Joss Whedon invited the cast to film entirely in his own home and was done filming in 12 days.
You don't see very many Shakespeare adaptations these days. Chances are, this is because he's a tricky artist to get right. Sure, we've seen modernizations of his plays before but they really serve as sources of inspiration rather than direct modernization. To pull this off, you'd need an astounding ensemble cast, an extremely clever hook and a ringleader who can equally balance numerous characters in one scene. Luckily enough for us, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing has all three of these requirements and in great excess.
After a rather embarrassing one night stand, the handsome Benedick (Alexis Denisof) meets again with the beautiful and fiesty Beatrice (Amy Acker) in the house of Leonato (Clark Gregg), Governor of Messina. Leonato has opened his home to his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), who has just been claimed victorious in his campaign against his sly brother, Don John (Sean Maher). As his officer, along with Claudio (Fran Kranz), Benedick begans distancing himself from his emotions towards Beatrice. Quite the opposite for Claudio, as he falls head over heels for Leonato's daughter and Beatrice's cousin, the beautiful and innocent Hero (Jillian Morgese). Still disgusted at his loss to his brother, Don John plots a scheme to destroy the innocence in the love between Claudio and Hero by corrupting Claudio. With the help of Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade (Riki Lindhome), Don John starts rumors most foul in hopes of turning the group of lovers against each other. Can love conquer all and bring these two hearts together?a
When it was first mentioned that Joss Whedon was planning his follow-up to The Avengers to be a black and white modernized adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing using the original script, I was at a loss for words. A project of this caliber could only go one of two ways, with both being the extreme: Either this movie was going to bomb louder than any other anticipated follow-up or it was going to be a Whedon masterpiece. I'm happy to report that even a week after viewing his film, Joss Whedon has, indeed, supplied us with his masterpiece.
Whedon is the master of quick wit, well balanced characters and dilligent pacing in his projects. With Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog and The Avengers, who's to disagree that Whedon is a pro at taking the impossible and making it very real? With The Avengers, he took four huge characters who can and have carried their own gigantic films and made them blend together better than most films ever could blend moderately sized characters. And it's funny to mention The Avengers here because Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare's Avengers. Thirteen people, all with their own storyline and different personalities, forced into one location and attempting to remain joyous and in love even in the face of deceit and hate. In a way, it was the perfect project to release after The Avengers because it takes the same amount of effort for Whedon to make a low budget drama as it does a billion dollar action epic. This alone shows Whedon to be the ringleader who can put his heart into a project like this and balance every character an their traits perfectly.
The biggest surprise with Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is their decision to use the original Shakespeare script. The story does seem to take place in modern times (characters at times pull out their iPods and iPhones) but the dialogue is kept in it's original context. Characters refer to others as Lord or Lady, almost every character is given a chance at their own monologue (none better than Alexis Denisof but we'll get to that) and yet it feels real. Even though it's close to a foreign language at times, Whedon allows his actors to twist meanings of what they're saying and even change inflections of certain words to suggest an alternative meaning. The words are still the same but the way they are displayed and used is classic Whedon putting his own twist on modernized film. While Whedon is arguably the source of this decision, the praise isn't fully his to take.
Much Ado About Nothing's cast is unstoppable. Granted, most people walking into this movie will recognize Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson in The Avengers and Nathan Fillion of Firefly and Castle, but the rest of the cast are fairly smaller actors. They've done plenty of work (take a look at Alexis Denisof's IMDB when you get an hour) but nothing to skyrocket them to stardom just yet. However, each actor shows their worth in this picture. Denisof is simply amazing as Benedick. Denisof plays him with this ego bursting at the seams but a humble one at the same time. His interactions with Claudio and Don Pedro are testaments to his true self, eccentric but a lover by all means. Acker's Beatrice is full of love to those closest to her but distant to anyone outside of her circle, yet she is weak to Benedick's charm. Clark Gregg plays Leonato quite plainly, up until his monologue at the altar which displays a side of Gregg I wasn't aware he had. Maher's Don John is evil by all sense of the word, along with his lover Conrade, while the third villain, Borachio, shows his true self towards the end of the film. But if we're to discuss true stand outs of the picture, it should be illegal to not mention Fran Kranz and Nathan Fillion. Fillion plays Officer Dogberry, in charge of getting to the bottom of the trouble at Leonato's household. I'm not aware of the characters portrayal in the original sense, but in Whedon's take, Fillion plays Dogberry as a bumbling idiot who is only trying to save his image. It's simply hilarious to watch him fumble around words and defend his honor after being called an ass by Conrade. As I said earlier, it's the body language and tone that makes it all. But it is truly Kranz that brings an extreme amount of depth, wit, pain and darkness to Claudio. Whether he is slyly trying to convince Benedick of Beatrice's love for him or his utter disgust at Hero for her alleged actions, all eyes are on Kranz as he undoubtedly delivers the performance of not only Much Ado About Nothing, but his career as well.
Let's not forget the most important part of Much Ado's enjoyment: The hilarity. Whedon has turned a rather humorous play into an often hysterical film all balanced by wonderful performances and a captivating score. The notches are turned all the way up for this one and Whedon handles everything like the champion he has proved himself to be. The performances, the direction and the humor are all amazing here as Whedon, practically, invited his friends over and made a home movie. Honestly, I wish all home movies could be like this one.