Much Ado About Nothing – Joss Whedon and co. create a modern remake of a timeless classic

Joss Whedon is a very busy man. Not only did he recently co-write the hilarious and genre parodying The Cabin in the Woods, but he is also a producer, writer and director of the pilot of the new upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. His biggest achievement of last year though has to be winning over film and comic book fans alike with his script and direction for Avengers Assemble, the superhero mash-up movie that had it all – comedy, action and heart, as well as the ability to smash box office records. During a contractual post-production break on that film, Whedon actually shot ANOTHER project: his own updated version of Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing. Told you he was busy. Shot in just 12 days, entirely in black and white and in his own Californian home, this new adaptation of Much Ado shows that Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception and the battle between the sexes is still just as relevant today as it was all those years ago when it was first written.

Upon hearing of the return of Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his officers Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) from a successful battle, governor Leonato (Clark Gregg) prepares a lavish party at his home to celebrate the occasion. His only daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) is overjoyed about the party, even more so with the arrival of Claudio. Love is soon in the air. Love is certainly not in the air for others though, namely Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). She is less than enthused about the arrival of Benedick, a man who she has met many times before and who are both at verbal war with each other. With upcoming plans for a wedding soon in place tor Claudio and Hero, the other bored guests begin to plot about bringing Benedick and Beatrice, both of whom do not believe in love or marriage, together – whether they want to or not. But there are other guests that have different ideas for the approaching nuptials. The villainous Don John (Sean Maher) and his two cohorts Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) have other plans in motion to ruin more than one of the guests’ loves and lives…

William Shakespeare’s work can be off-putting for many, especially those who are not used to his extravagant, metaphorical language. After the first few initial scenes of this version of Much Ado though, that won’t matter. By then you are truly immersed in this world and completely enraptured by the wonderful story and the beautiful way in which Joss Whedon has told it. Whedon’s adaptation of the play is in fact one of the best I have seen in a long time. Updating the story to modern-day California (although it is never mentioned as such) works perfectly. It allows Whedon to make the story fresh and interesting by using changes like a scene in a lavish swimming pool, characters using an iPod for music and having the guards become security guards who use CCTV. Despite these changes though, Whedon still never loses the main points of the plot, sticking to the original text throughout. However his greatest decision for this adaptation has been to film it entirely in his own home. This creates a wonderful setting for the story and creates a microcosm for the characters to exist in – Whedon’s own private Shakespearean world.

From the second the film begins it is also clear the amount of love and care that has been put into this production. His direction is so thorough that every scene is clearly mapped out and expertly choreographed in every room of his house in order for him to make the most of his setting. You can almost envision Whedon having bounced around the house himself reciting lines of Shakespeare’s dialogue and seeing which scene suits which room or exterior best. Whedon’s use of cinematography is also striking and ensures that this doesn’t just become a film that only focuses on Shakespeare’s words. His use of black and white lends it a classic film look, as well as creating beautiful imagery that conveys emotion and feeling.

Although Much Ado at first glance seems to be a film that is miles apart from what we are used to seeing from Joss Whedon, it still has the usual touches that are synonymous with one of his films (or TV shows). Lavish design, great cast, but most importantly plenty of comedic moments and hilarious dialogue. This use of comedy that Whedon has retained within his adaptation ensures he keeps the broad sense of humour that is in the original play. His direction of the actors and the use of physical comedy creates scene after hilarious scene, making them feel new even if you may have seen them performed many times before. In particular this can be felt during all scenes between Beatrice and Benedick, as well as the increasing plot the other characters have to bring them together. Whedon’s humour therefore retains the intended spirit of Shakespeare’s play, and this is felt throughout the entire film.

This obviously being a film that runs on striking performances, Whedon has also cleverly picked a cast who can handle the lines as well as deliver on the humour side of things. Picking many of his TV alumni (who all had their fair share of funny moments and lines to perform in his earlier TV shows) this actually feels like a weird mix of watching Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly at the same time. All actors perform Shakespeare’s flowery language and his many double-entendre’s perfectly. Particular standouts are Clark Gregg as the genial father figure Leonato, Jillian Morgese as the quiet but loving Hero, Fran Kranz as the naïve Claudio and Nathan Fillion as Dogberry the bumbling and unintentionally hilarious constable. And most impressive are of course Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the feuding Beatrice and Benedick who both shine onscreen, in particular for a couple of Shakespeare’s soliloquies they have to perform. They are however at their most comical when they are together and arguing, the banter flying back and forth between them as they both try to best each other in their war of words.

Much Ado About Nothing is a hugely entertaining and beautiful film with a timeless love story at it’s heart. The use of expert and stunning black and white cinematography draws you in, Whedon using it to heighten the emotion of every scene. It also features expert performances from actors who all deliver the complex words in a way all will understand, as well as plenty of comedy that truly emulates the intended tone of Shakespeare’s original play. The fact that it was shot in just 12 days proves that this is Joss Whedon’s passion project, and it shows in the love and care that he uses in each and every frame. As such this is a joy to watch and is up there with Kenneth Branagh’s own film version of Much Ado. In fact I would say it is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, albeit Whedon’s film is a LOT more understated than that film, and the better for it. Not only this but it is also one of the best films of 2013. Sit back, watch, and lose yourself in Shakespeare’s dialogue and Joss Whedon’s beautifully made, own private world.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on July 9, 2013.

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