I have to say, while reading all of the negative reviews here, I was merely confirmed in my observation that most people are idiots. Quite frankly, if you don't get this movie, good on yer, go back to watching the standard mono-syllabic fare. What this movie provided was a non-standard, shades-of-gray character study. The focus was not on big-budget effects, or glitzy bits of teeny-bopper fluff. It was about a story. It reminded me of how I felt when I watched the REAL Star Wars (not the fake stuff that is out now). People have different ways of handling things that challenge them mentally. Some are able to incorporate the new perspectives into their lives, while others call it "boring" or "seen it" when all they are doing is protecting their two fragile brain cells from expansion.
How can I make such bold, perhaps even abrasive statements? Well, let's look at the movie itself. It starts off with a brief recap to get those people that had not seen the TV series up to speed. This was brief, and incorporated a look at River's past, which was well done. It then moves on to show the rescue, seen from the perspective of the Operative. I will concur with those that argue he is not a cookie-cutter villain. He is not a "black and white" archetype. He is a "believer," but is also exceptionally self-consistent with his beliefs. He is doing what he does for an altruistic (in his mind) goal, completely devoid of ego. There is no room for self-aggrandizement, we see no hubristic monologues, just a single-mindedness of purpose to create what (he is told) will be a perfect world.
That brings us to the crew themselves. Let's get one thing straight, though many have said they are by default "good" because of their eventual choices, what makes them interesting is that they are, for the most part, amoral. They are Privateers, ex-soldiers from a cause that was just, true, and pure- and that lost to the "good guys." Each of them is a part of the crew because of their past- Mal, who used to have something to believe in, now just believes in his ship and his crew. The vacuum of space is cold, and there is no room for anything that does not keep his crew alive. Some have argued that he is good because he did not kick River and the Doc off on some backwater in the beginning, but I think it was mostly pragmatic. Here he has a doctor that can patch his crew, a valuable skillset, and a girl that is obviously worth something to the Alliance (worth keeping on general principles). This is not to say that he is not conflicted. Mal is someone who WANTS to do the right thing, and we see that when he can, he does. But he is not some goodie-two-shoes paladin bunnies-and-duckies character that will ALWAYS do the right thing.
The interactions of Mal and the Operative are interesting because they ARE both very similar. They are both living in the interstices of society- the Operative realizes that he has no place in the "polite" "fairplay" world that he is striving to resurrect while Mal is a scofflaw- neither are fighting or living for "normal" motivations. It also shows that both are capable of change, which pretty much knocks the normal Hollywood plot line off the tracks- in most movies, people will never change, and good defeats evil, then comes home and snogs the prom queen. Mal, and his crew, are given a choice, and have to each come to terms with what they are really fighting for. It requires them to strip off the veneer of being privateers, and allows them to recapture their original selves. I am simplifying greatly here.
Ultimately when Mal defeats the Operative, he spares his life, showing us that Mal is not the typical hero, and that he also recognizes the bigger picture- the Operative is not the villain, merely another dupe of a huge machine that wants to control people because "it knows better." This is another non-typical outcome, and delves into another level of complexity.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that this is not intended to sway those that don't like this movie. Barring a serious shift in perspective, they never will like it. And that is fine, wonderful actually. This movie did not compromise its core message to appeal to a wide audience, it did not focus on flash over substance. It simply told a story that makes you *think.*
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