You could say that The Avengers was the ultimate test for Joss Whedon; a big budget summer blockbuster seemed pretty far out of the wheelhouse of the guy known for niche nerdy shows that get cancelled. But he made it work by doing basically what he has always done: writing a funny, exciting script that allowed the movie to focus a little more on character than spectacle. You see, Whedon is a writer, and a good one. So if you think about it, his real ultimate test is doing a movie he didn’t write, like when Kevin Smith did Cop Out. Fortunately, by taking on Shakespeare, Whedon set the bar a little higher for himself.
If you haven’t heard about the production history of this movie, allow me to leave you really unimpressed. Basically, while on post-Avengers vacation, Whedon invited his actor friends over to his Santa Monica home and shot the movie right there in his house. Knowing that made me think of the movie as a fun little exercise and not really a film worthy of analysis, but obviously I was wrong, or this wouldn’t have gotten a wide release.
The movie is shot in black and white, so as to create even further distance from The Avengers, which is nice. After Frances Ha, I’m getting used to the idea of seeing really modern places in black and white, might as well see this trend continue. As for Whedon’s interpretation of the script? He turned Conrade into a lady (played by Riki Lindhome of Garfunkel and Oates fame) who is totally doing Don John (Sean Maher, Firefly‘s Simon) which makes him seem a more credible threat. Also, Whedon implies that Beatrice (Amy Acker, who was in both Angel and Dollhouse) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof, from Buffy/Angel) already had a relationship previously, which I can get behind.
As for the rest of the cast? Clark Gregg, who apparently subbed in for Anthony Head at the last minute, is having a lot of fun as Leonato, as it should be. Nathan Fillion is obviously cast as Dogberry, and does it due diligence. Fran Kranz, of Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods makes Claudio a little more interesting than he usually is, and was fun with Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro. And there are other, mostly inconsequential parts for women.
Much Ado About Nothing is probably me favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, and I probably would get some enjoyment out of any rendition of the material. That said, I think Whedon deftly handled the material and the cast had a lot of fun with it. Shooting it in Whedon’s house gives the film an intimate feel, and the score, which Whedon also helped do, accentuates that tone. The whole movie just seems fun and casual, which it probably should, especially compared to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. I liked it.