Before we jump into the review, I have something to disclose. I am a huge Joss Whedon fan. Far be it from me to say that, “the bias is strong with this one”, but this is to be true. Pretty much everything the man has ever written, I’ve become enamored to. Even in the very few cases of certain films he wasn’t privileged or experienced enough to have directed himself like Alien Resurrection and the original and quite terrible Buffy the Vampire Slayer film. But the key word here is “written”. This film which he directed, Much Ado About Nothing, was purely adapted to the screen, retaining every bit of Shakespeare’s original idiom glossed script. So, even though he is my favorite scribe of anything ever on the tele and silver screen, I can honestly say that I viewed Much Ado with clearer eyes than one of the typical Whedon fan-boy. So bid you no further ado.
Whedon’s Much Ado was directed in all of 12 days when he took his contractual vacation from the post-production of “Marvel’s The Avengers”. The scope, budget, and the amount of people involved with this film is sort of mind-boggling; not because of any technical achievements, but just Whedon’s personal time constraints from handling the two movies at once. This is obviously a major departure from The Avengers or anything he has worked on in the past, but they all have something in common…. a talented ensemble.
If you’re at all familiar with Much Ado About Nothing, it’s a romantic comedy in the Shakespearean sense. It’s basically a cynical romantic story about love, how we all behave with one another, and how dark we are willing to go to prove or disprove such behavior. The main plot-line follows the evolving relationship and the ideal of betrothment between Beatrice, played wonderfully by Angel’s Amy Acker and Benedick, played by Alexis Denisof of Buffy and Angel fame. So already you can tell, Whedon is using a lot of people from his past work. This pays off in subtle ways because the chemistry between all these characters feels that much more natural in a film where the language is so dated, that almost anything can simply take you out of the experience. Acker’s performance is bar none, the best and most believable. Her wit and charisma nearly dances Denisof of every scene but given the character he’s playing, just as much can be understandable.
The second and backdrop plot-line takes place at a party, and wedding wherein drama cultivates surrounding Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, played by newcomer Jillian Morgese; and Claudio, played by Dollhouse’s Fran Kranz. Their hopeful and inevitable romance becomes quite questionable when Don John (Sean Maher), Conrade (Riki Lindhome), and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) plan to sabotage Hero’s wedding and her family’s name by staging an adulteress act. As any Shakespeare play goes, drama ensues, but don’t take this as a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, or Caesar. Sure, this goes to darker places but it’s just not something you’re used to in modern cinema. There is a strong play on sexism portrayed here that exemplifies female characters even though in the context of the story; they're aware that being female won't simply do and must seek a man to do their bidding. This is probably what peaked Whedon's interest for adaption.
Beyond that, the other roles that played an enormous part in Much Ado were Beatrice’s Uncle and Father to Hero, Leonato. He was played incredibly by Clark Gregg. Most would probably remember him as Agent Phil Coulson of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and ABC’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. premiering this fall. Being as much of a fan of him and Shakespeare, I find myself wondering why he doesn’t work more on this kind of work. Other amazing roles were of Don Pedro, played by Reed Diamond, brother of the resident villain Don John and dear friend of Benedick. But most of all, I find myself wanting to quote and re-watch each and every scene of the combination of Verges, (Tom Lenk of Buffy) and fan favorite Nathan Fillion of Firefly playing Dogberry. Nathan is an absolute delight. I saw this movie in a packed theatre and he had people cracking up just over an expression; solidifying himself as the comedic relief.
Having seen Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal and as well as a theatre production of Much Ado, watching what Whedon and company were able to pull off “between the lines” of a fixed script was enlightening. Even gave new meaning to some of the more confusing or often times, culturally irrelevant dialogue. He was also able to play with his environment. Since he shot this out of his Santa Monica home, it felt safe. Lived in. And with the hand-held nature of the camera and carefully placed mirrors and frames; he was able to artfully convey multiple points of view revealing new ways to converse with the audience, which kept this black and white play-write visually interesting.
What I didn’t like about the film falls back on the original source material. Since Shakespeare’s script calls for a lot of witty cross-fire dialogue, it loses out where Whedon tends to shine the most. Have a room full of people and only having two of them talk, and literally talk about another person in that room, and never have them speak seems odd to me. And it only seems like a missed opportunity. Some of the best moments in Whedon’s work is when everyone (regardless how many) in a scene are participating to some extent. But that’s the nature of an old script and that’s the respect it rightly deserves. Though, I can’t help but wonder what a Joss Whedon scripted version of Much Ado would look like.
I think any die-hard Shakespearean fan should go check this out right away. Seriously. It’s an awful lot of fun and fits seamlessly with the modern day setting. I also firmly believe, even if you’re not an Old English aficionado, seeing all your favorite Whedon characters on screen is well worth it. If not only to watch them but be impressed with that fact that these people can act.
Would I consider this film theatre worthy?
For those who love Shakespeare, yes. There is something epic about that banter that translates well in such a large format. Because in all honesty, this type of storytelling is larger than life, and in my eyes... it ought to be viewed as such. If you’re just a Whedon fan; I’d wait it out. If you’re there for the smiles and laughs; keep it simple, pause often, and Google search everything you don’t understand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
My feelings heading into Much Ado About Nothing were high because I honestly haven’t watched any Shakespeare in quite some time. It’s a personal thing. I feel good when I understand a certain art form. And to see it used effectively, it's endlessly uplifting. So much so that I ran home and spent two and a half hours writing a review.
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Slamfist Rating: 9 out of 10