Directed and adapted for the big screen from a play thought (my many) to be Shakespeare's best comedy (or the outline of the modern romantic comedy) by the nerd-God Joss Whedon and actually filmed during a two week hiatus amidst the post production of "The Avengers", "Much Ado About Nothing" is sadly nothing more than a hollow attempt at a modern independent film. Admittedly this version is only my second exposure to this title, be it film or printed word, but this doesn't change the fact that Whedon's attempt at adapting the beloved love story between Benedick and Beatrice into a relatable and witty romantic comedy, essentially comes off as a comedy where the first laughs enter in after the initial hour. Furthermore, held up to Kenneth Branagh's 1993 period piece, Whedon's version is wildly forgettable.
I shouldn't feel the need to say this, but Tony Stark isn't in this movie. That is to say, many audiences who are going to see "Much Ado About Nothing" on the Whedon name alone, may find themselves bored out of their skulls rather quickly. So know what you're getting into. Filmed in Whedon's own home, long stretches of "Much Ado About Nothing" come off as something reminiscent of a college film production, with an initial hour that's tediousness is unmatched by any film this year. This is pretty much all due to Whedon's direction; or lack thereof. He doesn't really bring much to the table here. There are a few well crafted/aesthetically interesting scenes, which show off his directorial skills, and he injects a jazzy soundtrack which is sure to be overlooked, but essentially this is a William Shakespeare stage play. In fact, this adaptation is so stripped down , that the lack of evocative mise en scene makes everything seems distractingly like nothing more than a bunch of actors spewing off lines of Elizabethan dialogue. Which I guess is a feat unto itself, but if that's all you got, it's simply not interesting enough to watch for 2 hours. But worse than that, his version suffers from the one thing every film director ballsy enough to adapt Shakespeare dreads, which is not being able to transfer the story onto the screen in a manner where the dialogue seems overwhelmingly comprehensible. With this movie, Whedon may be trying to step out of some kind of box given his reemergence of fame. But if co-writing "The Cabin in the Woods" was a giant leap forward, then "Much Ado About Nothing" is a dull leap back. Also, I can't be the only one who wants him back inside the confines of the Marvel box Disney so graciously built for him.
The acting, which should drive a Shakespearian adaptation, mostly falls flat here. I can't put into words how much Clark Gregg irritates me as an actor. I think it has a lot to do with that stupid Julia Louis-Dreyfus show he was on. And Amy Acker, who plays the role of Beatrice, does it with such a quirkiness that seems to drown audiences the same way an alligator would its prey. She never seems like anything more than an annoying thespian while on screen, overdramatizing every line that comes across her lips. Yes, I understand that Whedon has essentially made the role of Beatrice into a slapstick one, but what Acker's performance turns into is something of a bad SNL sketch. And she is no Kristen Wiig! As for Alexis Denisof (who if you close your eyes sounds exactly like John Michael Higgins) he is the only shining light of the entire film. So it's a good thing that he is playing the lead character, Benedick, as Denisof is absolutely the only reason to watch this movie.
Side Note: In this day and age I don't believe that a director can get away with a Shakespearian adaptation, without going the stylized, big budget route (a la "Romeo + Juliet" or "Coriolanus"). Hence, this Whedon venture is sure to be lost in the shuffle this summer, as its simplicity is partially the reason why it all comes off as fairly boring. By the way, I realize that there are still quite enjoyable Keira Knightley, large gown, pouty Brit, period piece films which come out every year, but a Shakespeare adaptation is another story entirely.
Final Thought: Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" is the type of film that would be playing in the background during a pretentious hipster New York (or New York themed) party. So, my only advice if you've read this far and are still planning on buying a ticket to see this, would be to not go into "Much Ado About Nothing" cold. That is to say, if you aren't familiar with the original text or have not taken a class where an instructor has spent countless hours explaining to you why this dialogue is so funny, then you might be one of the first in your screening to mentally check out. Oh, and I only pray that "Much Ado About Nothing" isn't your first go around with Shakespeare, because this is an adaptation which is assuredly far too Honors English Lit. to capture the imagination of any novice.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
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