If there is one film that 2012 will likely be remembered for, it is the mother of all superhero franchise movies, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. However, in an odd quirk of production that left its director twelve days between shooting and editing, Joss Whedon was seemingly not content with resting on his laurels, and instead shot Much Ado About Nothing, a delightful retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Filmed at his very own home, Whedon reunites a whole host of familiar faces from his back catalogue to deliver the tale of sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick.
These days, Joss Whedon is hot property in Hollywood. Despite his numerous failed televisual projects (underserving of such treatment as they may be), Whedon’s work for Marvel has seemingly granted him carte blanche when it comes to film projects, and it is no doubt this fact that has lead to Much Ado About Nothing. To go from such a huge, special effects driven production to a played down, black and white romantic comedy should come as a surprise, but the two films have more in common than one would believe.
The key to Whedon’s work has always been the snappy verbal interplay between his characters (Tony Stark certainly proved that in Avengers), and it is this fact that occupies his latest film, which sees Messina’s elite converge on the home of governor Leonato (Clark Gregg). As romance blooms between Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Leanato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), a very different sort of relationship builds between the smarmy Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and the acerbic Beatrice (Amy Acker).
Bringing Shakespeare into the modern day is always a tricking task, particularly as in this instance, the original Elizabethan text is kept intact. However, the comedy and wit of the writing shines through. It may take some time to tune the ear to the Shakespearean dialogue, but the cast does an exceptional job in breathing life into their lines. Amy Acker’s feisty and wholesome Beatrice is perfectly offset by the arrogant confidence of Denisof’s Benedick, who may take some warming to but becomes a strong and comedic presence. Whilst some of the cast may stumble occasionally over the text, this is only minor issue in an otherwise enjoyable set of performances, such as Nathan Fillion’s hilarious Dogberry who provides the biggest laughs of the film.
Whilst the comedy of Much Ado is never put in question, Whedon seamlessly works in the key issue gender politics, which resonate throughout. This is a story of men and women, and all the highs and lows that come with such a tenuous relationship. Behind the classic romantic comedy façade lies a serious debate over the status of women as victims of injustice and misogyny giving the film some real worth aside from that of its comedy.
For a pet project, Whedon should be commended for this, as well as his direction as a whole. This is simple filmmaking at its best, luxurious and timeless in black and white and confidently portrayed. The ease at which Whedon frames his drama is made all the more impressive by its proximity to Avengers, a blockbuster on an epic scale which required a whole different skill set. The dramatic changes are handled well despite some of the more fanciful Shakespearean predilections, and for an ensemble cast to be treated so fairly is a sign of Whedon’s experience and skill as a director.
What is left then is a delightfully amusing comedy with some real weight behind it. Keeping the text largely intact shows Joss Whedon’s love of the play, and with some slapstick elements and wonderful performances thrown in, this is proof that Shakespeare still works today.