For all its post-Avengers fuss, there is little all that remarkable about Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and yet it’s still an utter delight. The sustained level of pleasure speaks to the power of William Shakespeare’s work and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Whedon’s respectful, straightforward handling of the material, though together they make for a potent team. Filmed in black and white, practically out of necessity to distinguish itself from Kenneth Branagh’s excellent 1993 version, this modern take plays out at Whedon’s actual suburban abode, here serving as the home of nobleman Leonato (Clark Gregg). Amongst sleek rooms and manicured lawns, familiar faces from the director’s catalog (primarily the television series Angel and Dollhouse) for the most part wield The Bard of Avon’s original text like stage veterans, while the combined visual and lyrical effect proves just fresh enough under the classic coloration.
As the famous quarreling could-be lovers whose respective egoism (and verbosity) keeps them apart, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof offer respective charming takes on Lady Beatrice and soldier Benedick. Self-assured that marriage is not the way for them, they all but ask to eat their words courtesy of their conniving friends, among them Fran Kranz as fellow soldier Claudio and Jillian Morgese as Leonato’s daughter and Claudio’s wife-to-be, Hero. Creeping around the grounds to capture their humorous antics, Whedon’s camera remains crisp and clean throughout while his adaptation tastefully transforms swords to guns and “Hey Nonny, Nonny” into a jazz singer’s sultry purrs. Such choices allow this Much Ado to feel both of its time and, thanks to the language and cinematography, of an era long gone that beautifully demands revisiting.
About the only thing that doesn’t connect is a stout Nathan Fillion, arguably the cast’s most celebrated member, who brings little to the role of goofy head policeman Dogberry. Downplaying the comic relief with an oddly soft interpretation, the former Captain Reynolds fails to enliven the part that Michael Keaton, dripping of Beetlejuice, turned into the scene-stealer it’s meant to be 20 years ago. Fillion’s scenes may not ripple quite the same, but along with his fellow Whedon faithful and their talented director, his efforts are more than enough to capture the essence of Shakespeare’s play. Whether or not the total efforts attract the bulk of The Avengers’ audience is another matter, though for the intelligent set who comprise the core Whedon fan base, Elizabethan English is right in their wheelhouse.
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use.