Joss Whedon delivers a lovely version of Much Ado About Nothing and proves that he is as adept at small scale passion projects as he is with blockbuster superhero team ups. He has assembled a line up of actors from his former projects that carry the words into a new generation. It is updated in dress and scene, but harkens backward in both intimacy and dialogue. Whedon has managed to walk the very delicate line that usually upends modern day adaptations of Shakespeare and come out on the right side. The mental jarring that usually occurs when antiquated dialogue is juxtaposed with automobiles and cell phones is sidestepped by Whedon’s choice in plays. Much Ado is light on gadgets and heavy on wit allowing the audience to remain focused on the plot without being forced to accept hands brandishing guns as the tongue spouts “swords.”
Whedon’s Much Ado is filmed in black and white with a mixture of hand-held and his usual quirky camera angles. He has a flair for staging a shot that is indelible and feels perfectly placed. The black and white color scheme and hand-held camera provide the structure for the intimacy that is felt throughout. The camera follows the actors almost as if it were merely our eyes moving to follow the actors on the traditional stage. The benefit is that it allows the audience to get personal with the words, and words are something that Whedon understands very well. He has long been admired for his scripts both in film and television, however, the praise has typically been focused on the way his characters convey dialogue that is both realistic and pop culturally referential at the same time. Here he does not alter the original text, freeing himself up to focus on the staging and visual side of the story. It is with that in mind that Whedon leaves his mark on this adaptation, giving us a different feel for the story than we’ve seen before.
The actors fare well with the material and there are plenty of familiar faces for fans of Whedon’s previous work. While the story’s protagonists are technically Claudio and Hero it has always been Beatrice and Benedict that are remembered. That is no different in this version. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof portray the pair with gusto. They perfectly encapsulate the verbal sparring and wit that is inherent in the characters giving every line a double meaning and delivering them in rapid fire succession. Whedon has cast well and found a stable of actors capable of delivering Shakespearean lines without sounding silly as is often the case with Americans playing the roles. Even the minor supporting characters are done well and Whedon favorite Nathan Fillion even shows up to play the blustery Dogberry. There is solid acting throughout and it is especially joyous as these are not actors typically known for these kinds of roles.
Joss Whedon has made his name in sci-fi/fantasy and his first foray into a more traditional narrative has shown a promise that I didn’t known was present. This was a risk for him as it goes against everything he is known for. Whedon goes the opposite route of Kenneth Branaugh’s earlier film version. Where that film was grand in scope Whedon’s is more warm and familiar. Branaugh used period dress and setting where Whedon updated to modern times using his own house as the setting. This is a very different adaptation than I’ve seen before and I’m very pleased at the results. It is a version I will no doubt return to again.