There are two main themes in this movie.
The first is that we all need something to believe in. I accept that premise. Speaking for myself, I believe that it I am obligated to use whatever talents I might have to improve the well-being of those around me. At the climax of the movie, Malcolm asserts that he believes in spreading the information about the reavers. This is supposed to represent the culmination of his character’s journey; at the beginning he cuts an innocent lose to be eaten by the reavers, then he decides not to abandon River, then he is willing to sacrifice himself to broadcast the information. That looks like an actual character arc. The only problem is that it’s not clear to me why he makes those changes. People nag him periodically that he needs to care about other people, but nothing happens that seems like it would change his mind. His mind just changes.
The second theme is that the rough parts and the misbehaving that’s in life is essential to life. I have a problem with this. Fans of the original Star Trek series might recall the episode “The Enemy Within” in which Captain Kirk is in a transporter accident that splits him into two people: one who has all of his virtues, the other who has all of his vices. The characters come to realize that it is the process of Kirk’s virtuous self taming his base self that allows him to realize his full potential.
“Serenity” acknowledges no such nuance. The movie takes the attitude that behaving badly is virtuous in and of itself. I don’t want to preach, and I don’t even want to pretend that I try to be virtuous all the time. But I’m objective. And when I get drunk and flirt with all four bridesmaids at a wedding, I don’t pretend that there’s anything noble about that.
I’m a pretty harsh judge of people and situations (and movies…har har har). As long as I channel that tendency through my empathy for others that potentially negative trait can be used productively and virtuously. But if I just shrug and say that it’s good to be bad sometimes I end up just tearing people down (I’ve done it, and regretted it).
But all of that’s pretty abstract and heady. Let’s get down to brass tacks: River cannot possible be that effective of a fighter.
Professional mixed martial arts has a new weight class every 10-15 pounds. That’s because if you outweigh your opponent by more than that it’s not a fair fight. Hell, if you’ve ever known someone who wrestled in high school you know that if they’re even two pounds too light they worry that they’ll be overpowered.
This emphasis on weight exists because you overpower your opponent by effectively applying violent force against them. As we all remember from high school physics: force equals mass times acceleration. Yep, mass.
Summer Glau (and thus, River Tam) weighs about 50 kg. Jane is going to be closer to 100 kg. For her to strike him with the same force that he can strike her she needs to get her arm accelerating twice as fast as his. But how do we accelerate parts of our bodies? With muscles. And muscles have mass. Since River has little mass, it means she has little muscle. Which means she can’t accelerate her fist as quickly as Jane. So…at best, her acceleration is slightly less than that of Jane (or any burly man, for that matter) and her mass is half that of Jane…so how is she supposed to beat him? Sure, she’s super-skilled and that will let her get her hits in but the hits won’t even hurt a big guy. He just needs to absorb some blows and take her out.
But, apparently fanboys have a weird fixation on bad-ass fighting pixies. So I would advise you all to go out to your local S&M club and find a dominatrix there. She’ll give you the treatment you’re looking for. Enjoy.