they pulled her away from the door, and someone who weighs less than a hundred pounds has to have a fighting style heavily based on Not Being There–which River does, as witness the bar fight; the one time she gets grabbed, from behind, she kicks the guy in the head to make him let go. This isn’t going to work on Reavers, who beat PCP users for not noticing when they’re hurt.
That being said, the movie rocks.
It’s got all the things I love Joss for: great characters, great interaction, nonstop action (in the sense of “interesting things happening” rather than “stuff blowing up”) and interesting visuals. All these little plot nitpicks? Didn’t occur to me till after the movie. Even when I was so furious I could hardly see, I wasn’t thinking about the movie as a movie.