Whedon is the director and writer of “The Avengers,” director of “Thor,” writer of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and creator and producer of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Dollhouse” and “Firefly” (he also directed a few episodes). As producer, director, and screenplay writer for “Much Ado about Nothing” he calls in actors from his former productions to quickly assemble this feature film.
He hires Amy Acker (Beatrice) from “Angel”, Alexis Denisof (Benedick), Jillian Morgese (Hero) and Clark Gregg (Leonato) from “The Avengers,” Reed Diamond (Don Pedro) and Fran Kranz (Claudio) from “Dollhouse,” Nathan Fillion (Dogberry) and Riki Lindhome (Conrade) from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Sean Maher (Don John) from “Firefly.”
Benedick and Beatrice are ex-lovers that seemingly hate each other, as can be deduced by their endless comedic (yet harsh) banter, which the actors command with ease. Claudio and Hero barely speak a word to each other, but their affection is doubtless and heartwarming when they stare into each other’s eyes. It is love at first sight, and they are quickly engaged.
Don Pedro, Leonato, Claudio and Hero set out to make Benedick and Beatrice “mad for each other.” What follow are two beautifully fabricated conversations, executed by the gentlemen and ladies alike, during which Benedick and Beatrice comically fail at hiding as they attempt to eavesdrop. This results in a fall down the stairs, broken bushes and lots of flipping around on the floor (dangerously side-splitting).
Don Pedro’s brother Don John assembles his team, Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade, to break up Hero and Claudio’s romance by tricking Claudio into believing his fiancée is unfaithful. Meanwhile, a group of inept police officers, led by Dogberry, overhear Conrade and Borachio discussing the scheme and fumble to convict them.
Whedon’s modern touches include Conrade’s gender, in which she becomes a woman and lover to the mastermind Don John. He also incorporates humorous moments (taking advantage of the 21st century scene) when the officers lock themselves out of their car and wear sun glasses and guns to pronounce their self-appointed superiority (and to look cool). All this made the film more relatable and the initially incomprehensible old English easier to embrace.
Throughout the film the actors show mastery of the lines and do well in conveying their meaning through their manner and tone. Without paying close attention, much of the lines, the banter especially, becomes lost and scenes become purely dialogue without the comedy that is expected.
There are a few hiccups in this work, namely the gender roles in society. Shakespeare’s script exhibits a rant from Beatrice about how her gender makes it impossible for her to take action to protect her cousin from Claudio when he accuses Hero of being disloyal. Whedon keeps the monologue in the script despite today’s gender equality. If the script were written with modern-day thought, Beatrice would not have asked Benedick to seek revenge for Hero because Beatrice would have no problem doing it herself. This makes the monologue considerably weaker when compared to the stage version which stifles the character into the female role of the 16th century.
Such inconsistencies do not take away from the delight of the comedy in this film. It is a marriage between Shakespeare and modern art. Its classic acting and subtly sublime score are complimented by the scenery and give the film an elegant look while maintaining a casual day feel.
Whedon has brought back the timelessness of Shakespeare’s scripture and re-created a classic. Some things, especially love, never change.