Sean K. Cureton

Buffy Meets the Bard

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on July 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Theatrical Poster

Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by Joss Whedon
4 out of 4 stars

Last summer, Joss Whedon garnered a lot of attention with the release of his blockbuster feature film The Avengers, the first feature film from Marvel Studios to successfully bridge the gap between the disparate superhero characters and universes that currently make up the Marvel Film Canon.  At the same time, he also co-wrote and produced the uniquely subversive horror film Cabin in the Woods with former Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel collaborator Drew Goddard. Both films may and should be ranked among the better films of last year, and you’d be hard pressed to imagine anyone having been involved as heavily with even just one of these two major film productions to have the time or the energy to be able to go home at the end of the day to stage and film a gorgeously shot modern day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing in their own backyard. Luckily for moviegoers, Joss Whedon is no ordinary human being, and found the relief offered by the Bard’s words to be the perfect way to unwind at the end of a busy day of directing Tony Stark, placating the demands of a major motion picture studio, and collaborating on an epic horror film in the vein of The Evil Dead. Whedon’s take on Shakespeare is effortlessly brilliant, shot in beautiful black and white, and only serves to solidify Whedon’s place among the very best of American film makers.

Not only is Whedon’s Much Ado good, but it rings with a true love for the original medium of the theatre. Whedon’s shots effortlessly capture his actor’s performances with little to no cinematic intrusion, which would otherwise break the magic of the kind of live performance inherent to Shakespeare’s work. Whedon’s film allows a suspension of the viewer’s imagination to the point where the theatre becomes mere artifice, allowing the viewer to feel as though they were in fact watching a live performance of the play whilst sitting on Whedon’s picaresque veranda. After seeing the film, you’d be hard pressed to imagine the play being produced by anyone else, as Whedon proves to be just as capable and proficient with Shakespeare’s texts as any and all of the great Shakespearean actors of yesteryear. Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier may have had the added insight of having performed as well as directed, but Whedon’s innate taste for dialogue, character, and story aid him in his Shakespearean adaptation, allowing his film to hold its own against the very best Olivier or Branagh production, theatrical or cinematic.

Whedon’s production is also supported by one of the most unlikely, yet brilliant, casts of any cinematic adaptation of the Bard to date. Composed mainly of former collaborators and close friends, Whedon’s Much Ado comes alive with the performances, voices, and physical presences of some of the best Whedon regulars, including Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Buffy), Nathan Fillion (Firefly), and Amy Acker (Angel and Dollhouse). In addition, Whedon cast newcomer and Avengers extra Jillian Morgese as Hero, a gamble that paid back in spades, and ads a certain dimension of spontaneity and independent spirit to Whedon’s labor of love. Denisof and Acker play an enchanting couple as Benedick and Beatrice, comically skirting around each other’s underlying affections for one another. Additionally, Morgese plays a perfectly demure and innocent Hero, while Fillion steals the show and chews the scenery as the comic character Dogberry, and everyone else holds their own and enriches the performances just mentioned, creating a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare that is teeming with life, character, and an ingenuity that is sorely lacking in more popular contemporary Shakespearean fare, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

Joss Whedon has created something very special in his cinematic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Not only has he clearly had a fantastic time reciting Shakespeare with close friends in his California home, but he has probably made one of the first films of his career that will be sure to raise the interest of even the most snooty of film critics. Where Whedon’s television career has certainly garnered some academic and critical attention, his work in feature films has been held back largely due to its attachment to fantasy and sci-fi film genre-types as well as the “Fanboy” collective, causing many of today’s better film critics to turn up their noses at his otherwise superior superhero film The Avengers. It is unclear whether Whedon will make anything else this far reaching in its appeal outside of the “Fanboy” subculture, but Whedon has certainly proved himself up to the task with this release. Either way, this critic will be sure to watch whatever Whedon has up his sleeve next, high or low art.

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  1. Alas! I will have to wait for its release on disc or streaming!

    Like

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