Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
Actors are not the only artists that are prone to typecasting. Once associated with a specific role, archetype of genre there is a tendency to become too tightly associated with that constraint. This phenomenon also applies to screenwriters, producers and directors. The duality of this tendency presents a peculiar quagmire for the artist. Although it can mean a steady stream of employment as casting director’s think of them when that type of role comes around they are frequently on the short list of consideration. While fiscally sound it does box the person in artistically making it exceptionally difficult for them to grow creatively. In the case of Joss Whedon he reached the stage in his career to have sufficient standing to break free and explore new avenues of artistic expression. His lists of accomplishments are impressive bordering on the legendary. On television he is the creative mind behind ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Angel’ and ‘Dollhouse’ and ‘Firefly’, as series that rose to cult classic status after Fox mismanaged the show onto the ‘brilliant but cancelled’ list. On the cinematic side of the business Mr. Whedon wrote and directed the critically acclaimed and box office juggernaut, ‘The Avengers’. His just started its sequel and created the television spin-off, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’. The trend here is rather easy to spot; Joss Whedon is a force to be reckoned with as a proven genius in the science fiction/fantasy genre. I am certain that I was not the only fan of his that was quite surprised to hear the film that would follow ‘The Avengers’ would be a reimagining of a Shakespearian treasure, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. To have a man famous for vampires, interplanetary mercenaries and a stoppable team of superheroes to take on a play from 1598, particularly one widely considered his best comedy is quirt an impressive change of pace.
Any literary classic deserves to be revisited on a regular basis. If fact it would be correct to state that each generation has the right to demand their interpretation of the themes contained in these works to infuse them with their own sensibilities and spin consistent with their own social bearings. It is just when a very famous and well respected filmmaker the likes of Whedon to deviate so drastic from what could be perceived as his comfort zone greatly amplifies the interest such a project would generate. I had no doubt whatsoever he would succeed and minutes into watching my preliminary expectations were fully confirmed. The reason for this is very simple; Joss Whedon is one of the great story tellers of our time. He resides in the stratosphere of this craft alongside artists such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese perhaps not in raw directorial acumen but certainly in his intrinsic ability to relate a story to an audience mesmerized by the way he presents it.
This is a fairly literal interpretation of the Bard’s classic right down to the character names. Retaining a considerable degree of the Shakespearian charm with an unusual mélange of Elizabethan and modern trappings. The movie is in black and white, something that might seem anachronistically outdated for Whedon’s youthfully skewing fan demographic. A great story teller truly has no targeted audience but should appeal to a broad swatch of ages. This film demonstrates this aptly. In the age where color has been augmented by 3D many tend to forget that black and white is a valid artistic choice in a fashion similar to charcoal or oil and pigments for a classically train painter. The costuming is contemporary, perhaps with a touch of fifties styling as a foundation. What will really catch your attention is the dialogue is directly from Shakespeare’s folio. Whedon fans will be highly amused to watch as Clark Gregg, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Agent Phil Coulson delivers his lines as Leonato in iambic pentameter Elizabethan English. His character is the father of the female lead, Hero, portrayed by Jillian Morgese. Her only other screen credit was as an extra in a restaurant scene in ‘The Avengers’. She is in love with Claudio (Fran Kranz) and as a couple they are humorously contrasted with the primary romantic pairing Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker). Another Whedon staple, Nathan Fillion, return to his comical roots as one of Shakespeare’s most humorous characters, Dogberry. This character is so prone to malapropism that the tendency of misusing words is often referred to as Dogberryism in homage to this character. All the actors are extremely well cast in their respective roles but the ability to deliver such lines with such a straight-faced façade is a trademark of Fillion making him one of the best presentations of Dogberry I have ever witness in the many incarnations of the play I have witnessed.
A romantic comedy such as this requires something or someone that will subject the couples to undeserved misfortunes that serves as the motivation for the action. Shakespeare created one of the best characters to ever serve this function in the embodiment of evil mischief, Don John. The role is once again ideally filed by another of Whedon’s incredible circle of actors he has worked with before. Fans of ’Firefly’ not only recognize Fillion from his role as Mal Reynolds but the Serenity’s physician Dr. Simon Tam shows up here. Well actually the actor who brought him to life, Sean Maher. He is spot on in his brilliant interpretation of this character.
Now as closely as Whedon remained true to the original he did make a few alternations in the nuances. As mentioned above it is expected to retrofit the presentation of the work to better fit with the new audience. Whedon succeeded in this handily while keeping the essence of the original. In that play the couple Beatrice and Benedick were experiencing the thrill of discovering new love. In Whedon’s vision they were previously involved and the story follows them rekindling that relationship. That’s o the genius of Shakespeare’s works the interpretation is readily suited to such variations because the all-important underlying themes are truly universal, applicable in and time period. They speak to the heart of humanity and Whedon tapped into this with great élan. Another alteration that may seem unusual but works extremely well is a sex change. The side kick of Don John, Conrade, traditionally a male role, is played here by a woman, Riki Lindhome. Considering men played all the roles regardless of gender in Shakespeare’s time such a substitution is perfectly reasonable.
No matter what your prior thoughts about the plays of Shakespeare might be this rendition is full of life, an incredibly well-crafted comedy and completely relatable to a modern audience. Mr. Whedon and his extremely talented friends set out to stretch their abilities beyond what fans are accustomed to seeing and succeeded beyond what you might have thought. Whedon et al have proven that those great in telling a story can handle any type of tale they might encounter.
Much Ado About Making Nothing Featurette