Movie Review: Much Ado About Nothing
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
“I feel like I do have this language, and it really does come primarily from Shakespeare and Marvel Comics,” said “Much Ado About Nothing” director Joss Whedon in a March interview with the American-Statesman. “Everything is heightened, you’re saying what you feel, you’re blowing it up visually.”
Which might explain why Whedon is so good at both. “Much Ado About Nothing” is, in many ways, the anti-“Avengers.” While that movie was a summer blockbuster covered in CGI, with superheroes flattening bad guys from another dimension, this is a modern-dress performance of a Shakespeare play filmed over 12 days at the director’s own house.
That both are incredibly fun for completely different reasons is a testament to the director (or how well he knows his skill set).
But, then again, the action and melodrama of early Marvel Comics owed a ton to Shakespeare (see also any given issue of Thor for Stan Lee’s version of the Bard), which Whedon certainly knows. He is probably the only guy in Hollywood who could make the summer’s smartest, most enjoyable alternative to comic book fare while still knowing the ins and outs of his competition.
The backstory: Whedon and his wife were slated to go to Europe for a much-needed vacation following principal photography on “Avengers.” Instead, Whedon shot “Much Ado.” So, yeah, there’s a workaholic joke in there somewhere, but I am sure Shakespeare said it better first.
Shot in stately, noirish black and white, “Much Ado” stars Whedon vets Amy Acker (“Angel,” “Dollhouse”) as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof (Wesley on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”) as Benedick, the lovers who can’t stand each other and sneak around eavesdropping until they realize They Were Perfect For Each Other All Along.
Their verbal sparring is the swizzle stick that stirs the martini, the chatter that both comments on the action and moves it along. Aided by the crisp cinematography, this couple feels of a piece with anyone in Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges comedies. It doesn’t hurt that everyone is in suits or dresses the entire time, a la, say, a party scene in “The Thin Man.”
Their love is paralleled (and perpendiculared, if you will) by that of Beatrice’s cousin Hero (relative unknown Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (beloved-by-Whedon-fans “Dollhouse” and “Cabin in the Woods” alum Fran Kranz), a love that the genuinely evil Don John (fellow “Serenity” actor Sean Maher) does his level best to ruin.
Clark Gregg (SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson in “Avengers,” soon to get his own “SHIELD” show on ABC) does a dark, smart turn as Hero’s father, Leonato, for whom honor is a real and lasting idea.
Whedon is lucky he has such an array of talented pals. “Firefly” heartthrob Nathan Fillion, who had never done Shakespeare before, is just outstanding as the goofy-yet-hard-working Dogberry (making him some sort of vague Hollywood private security rather than an actual cop is a stroke of genius), whose chatter is so disjointed and flustered that it scans as undergrad language-poetry.
Which means that Whedon decided to give the part with the dialogue that makes the least amount of straightforward sense to the guy who had the least amount of Bard experience. And it works perfectly. That is some ninja-level casting right there.
So, when can Whedon do the rest of the plays?