Prayer Focus
Movie Review


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Sci-Fi Action Adventure
1 hr. 59 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 30, 2005 (wide)
Featuring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Ron Glass
Director: Joss Whedon
Producer: Barry Mendel
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
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Relevant Issues
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The future is worth fighting for. / They aim to misbehave.

Yee Haw! Watching “Serenity” was definitely not serene! We all climbed aboard our galactic ponies and rode the vast winds of Serenity’s metaphorical universe. The three man, two women crew have to watch their backs as they crash through this post-war solar system divided among the cannibalistic Reavers and the ultra-oppressive Universal Alliance.

The Fox television show “Firefly” is reborn with it’s colorful characters intact. Repeating the the Star Trek phenomenon, “Firefly” was cancelled before it completed an entire season, but “Firefly’s” demand after DVD release was so impressive that the movie, under the new banner “Serenity,” got the go-ahead. And it’s fans will not be disappointed.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds (a gruff yet endearing Nathan Fillion) intends to misbehave throughout the universe, as he and his crew of scavengers run along the fringes of the galaxy trading items acquired by questionable means, some might even say illegal. Captain and crew are the last holdouts from the great war against the Universal Alliance, whose ominous threat has no bounds. Making sure his crew/family of rouges survive through their unending escapades is his only desire, until Captain Mal takes on two new passengers.

Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his telepathic sister River Tam (Summer Glau), who happens to be The Alliance’s new secret weapon, join the unsuspecting crew under the ruse of getting a short hitchhike to another planet. Their presence on the ship puts the once unnoticed crew in the spotlight of the evil Universal Alliance and the insatiable appetite of the Reavers who will stop at nothing to recapture River for the Alliance, so they may use her powers to enable them to finally rule the entire Universe.

Being caught between saving his crew and the passengers is a threat to the Captain’s passion to stay hidden and unchallenged on the galaxy’s fringes. So much so, that he makes the undesirable, but needed decision to sacrifice a comrade (the “one to save the many” scenario), on one of their “runs” through the seedy yet lucrative underworld. Longtime crewmate and friend Zoe (Gina Torres) brings this to the Captain’s attention, which sets off within him dividing thoughts of guilty feelings over the loss of this man versus the need for all to survive.

River Tam is a traumatized 17 year old “Reader” who was captured and programmed by The Alliance to use her exceptional telepathic powers as a weapon of destruction and eventual complete rule for the Universal Alliance. Rescued by her loving older brother (who alone knows how to control her outbursts of violent madness with one word—the Safe Word) and brought aboard the starship Serenity to escape, supposedly unnoticed by the cunning and apparently all-knowing Alliance. Due to their presence onboard, River and Simon set into motion unparalleled violence and mayhem.

Desperate to survive and desperate to do what’s right. Capt. Mal and crew take on the most colossal battle of their lives against the Alliance’s top man, The Operative (an elegant yet menacing Chiwetel Heliodor) who’s refined demeanor oozes with brutal malice just below the surface. He truly believes the message of the Alliance to have “A better world, a world without sin.” but seems to be blind to the fact he is killing innocent millions as the cost. Why would a man who believes in making the universe a better, sinless place concede to use an army of half-men half-cannibals who eat people while they are yet still alive?

Butting heads with crewman Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) who wants nothing to do with the turbulent teen and her brother: “Don’t push and I won’t push you!” defies the Capt. by spouting off, but deep inside he is fiercely loyal. Ace pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) is ruff and ready for adventure and madly in love with competent first mate Zoe, while engineer and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is all heart and carrying a torch for Dr. Simon Tam. Captain Mal has his hands full keeping the peace within the Serenity as well as the Galaxy he finds himself defending to the bitter end.

This galactic western is violent and yet appealing, especially to the 4.4 million people who weekly watched “Firefly” before Fox canceled it in 2002, and for the hordes of fans who’ve made the DVD a bestseller. As we race along through scenes combined with violent confrontations and endearing camaraderie the comedic sarcasm becomes oddly entertaining, in the same vain as the crew of The Enterprise. “Serenity” and “Firefly” were both created in the mind of Joss Whedon, the man also responsible for TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Whedon has taken this motley band of scavengers in a post-war, post-Earth, universe with the solar system divided between the false promise of a sinless Universe and the renegade ideals of a few who proclaim, “If you can’t do something smart, do what’s right!” and made us like them, in spite of the choppy editing and sometimes unbalanced scenes which include bloody confrontations and jokes within the same dialogues.

Described as “Kicking #@%* in the 26th century” on the Web site, “Serenity” is rated PG-13 and contains suggestions of rape and prostitution, although younger teens and tweens will not get the references outright. Christian parents (who may have watched the TV series) must use good judgment before allowing teens to see this film as it may be offensive by virtue of it’s scenes of drinking, blood and gore, gun use, cannibalism, coinciding with scenes of graphic violence. Characters are injured and killed, including children.

Profanities were few, but do contain 3 he**, 1 da**, 1 bast**d, 1 a**, “to he** with this,” “you, son of a whore,” turd, monkey sh**, and the f-word once. Note, this is a film full of metaphors about many subjects such as sex, death, and what is right and wrong. To the adult they stick out like a sore thumb, to the young they will go right over their heads. Be cautious and try to attend this film with your younger teens in case they have questions. Families who see this movie should talk about the obligations and choices facing people who oppose a totalitarian state. The secular idea that having sex is the same as true love. How do you decide when to risk your life for the greater good and to save the lives of others?

And the action is terrific, a sci-fi space saga with the heart of a western. The main characters relate without a hint of anything less than total commitment. A few strengths of the movie is its portrayal of capable and brave women and minorities and loyal and dedicated relationships between people of different backgrounds and heritage. Sin is referred to as “Pride” by one character, God is mentioned as the ultimate choice to turn to for strength and comfort. The Captain’s character shows mercy and forgiveness, strength in following through with hard decisions and compassion for the abuse of others. Everyone is shown willing to give up their lives to save another, loyalty is forefront. Although sin is presented in some cases jokingly: it is asked of the Captain during a fight to the finish, “Do you know what your sin is, Mal?” To which the Captain answers (as he tries to kill the “bad guy”), “Right now, I’m gonna go with wrath!”

In the end the Captain explains to River the first rule of flying (to a fulfilling and complete life) is LOVE.

Sin is a running thread through “Serenity” and is dealt with in a worldly fashion, although it is a nod in the right direction, because we all must deal with sin and with what is ultimately right and wrong. Sin only makes our lives more difficult than they already are. Only God’s spirit can come to the rescue (sorry Captain Mal). “And when he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” (John 16:8 NLT). This means that the Spirit teaches the difference between right and wrong, not any man.

By the impressions that He places upon our hearts, God has given us a spiritual “sense” about what sin is and what is not. A great gift to us, especially as we go through trials, because sin only makes our trials worse and takes us deeper into trouble. If we allow God’s spirit to act as our gauge for sin, we can avoid making sinful choices, finding ourselves on God’s path—which will ultimately take us through the trials of life.

Trials are inevitable in this life. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we have, or where we are, there will always be trials. Let’s ask the Spirit to convict us so that we hear only Him and will be able to allow Him to overcome those sins that would ensnare us. Allow The Spirit to lead us from glory to glory and victory to victory.

“And I will ask The Father, and He will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT).

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Viewer Comments


Positive—…What struck a chord in me was the fact that this was a FUN movie for a change, without relentless potty humor or body shots. This is a movie I would not hesitate to let my 11 year old see. There are NO serious moral or political overtones, except the importance of fighting the good fight, even when its not terribly popular—a theme I think most Christians can get behind.

Surprisingly one of the strongest female characters (I’m talking warrior woman) is also a dedicated and surprisingly feminine wife to the goofy adoring pilot/husband. There is some violence, but mostly the kung fu type (what my kids call “movie” fights—AKA fantastical). There is one very vague reference to Buddhism, but it concerns a minor character and is hardly anything that could be considered an endorsement. More importantly, there is a “yoda like” figure who, guess what, is a preacher. He is a moral compass and confidant for the captain when he needs a guiding hand.

The camaraderie of the crew and some subtle funny writing made this a great experience for me (not mind-altering or ground-breaking, but a great family popcorn adventure)…
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Tina Baver, age 32
Positive—This is one of the best sci-fi movies I have ever viewed. As a fan of the series, this movie would have been completely viewable by those who were not familiar with any of the characters or plotlines. The film is engaging from the beginning, and hilarious at times. Although there are plenty of non-violent moments, it never loses its grip on you. There are a smattering of swear words, and a couple of sexual references (both of them hilarious). There is also a great deal of action, though none of it really bloody (no decapitations or dismemberments that I can recall). Highly recommended for anyone who isn’t offended by a minor amount of swearing and sexual innuendo, and some rather menacing scenes during encounters with the Reavers
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Nathan Gundlach, age 21
Positive—This is an awesome, action packed movie that has an intensity level that I have not experienced in a long time. A must see movie for adults who can handle the violence. Better than the latest “Star Wars”. I would not recommend this for younger children. Serenity was very humorous at some points, thrilling at other times and just plain very enjoyable.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Leigh Michaelieu, age 39
Positive—…This film is about loyalty and about doing what is right in the most dire of conditions. I think that this is a theme that Christians should and will relate to the most. …This film revolved around human nature. What do we, as humans, do when pushed to our breaking point? Do we do what’s right, or what’s easy? Every character in this film does what is right. It might not be under the best circumstances, but the thing that is ultimately “good” is what prevails. There is compassion, there is care… there is an understanding that doing what is right outweighs all options.

I think this is a prime example of what Jesus taught. In a world of segregation and bias, he taught his followers as they all risked execution. It was about not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in…

We, as humans, are flawed. And this is exemplified in this film. There are violent acts, there are swear words, there are sexual references. Humans are trying to find the “spiritual”… For the spiritual person or the unspiritual person, this movie speaks to everyone. It ends with Captain Mal talking about the power of LOVE. And if that isn’t a sign that this movie sends both a good Christian and a good “life” message, then I don’t know what will…
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Nik Doner, age 23
Positive—I heard the reviews about this movie and was intrigued as to whether it would be worth watching. I had previously watched the television show that “Serenity” was based on. Overall, I quite enjoyed the movie. There were some scenes of violence and a few intense words, if you can call it that. By the movie standards that Hollywood is going by it was a rather tame movie. True there were alleged acts of cannibalism, some of which were audible, and the Reavers were somewhat ugly. In all honesty I can say that I would find a Disney film more disturbing than this one. Serenity tells a tale of camaraderie, love, bravery, fighting a corrupt government, sacrificing all for what is right. There are a few areas that one who is sensitive to such “shock” scenes would be offended, but all in all, it was a good film. To say its disturbing or whatever makes as much sense as saying that Bambi isn’t disturbing, a child abandoned, a mother murdered? You do the math.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Nic, age 21


Neutral—I wish I could give this movie a positive rating, but I found the story much too predictable, and the acting marginal at best. As far as this genre of film goes, I was not too disappointed though. You’re not missing a whole lot if you wait for the DVD, but then you would not be totally wasting your time to see the movie on the big screen.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Bob C, age 42
Neutral—There are Sci-Fi films, and than there are Sci-Fi films. This movie contains every interplanetary twist you could imagine from a civilization of savage killers known as the Reavers to a bizarre fascination with Chinese symbols and speech. The subtleties of “Serenity” could be interpreted in numerous ways. The government could be viewed as a dictatorship, or it could even be seen as an insanely bizarre slur against the United States for our supposed “meddlesome ways.” It depends mostly on you, the viewer.

Then comes the question of morality. Did these people do the right thing? They’re space pirates, literally, and nowhere near as adorable as Han Solo. The captain Mal will threaten lives if his authority is being questioned. I believed him capable of shooting his own crew if need be, so what does that say for his character? An old man by the name of Shepherd is apparently a retired minister who attempts to bring belief into the lives of Serenity’s crew. Unfortunately, he calls for belief, but only in the vast “something” not in God specifically. That ideology harms more than heals, whenever it’s put to any real use. These people will only assist others when it is in their best interest. Although, to their credit, at the end, Mal suddenly decides that some causes are worth fighting for. I just wish I knew how he came to that sudden and remarkable conclusion. Buddhism briefly intrudes.

Even with excellent casting and a fascinating storyline, the moral issues are disturbing, since none of the crew seem to reach any state of belief beyond their own abilities. The violence and gore also add to the overall rating of the film. Some of the elements are disgusting, not to mention the sexual problems. I went knowing there would be problems and pluses. But understand this, the film is anything but serene.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
—Carissa Horton, age 21


Negative—“Zombies get blown up by new-age space pirates” would be a more accurate title. My wife and I went to see this on the recommendations of friends and acquaintances (both born-again and secular) and were heartily disappointed. The violence was over the top, “misbehaving” was exalted, authority was always totalitarian, sex was equated with love, and the supposedly Christian “Shepherd” tells the captain “it doesn’t matter what you believe, just believe.”

The movie may have had some interesting ideas to explore, but they were lost behind all the unnecessary junk. I just wish I could reclaim those 2 hours of my life back.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
—Thor Ryan, age 33
Negative—CANNIBALISM! Warning: this is an extreme theme running through the ENTIRE movie! This movie is a horror movie thinly guised as a sci-fi adventure. I go to the theatres with a desire to come away refreshed by adventure or what-have-you. But while there’s the typical dazzle of today’s special computer generated sci-fi stuff, the horror of CANNIBALISTIC MONSTERS haunts the entire movie. I was not refreshed, but just grossed out by the whole polluted theme that in no way refreshes, but treats human life very, very cheap. I can really, like most guys, totally get into a movie that has the value of a human life held high, and when a life is lost in the movie, there is something about it that is noble. This movie treats humans in many respects like so much meat for the monsters, similar to “Predator,” “Jurassic Park” and so many other sci-type horror.

“Serenity”, though having a few funny moments, and even a tiny bit of “Matrix” style movement by a very creeped out young girl. These were by no means enough to cover the sickening feeling that ran from about 20 minutes in right through the whole movie. THE SOUNDS OF HUMANS BEING EATEN ALIVE BY THE CANNIBALS IS ALSO HEARD—VERY SICKENING!!!
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
—Lelly, age 50

Comments from young people

Positive—This film was a blast. It is not your normal sci-fi, leave your brain at the door flick I had been anticipating. The characters were very real, and your feelings were wrapped around each one as they go through this deadly universe, braving the odds. It actually made me depressed when major characters died, which is extremely uncommon. There are elements of horror, comedy, adventure, and suspense all bound in. The dialog is snappy, and entertaining. The movie’s plot is gripping, though fairly mature.

It is littered with graphic images that little children shouldn’t be subject to. Mal, the captain, appears, at first, like an uncaring slave driver. Now, while some of those aspects remain part of his character, others are explained, revealing a much softer side. He talks of love in the sense that some things just can’t work without love, like flying a ship.

Another major theme is loyalty, which is portrayed in a different way through all the characters. And, I must agree with an earlier comment, this film will leave you thinking long after you have left the theatre. While cannibalism is common among the reavers, it is not shown in detail, or really at all. But the inference is there. On the same note, cannibalism is scorned by the characters, especially Jayne: who is pondering, at one point, how can people get so twisted.

Right at the beginning of the movie, River says that the Alliance, a totalitarian state, is meddling, and that is why so many people have resisted it. “They tell people what to think.” She says. Here teachers response is “We don’t teach them what to think, we only teach them how to think.” Kinda sounds like today’s public schools. This movie is great. I recommend it to anyone looking for a thrill. I was kinda depressed after seeing it, though. Some cool characters die, but in the light of their sacrifice, the greater good succeeds.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Jeremiah Miller, age 16
Positive—…talk about a great movie. Far better than the 3 new Star Wars movies. As someone put it, it’s like a mix between Star Wars, Star Trek and a western. Can’t really think of too many sci-fi movies I liked better than it. One of the top 5 movies I have seen this year.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Daniel Robison, age 17
Positive—I was very impressed with this movie. My sister was a big hit of the TV shows “Firefly” in which this movie was based off of. I must say maybe I should start watching the show itself. This movie had a lot of action with a large cast of memorable characters. The occasionally scenes of comedy were not cheesy or over done like a lot of movies these days but just plain well… Funny. While an excellent movie with a lot of action and a great plot it does have some flaws. There is some gruesome violence in this film including these psychopathic Cannibalistic like mutated human looking creatures called “Reavers.” There is also some Erie stuff going on with one of the main characters being a psychic, and her occasional recollections of the past that are brought up from time to time may make you jump. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for younger children but other then that, if you’re looking for something to pick up a weekend night this is my recommendation.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
—Mark McDonald, age 16
Movie Critics
…clever and quirky character-driven space-based version of ‘Deadwood’…
—The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Duane Dudek
…feels like a TV show on a very big screen…
—Sun Newspapers of Cleveland, Gerry Shamray
…Witty… kind of like an outer-space kung fu Eastern Western, with monsters and snappy one-liners galore…
—Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Michael Machosky
…Furiously paced and packed with delightful characters…
—Orlando Weekly, Ian Grey
…violence can be a little intense, but foul language and sexual references are happily minor. SERENITY moves quickly and is never boring…