Shakespeare was a genius. You know how I know that? I just watched a movie set in the present based on a play written in 1600, retaining the dialogue as originally written, and it was great.
There was never much doubt that it would be though.
Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most well regarded comedies. Benedick and Beatrice spar verbally but are tricked into admitting they love one another. Claudio is tricked into shaming Hero, his betrothed. It has a selfish villain in John, a fool in Dogberry, and a well rounded supporting cast of characters.
Filmed during director Joss Whedon’s post-Avengers vacation in his own Santa Monica home with a cast of friends, the film is simply delightful. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call him a genius but it’s certain that he’s a great director and he has an eye for casting, placing people perfect for their roles. Case in point Nathan Fillion is the perfect Dogberry, both self assured and bumbling with Tom Lenk as his ass kissing and just-as-bumbling partner.
Clark Gregg and Reed Diamond steal every scene they are in as Don Leonato and Don Pedro. They both manage to capture both the playfulness required of them during the party scenes and the gravity needed for their downbeat moments. Gregg runs circles around everyone during Hero’s aborted wedding with the possible exception of Fran Kranz. I’ve only really seen him before as a burnout or a nerd and it’s awesome to see him play something so different and knock it right outta the park.
Sean Maher is great as Don John, capturing the selfish menace required of a character whose only real motive is to see the others suffer. Jillian Morgese likewise plays the innocent Hero with aplomb.
As the films stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff play off each other admirably. Acker embodies both Beatrice’s disdain and love of Benedick and the same can be said for Denisoff, however Denisoff does happen to be the best example of a minor problem I sometimes have with performances Shakespeare in that Shakespearian dialogue spoken with a flat North American accent sometimes doesn’t really sound right.
This is a fairly minor quibble though and at the end of the day it’s easy to get past. He also provides some of the films bigger laughs when he’s hiding from Leonato, Claudio and Pedro as they speak of Beatrice, his efforts to remain unseen are slapstick and hilarious.
As I was going in I wondered how the story would work updated to modern times but this was just silly of me. All the little touches, like the watchmen talking into radios for their soliloquies and the use of guns instead of swords, are not exactly new ideas but they work all the same.
So should you see it? Yes, yes you should. Shakespeare is genius, Joss Whedon is inspired, and there’s really something to be said about watching a movie where everyone is clearly having a good time making it.