Until last summer, the only thing that Captain America and The Incredible Hulk probably had in common with William Shakespeare, were very different cult followings. But leave it to multi-talented Avengers Director Joss Whedon to put a contemporary spin on the Bard’s classic tale of love and mischief.
It’s a small known Hollywood insider fact that Joss often holds Shakespearian readings at his Santa Monica home. Of course then it probably wasn’t a difficult decision for Much Ado to be filmed at the director’s house in less than 12 days during the summer of 2011. All this while post production for the mega blockbuster The Avengers continued on without a hitch. In fact, rumor has it that during the shoot Whedon may have singlehandedly coined the phrase “too busy to sleep”.
SPOILER ALERT! If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing you may want to skip this next part. The basic plot revolves around two sets of lovers. The first, Claudio and Hero; these two give new definition to the term “smitten” as both fall madly in love and are soon to be married. The second and much more interesting coupling is that of Beatrice and Benedict. Both are quick witted, skilled in the art of mockery, and both use their wordplay to effectively exhaust each other.
Shot in black and white and using a contemporary setting with the original text, this version is a veritable who’s who of past Whedon alumni. Nathan Fillion (Firefly and Serenity) is Dogberry, Amy Acker (Angel and Dollhouse) as Beatrice, Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse) as Benedict, Sean Maher (Firefly) as Don John, Reed Diamond (Dollhouse) as Don Pedro, Tom Lenk (Buffy) as Verges, and Fran Kranz (Dollhouse and The Cabin in the Woods) as Claudio, as well as Clark Gregg, a.k.a. Agent Coulson from Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers as Leonarto.
All the actors play their parts well enough, including newcomer Jillian Morgese who adds a gentle touch to the fair Hero. The laughs are plentiful, surprising, and well-choreographed. Overall, Whedon deserves praise for proficiently directing a modern take on this beloved classic. However, in two pivotal – and we are talking very pivotal – scenes. The stylistic black and white format along with the shot selection just feels disjointed from the rest of the film. So much so, that audiences might feel they are watching a student film.
However, these moments aside, this film can easily be considered one of the best adaptations of a Shakespearean play to date. Due to the modern setting and clothing we immediately feel at ease with the characters, and after only about 10 minutes in, audiences might feel as though they could master iambic pentameter, sonnets, and all kinds of quatrains that end in a couplet.
In a recent poll, some moviegoers have said that so far this summer hasn’t yet lived up to its hype. Perhaps then it’s time we all went out and got some culture. Thanks to William Shakespeare and Joss Whedon, this weekend’s limited release of Much Ado About Nothing might be just what audiences are looking for. It’s no Hamlet, but if you’re looking for a film that delivers an overall enjoyable experience, the play’s the thing.