Joss Whedon doing Shakespeare is sure to make fans of both artists swoon with joy, but how does it play for those that don’t worship at either altar; pretty well actually.
Now, if you are afraid of Shakespeare’s often daunting prose, there is no where to really hide here as Whedon keeps it intact. So if you are out on that note then you might as well stop reading right now. I for one am someone who can take some issue with the silliness that Shakespeare’s language can sometimes take on, but Whedon does a good job of distracting us from that with some excellent staging of the famous play. A romance at heart filled with threats of tragedy, Whedon juggles the tone about as well as one could hope for.
A twisted game of villainy, the lack of communication among individuals under the same house can be a bit too much to ask at times, but if you can put these inherent issues from the source material behind you there is a lot to enjoy. While it would have been fun to see Whedon play with the modern setting a bit more than he does, but it is ultimately that way mostly for budget and logical reasons. The setting allowed Whedon to shoot the film in and around his house (which is a fantastic character itself here), and he absolutely makes the most of it. They redress the house and shoot every room at every angle and they mostly get away without things ever seeming repetitive. His ability to make the most of his budget doesn’t solve all of the issues that pop up because of the modern setting, but thankfully these distractions don’t ruin the picture.
The film succeeds because Whedon is a wizard at casting and he directs the hell out of this play. Whedon faithful will recognize most of the cast, but they work even if you don’t bring in any Brown Coat baggage that many will. Amy Acker is excellent as Beatrice and she is a delight playing of her Benedick, Alexis Denisof. She is sexy and a giant pain and the ass, but above all she has the comedic chops needed for what both Whedon and Shakespeare demand in this role. Denisof is maybe the only one who tops her, but he also gets a lot more fun physical comedy to play with along the way. Clark Gregg also finds a nice balance between his intense moments and the jovial ones as Whedon seemed to fill out his cast with an excellent group that could balance these diverse roles wonderfully. Fran Kranz is sort of the straight man of the story, but he is excellent as the sweet and deceived Claudio; and also unrecognizable from his Cabin in the Woods stoner role. Nathan Fillion is a delight in the most comedic role of the film and I think everybody will be wishing we got even more of him. Sean Maher was a pleasant surprise as well and I much prefer him here as a villain than as the selfless hero he played in Firefly.
While Whedon never lets the film drag, the opening act is sort of a lot to take in. Between adjusting to Shakespeare’s language and taking in the large ensemble of characters, it was hard to get a grasp on who everyone is and who they are interested in. Once the film gets its footing though, things really start working in Whedon’s favor. He brings a lot of life and comedy to a number of scenes that surely weren’t as such in the original text and his direction is the standout of the picture. His third film is probably my least favorite of his, but I feel like this is the one you can most feel his presence behind the camera. His writing has always been the standout in most of his work, but with that job taken here he does a great job of making his story and camera interesting. His visual humor is the most surprising take away from the film and it helps that his cast was so game for much of the silliness he asks them to do.
Much Ado About Nothing is an entertaining Shakespeare film and Whedon does a fine job of adapting it for today’s audience. Will it win over all of his Avengers fans, probably not, but anyone who is a fan of either of these gifted writers better rush out to see this picture. It shows Whedon’s strengths behind the camera while proving he can be an entertainer without any genre elements filling the film. A fun comedy for the summer and one I can easily recommend if you are at all interested.
Much Ado About Nothing is a B