There are two movies out there called Serenity. One was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike and has become a cult classic. The other has been ravaged by critics and had a record-low box office opening for its A-list star. The former was the movie adaptation of the short-lived TV series Firefly.
PREVIOUSLY: The Most Brutal Reviews of Serenity
The latter is a new drama written and directed by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, and due to its divisive nature, it could go one of two ways: it’ll either get swept under the rug and forgotten forever or be re-evaluated by a cult audience of its own. Before the world makes up its mind, here are 5 Reasons Why Fans Love The Movie (And 5 Reasons Why They Hate It).
10 HATE: THE MELODRAMA
It’s not impossible to make a drama film that doesn’t devolve into a soppy, schmaltzy, trite, melodramatic mess. In 2018 alone, we had A Star is Born and Roma and The Hate U Give and Green Book and Boy Erased showing us how it’s done. And then we have Serenity, which has the dramatic depth of a soap opera.
Critics have already drawn parallels with Collateral Beauty and The Book of Henry – two other dramas that were anchored with major Hollywood stars and surrounded by awards buzz whose soapy melodrama turned out to be the fundamental flaw that led to their failure.
9 LOVE: THE CAST
Whatever viewers thought of the script or the directing or the movie as a whole, it’s impossible to deny that Serenity has a great cast. It reunites Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway (even if Hathaway’s character is written as a painfully cartoonish and two-dimensional femme fatale) as the central duo, while Diane Lane and Jason Clarke provide solid support.
These actors can’t save the lame duck script, but they do give it their all, and as always, they are watchable in their roles. But then the same could be said of most bad movies starring talented actors.
8 HATE: THE FINAL ACT
The final act of a movie is supposed to be the most exciting. It’s when the Rebels blow up the Death Star or Ripley confronts the xenomorph or Brody stuffs a scuba tank in the shark’s mouth and shoots it. However, Serenity’s final act is also its silliest, which is the last thing you want in a mystery movie.
It’s almost unbearable. Critic Tim Brennan might have put it best: “During the last half hour, the movie doesn’t just go off the rails; it hits a mountain, explodes, and the fiery wreckage strikes a bus full of nuns and orphans, also causing them to explode.”
7 LOVE: THE UNPREDICTABILITY
While the plot twist can be seen coming a mile off, as it’s hinted at even in the opening shot and unsubtly signposted throughout the whole story, the movie itself in unpredictable. It starts off as a modern-day film noir with a classic everyman and femme fatale involved in a mysterious and intriguing setup.
But then it takes a drastic left turn. While we can see this coming, what we can’t see coming is the tonal shift that comes along with it. It becomes a different movie entirely – its genre changes. How many movies can you name that have done that?
6 HATE: ITS DEPICTION OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
Domestic abuse is a very serious issue, so if you’re going to tackle it in a movie that’s meant to be entertainment, you have to be very careful in how you depict it. Unfortunately, that is not what Steven Knight did when he made Serenity.
His handling of the delicate and serious topic of domestic violence is so ham-fisted and unrealistic that it’s more likely to make your eyes roll than shock you. Serenity is like Sleeping with the Enemy meets Ready Player One. The Honeymooners gives a more honest depiction of the horrors of domestic abuse.
5 LOVE: IT HAS TO BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED
Serenity is so completely nuts and out there that it has to be seen to be believed. You have to watch the movie in order to comprehend that it even exists in the first place. In that sense, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a leprechaun.
But how can that be a bad thing? If, like a train wreck, you both don’t want to look and can’t look away while the movie is playing, then surely that’s a good thing. Cinema is all about the experience, and if something has to be seen to be believed, then it must be quite the experience.
4 HATE: ANNE HATHAWAY'S CHARACTER
Anne Hathaway is one of those movie stars who is constantly getting flak. She’s known as one of the most hated stars in Hollywood, and yet no one really knows the reason for this. With the right role, whether that’s Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada or Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, she can be a fantastic actor.
Her role in Serenity has clearly been written by Steven Knight with the classic femme fatales of the film noir in mind, a character you don’t know if you can trust. But as one critic has already pointed out, she’s closer to Jessica Rabbit than Phyllis Dietrichson.
3 LOVE: THE ORIGINALITY
Love it or hate it, Serenity is an original movie. It’s rare these days that we see original stories at all. Everything is an adaptation or a reboot or a sequel. But this is not only an original story with original characters – it has its own genre. You would be hard pressed to find a movie that’s anything like Serenity.
It can be enjoyed purely for its existence. Science fiction elements are brought into this noir-ish, seemingly grounded tale of a quaint fisherman – no one’s expecting that. It might just be Serenity’s originality that has made so many viewers reject it. Perhaps it will be appreciated as an underrated masterpiece in a few years when everyone’s had time to wrap their heads around it. It’s never a bad thing to try something new.
2 HATE: THE PLOT TWIST
The best plot twists plant seeds and hints before the big reveal, but the plot twist in Serenity is such an insane left turn that it doesn’t work as a rug-pull. It doesn’t make the viewer scream out, “Oh my God!” in excitement; it makes them groan, “Huh...?” in confusion. The twist (SPOILER ALERT!) is that Matthew McConaughey’s character has been dead the whole time and he’s actually living in a video game being played by his sadistic son.
Yeah, it’s that stupid and incongruous. It’s a plot twist befitting an abysmal episode Black Mirror. No paying moviegoer deserves that.
1 LOVE: IT'S SO BAD IT'S GOOD
Serenity is so misguided and poorly made that it can be enjoyed for its terribleness. It’s not on par with the likes of The Room or Battlefield Earth on the so-bad-it’s-good scale, but it is in that ballpark. The plot is so out-of-this-world ridiculous and yet so predictable that the movie is a special kind of dreadful.
It has major movie stars committed wholeheartedly to characters who make such stupid decisions that it almost works as a comedy. According to the New York Observer’s review, the audience in the critics’ screening was “reduced to hysterics.” Serenity is that beautiful kind of bad cinema that can be enjoyed if viewed through the right satirical lens.