By Richard Pulfer

“Serenity” presents the rarest of cases – a failed sci-fi western named “Firefly,” wiped from television in 2002 and resurrected in big budget form in 2005. Fortunately, this movie isn’t about the handsome ranger riding off into the sunset with the girl. Instead, “Serenity” is a look at the rough and tumble nature of outsiders, and their right to defiance. As Captain Mal Reynolds calmly states in the climax, “I aim to misbehave.”

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” the film opens with the crew aboard the cargo ship Serenity, attempting to etch out a meager existence as career criminals fleeing both a vaguely Orwellian empire, The Alliance, as well as the bloodthirsty Reavers. Lead by smooth veteran Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the motley crew of Serenity find both their lives and livelihood threatened when they harbor the young doctor Simon (Sean Maher) and his volatile telepathic sister River (Summer Glau) from the ruthless and resourceful Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Through River, the crew slowly begins to unravel a mystery detailing the connection of the cannibalistic Reavers to the oppressive Alliance.

There are a couple instances of spotty CGI, especially during one sequence involving a chase in hover skiffs. However, most times Whedon keeps focus on CGI-driven scenes, and the result looks engaging enough to keep the audience interested.

The movie does suffer from an abundance of characters. Mal’s character arc shapes the events of the narrative, and River’s horrifying dreams provide the bulk of the mystery, but there are still eight other characters who make their mark in “Serenity.” Luckily, every other character seems to have their own development, making the supporting cast of “Serenity” seem less like baggage.

On the surface, “Serenity” appears to be a good genre picture with quirky characters, flashy effects and a healthy supply of one-liners. But below the surface lies the existential themes and developments that made the works of Joss Whedon endearing cultural icons, by forging a connection to its audience.

Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in “Hamlet”, Mal and his crew are blue-collar bit parts who suddenly find themselves thrust onto an epic scale. Unlike their Shakespearean counterparts, Mal and his comrades play their epic adversaries against one another, elevating themselves to a heroic, and in some cases, tragic, status in a struggle to preserve the right of rebellion over a bloodstained promise of paradise.

While “Serenity” might not be the “Star Wars” of this generation, the destined cult classic does provide a humorous, heartbreaking, quirky and thought-provoking tale all within a compelling mix of genres and archetypes.