If you were in post-production on a movie that wasn’t just the biggest film of your career but one of the most ambitious franchise tie-ups ever attempted, you’d think you’d just concentrate on that. However while Joss Whedon was completing The Avengers, he also managed to find time to shoot a low-budget, black and white version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set in modern-day California. The man sure likes to work.
It’s not the greatest adaptation of Shakespeare ever, but it’s kind of fun and after a fairly slow start it builds to a very entertaining finale (undoubtedly helped by the Bard’s words). It’s also true that part of the fun is watching actors from all over the Whedon-verse come together to take on a classic play. All Joss’ TV shows are represented, including Tom Lenk and Reed Diamond of Buffy, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof of Angel, Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher of Firefly, Fran Kranz of Dollhouse and even The Avengers’ Clark Gregg.
The plot and language stick close to Shakespeare, concentrating of the trials and tribulations of love between two couples. Claudio (Fran Kranz) is in love with Hero (Jillian Morgese), and after his boss, Don Pedro, arranges the match, they’re ready to wed. However the evil Don Jon (Sean Maher) sets out to wreck everything with a plan to make Hero look like a loose woman. There’s also the more comic Benedict (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), who’ve both sworn off marrying and like nothing better than trading barbs. Their friends decide they’d make a good match and set out to convince each of them that the other is in love with them.
I’ve always been in two minds about Much Ado. There’s no doubt that it contains some of Shakespeare’s best dialogue and some of the scenes are absolute masterpieces of comic writing – it’s amazing that 400-years on nobody has ever managed to outdo policeman Dogberry’s (Nathan Fillion) astonishingly clever butchery of the English language. However it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s the sort of plot that if someone came up with it today, critics would say it was stupid and implausible. All of Shakespeare’s comedies need plenty of suspension of disbelief, particularly with their reliance of mistaken identities and twins, but I’ve always found Much Ado particularly hard to swallow.
That’s still present Whedon’s version, but he manages to paper over many of the problems with a decent pace (after an admittedly fairly slow start) and a sense that everyone is having a bit of a party making the movie, while piling on the drama when the moment calls for it. Even so, Joss is undoubtedly more comfortable directing his own words than someone else’s. While he tries to interpret the classic text, it undoubtedly lacks the unified approach he brings to something he’s written himself.
His adaptation of the early parts of the play is slightly more problematic. As mentioned, the film has a slow start. One of the main reasons for that is that in order to save time, it jettisons some of the plot manipulations of the first couple of acts, leaving just what will be important later. You can understand why, not least because a fair chunk is to do with things that don’t make much sense outside medieval Italy, but it also makes what we do get a little slow and clunky.
Thankfully the actors are all game and add to the movie’s general party feel. They all seem to be having fun working together and it’s them more than anything that makes you forget how small-scale this movie is (90% of it takes place in a single house). It all ensures it’s a fun watch, even if there are far better takes on Shakespeare’s classics out there.
Overall Verdict: Branagh’s Much Ado is undoubtedly better, but Whedon has managed to make a fairly entertaining adaptation, with added fun coming from bringing actors from across the Whedon-verse together to take on Shakespeare. Next up we need David Boreanaz as King Lear (or perhaps not).
Reviewer: Tim Isaac