Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Joss Whedon’s remake of Much Ado About Nothing is the delightful tale of two couples: Claudio and Hero and Benedick and Beatrice. Claudio and Hero are reintroduced after the Spanish Prince Don Pedro, and his compatriots have just returned from war. Claudio and Hero are instantly attracted to each other, and during a masquerade ball that first evening, Don Pedro convinces Hero to accept Claudio’s hand in marriage. At the same time, Don Pedro’s brother Don John is out to sabotage his brother and Claudio and makes it his mission to break up the young couple.
The primary couple of this story is Benedick and Beatrice. Benedick and Beatrice are both disdainful of love, and they merrily battle one another with words expressing their antagonism towards each other. Their witty banter and piercing dialogue are the highlight of this story. Claudio, Hero, Don Pedro and Hero’s father Leonato make a pact to try and get the Benedick and Beatrice to confess their love for each other.
Whedon filmed Much Ado About Nothing in October 2011 in 12 days while on “vacation” from his work on The Avengers. Filmed in his home in California, Whedon hired some of the actors that have worked with him over the years from his iconic television series; such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, to fill the acting roles. Alexis Denisof (Benedick) and Amy Acker (Beatrice) play our two leads, and they do an excellent job demonstrating the disdain these two characters initially have for each other and then their eventual reluctance of falling in love. It is a shame that these two haven’t had more success in their respective careers. They are fantastic actors that easily handle the Shakespearean dialogue and yet still make it feel relevant.
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite. The verbal sparring between Benedick and Beatrice is so clever it is easy to bask in the genius of Shakespeare’s words. Besides Denisof and Acker, the real standout in this movie was Reed Diamond who plays Don Pedro. Diamond is a character actor that you have probably seen in countless television and film roles, where he normally plays serious roles, such as lawyers and police detectives. It was a delight to see him in a comedic role, and he shines as he merrily tricks Benedick and Beatrice together.
I have two complaints about the movie; first during the masquerade sequence there is this oddly weird scene in the pool that doesn’t make any contextual sense. Secondly, I found the scene where Don Pedro reveals the supposed betrayal of Hero is not developed enough to give it the full emotional weight the subsequent sequence needed.
As much as I enjoyed this version of Much Ado About Nothing, the 1993 version with the all-star cast of Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington and Kate Beckinsale is still my favorite. There is a joyous abandonment that the 1993 version had that was missing for me in Whedon’s remake. B
Of all of the works of Shakespeare, my two favorites are Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew. This was a well-made passion project and it kind of boggles the mind to think that Whedon was capable of making this film in two weeks. I enjoyed the use of black and white and thought that the contemporary setting was effective, although counterintuitive. The cast is stocked with excellent actors who are criminally underrated and underutilized outside of Joss Whedon’s purview. The standouts in the film were the leads Alexis Denisof and AmyAcker who handled the emotional swings from silly to serious deftly and managed the laughter-filled moments as well as the tear-filled ones.
Unfortunately, I have to compare this version to the Kenneth Branagh version that is my all-time favorite Shakespearean adaptation. This film cannot match the whimsy and playfulness of its predecessor and it is also a little hamstrung by the limitations of the production. Filmed in such a short time and in such a small place, a few of the scenes seemed clumsy. That aside, it is wonderful to see that the same man capable of the spectacle of TheAvengers is capable of something so charming and intimate. B-