Release Date: June 7, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 7.5/10
Over the last few years the Bard has had a resurgence on the big screen. Directors have taken his words and fashioned them to their unique interpretations. The Taviani brothers adaptation of Julius Caesar followed inmates in a high-security prison who are about to stage a public performance of the play. In his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes shifts the time period of Coriolanus from ancient Rome to a contemporary war-torn state entrenched in modern warfare. Not to be outdone is Kelly Asbury and her whimsical animated adaptation of the classic romance Romeo and Juliet with Gnomeo & Juliet. Now the director of one the best sci-fi films in recent years, Serenity, and one of the biggest blockbusters of all-time, The Avengers, brings his unique vision and sensibility to the Bard’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
Love is in the air when Don Pedro pays the noble Leonato a visit young Claudio falls madly in love with virtuous Hero. Meanwhile the most unlikeliest of lovers, the ever bickering Benedick and Beatrice find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other. However, treachery is afoot when Don John hatches a foul plot that will tear Claudio and Hero apart. Fun is derived from not just the words but the characters as well. The play itself is light, funny and entertaining.
It’s been twenty years since it was last brought to the big screen in Kenneth Branagh’s very enjoyable adaptation. Whedon gives the play a modern setting while retaining the original text. Instead of a large estate the action takes place in the large mansion of a prominent public figure. While the new setting does take some getting used to, especially since no one speaks Elizabethan English nowadays, the lack of opulence does seem to deflate the nobility of the characters. Instead of noble folk they just come off as a bunch of rich folk. Almost like commoners. However once the words and characters wash over you this hardly ever becomes an issue.
Besides the Bard’s tale, it’s the performances that draw in the viewer. In Fiennes’ adaptation of “Coriolanus” Gerard Butler’s presence was quite striking however his delivery sounded like he was merely saying the words. By comparison, in Vanessa Redgrave’s performance in the same film you felt every word, you truly felt the weight and the convictions of her character. At the start of Whedon’s adaptation it felt like everyone was merely saying the words but they gradually started to warm up and you
began to feel the weight of every word, every action. It would be unfair to compare Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker to Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson but it is inevitable. They are both enjoyable as Benedick and Beatrice but lack the effortlessness of the latter Shakespearean-trained duo. Whedon cast the film with many people has worked with before. Clark Gregg fairs well as Leonato. Nathan Fillion, in his first Shakespeare performance, is very funny as constable Dogberry. Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese are good as Claudio and Nero.
Known for his playful wit and working with a screenplay whose dialogue is set Whedon still manages to make this one of the funniest Shakespeare films in some time. While many may think pratfalls and sit-com level humor may be beneath him it does work as his actors provide many great reactions and physical humor. Denisof has a pair of funny physical bits and of course Fillion’s Dogberry is lovably goofy. Shot in black and white and in Whedon’s own home this contemporary adaptation is probably one of the most accessible since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. While it does take a bit to get going in the end it’s an entertaining take on the Shakespeare comedy that not only shows how diverse Whedon can be but how hip the Bard still is.