I can’t pretend to do this.
As a major in English literature, even I have to admit I’ve never read enough of William Shakespeare’s work. His stories are often associated with tediously reading gibberish at such a young age that students can’t know what truly to make of his stories of love life and failure and deceit, even with his word smithing made untangled for them.
What we’re often kept from being told in middle school, or perhaps even earlier, is that a lot of Shakespeare’s characters are devious, conniving and raunchy. Arguably, his ability to craft characters and words were the most accurate of human expression and emotion that has, and possibly ever will be created.
The point of Shakespeare might be lost on many of us in society, but there are many people in the entertainment business who are so deeply influenced by these classics. To the degree of understanding every subtext in every line of dialogue and every action, they might feel the desire to take it upon themselves to adapt it to screen, a place where–when done correctly such as Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996– one can bring out the greatest achievements in acting, as well as a visual representation of Willy Shakes’ work (yes, I call him that) that is comprehensible to a simple movie going audience.
So now that the gushing over the fact that I will never be as brilliant of a writer as Willy Shakes ever was is out of the way, let’s look at the creator of this newly imagined adaptation of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: Joss Whedon. Ensue more gushing.
In an interview, Clark Gregg described how Whedon approached him about playing the role of Lord Leonato in this adaptation: “I was at a barbecue at his house like a week after ‘The Avengers’ had wrapped. I’d seen what he’d just been through for five months, and I was curious where he was going to go be comatose for a week before he had to start editing. He said, “Actually, I’m going to do a film of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ ” I felt like guys in white suits were going to come up behind him. Then I realized he was serious, and he asked me if I would be in it. I had just that day said yes to go do a play in New York. I was kind of heartbroken. Then they pushed the play two weeks, and you wouldn’t think that would be enough time to fit a feature film. But I was afraid if I called he’d say, ‘Ohhhh.’ Then he called a couple days later to say someone couldn’t do it, and was I in? We’d start tomorrow.” [yep]
Now, having seen the finished product, I’m not sure whether to declare Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Cabin in the Woods) as a maniac or a genius, because I was so absorbed in this fascinatingly contemporary re-imagination that I really cannot believe he so quickly gathered a cast and crew, and filmed this nearly 2 hour film in a mere 12 days.
For those of us that simply skimmed the plot of this play on Sparknotes back in the day (We know who we are), let’s grab a little refresher on the story of ‘Much Ado.’ A piece of comedy illustrating the budding of love through mischievous biting arguments and lies layered on top of other lies, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ follows a bitter relation between an officer named Benedik (Alexis Dennisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), the daughter of Lord Leonato (Clark Gregg), who is having a a gathering with an old friend, The Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), who believes himself to be a lord of love, who then sparks an idea after his best friend Claudio (Fran Kranz) instantly fall is love with Beatrice’s cousin Hero (an introducing role for Jillian Morgese). Don Pedro suggests that, with the proper amount of deceitful banter and prodding, the constantly arguing Benedik and Beatrice could be made to love one another, thus the entanglement begins, becoming further complicated by Don Pedro’s brother, John the Bastard (Sean Maher).
Wow! Yikes. So yes, that all get’s complicated. Almost too complicated even for the incompetent police force (Shakespeare’s favorite kind of buffoons), led by Constable of the Night Watch, Dogberry, played by the hilarious show stealer, Nathan Fillion.
The movie is shot in black in white, most like for cost effectiveness, but also as a stylistic choice. Whedon’s ‘Much Ado’ is a straight adaptation of the original play, recited word for word, with very, “Whedon-esque” acting and visual gag shots added to allow it to be its own monster. Alexis Denisof had the theater uproariously laughing when trying to appear dashing and strong in front of Beatrice upon believing she secretly was in love with him, and the rest of the cast is just as brilliantly smart, witty and ridiculous throughout.
There are some odd inconsistencies in this kind of adaptation: such as the use of indie music played on an iPod surrounding dialogue of the Renaissance era, where a letter is to be presenting news, an iPhone with a YouTube video is shown, and guns and their holsters are referred to as swords and sheaths. Despite these minor details, its shocking to see how such a story of mischief and love retains its relevance when shown with modern representations of the very same characters. Viewers should keep in mind that, while a lot of modern English actually contains reference to Shakespeare’s made-up words, even when they were first written and performed in the Globe Theater, his way of writing dialogue was equally baffling to audiences.
I went into this movie a little rusty on my knowledge of Shakespeare’s style, but every actor was at the top of their game through this film, as every one of them expressed their dialogue with just enough humorous expression that it could have been a foreign film and the story would have come across just the same to the point that I felt like I was understanding the meaning in every bit of dialogue by the time an hour of the film had past.
Now, I’m not calling this a perfect movie or a masterpiece by any means. This is one of the most accessible adaptations of Shakespeare to date, but it is very much a movie for people who either love Shakespeare, love Joss Whedon, or both. In the same way that people are simply uninterested in Willy Shakes, many people might also fall into the camp of enjoying Whedon’s style of filming and directing. If you’re not a person who enjoyed things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity or Dollhouse [internally screaming], then this may not be the summer movie you want to see.
That being said, if you’re new to the world of Joss by having seen ‘The Avengers’ last summer, this movie may be worth giving a chance if you’re curious whether or not you’ll enjoy Whedon as a filmmaker.
It’s something very fresh and new, while remaining faithful to where it came from. The bottom line is: William Shakespeare and Joss Whedon pretty much go together like Chocolate and Peanut Butter. However, there are a lot of people out there who tend to be allergic to peanut butter. And sometimes chocolate.
Final Grade: (8.5/10 stars)