Joss Whedon will never cease to amaze me. The cult-hit creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, comic book writer/artist, godfather of the Marvel cinematic universe, and all-around Nerd King continues to prove himself as a modern day renaissance man with his latest venture. Sandwiched in between his two gargantuan blockbuster Avengers films (with a combined estimated budget of $500 million, and a predicted box office revenue of over $3 billion), Joss took on a little passion project for fun: a micro-budget adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous comedy Much Ado about Nothing, which he filmed on location in his own home.
Filmed in only 12 days while he and his crew took a break from The Avengers, Much Ado is a faithful (yet modernized) adaptation that brings together several talented actors that longtime Whedonites are sure to recognize. Clark Gregg (The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD) takes on the role of Leonato, the governor of Messina, who welcomes the exalted Don Pedro (Reed Diamond, Dollhouse) into his home along with his companions, Benedick (Alexis Denisof, Buffy/Angel), and Claudio (Fran Kranz, The Cabin in the Woods). Other familiar faces include Amy Acker (Angel) as Beatrice, the governor’s niece and Benedick’s spiteful love interest; Sean Maher (Firefly) as Don John, the prince’s bastard brother; Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel & Oates) as Conrade, Don John’s lackey and lover (the only major change, as this part is originally written for a man); Jillian Morgese, an extra from The Avengers, who was offered the part of Hero, Leonato’s daughter and love interest of Claudio; and Nathan Fillion, who gives a particularly hilarious performance as Dogberry, Leonato’s head of security. In addition, a few more recognizable characters from Buffy and The Avengers pop up that devotees will recognize if they are paying close enough attention.
With the only real difference being the present-day setting, Whedon’s film captures the essence of Shakespeare’s comedy, while offering his own creative spin on the play. The dialogue comes directly from the original play, only slightly trimmed in a few places in the interest of time, while the songs have been replaced with instrumental beats that still manage to evoke the original message without the lyrics.
Whedon’s Much Ado is a must-see for Shakespeare fans. This re-imagining manages to smoothly blend the 16th century writing into modern day, with a few select directorial twists to humorously explain away some of Shakespeare’s outlandish phrasing (such as the characters being consistently drunk). Even for those less familiar with Shakespeare’s plays, this version is well worth a watch. The dialogue may seem hard follow at first, but the film easily provides enough context to convey the story (though it may be helpful to leave the subtitles on).
Well-directed, very well acted, and extremely funny.
Much Ado About Nothing is available now on Netflix.