Doomed romances. Domestic conflict. Soul-sucking monsters. Alright, forgetting that last one, Buffy The Vampire Slayer provided an unexpectedly appropriate testing ground for Joss Whedon to explore some of Shakespeare's key themes. Despite the geek god's last film being Avengers Assemble (aka the biggest blockbuster of 2012), it should come as no surprise that the ex-Buffy showrunner has taken on the Bard.
More surprising are the circumstances surrounding his creation of Much Ado About Nothing. It's already been PR'd to death that Whedon shot his version of Much Ado in the break between filming and editing Avengers – just 12 days. Even better, he did it at his own house (this film is as much a celebration of Shakespeare as it is an advert for Whedon's wife, who designed said pile of bricks).
Still, when Shakespeare's arguably funniest play has already been adapted previously by the mighty Kenneth Branagh – and given an effervescent Indian twist in London's West End – what else is there to add? As it turns out, loads. Despite having his own singular voice, Whedon doesn't grate against Shakespeare – his film is a spry, twinkling, crisp-looking contemporary retelling that's huge on laughs, style and – pivotally – heart.
Much of that heart comes courtesy of Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as Benedick and Beatrice, whose apparent hatred of each other trips unexpectedly – and hilariously – into love. Fans of Whedon's Buffy spin-off show Angel will suffer a case of déjà vu all over again seeing this duo doing the dance of love once more, years after their Angel characters broke our hearts on the small screen.
Both proved time and again on that show that they could handle everything from slapstick comedy to heart-destroying tragedy, and they're just as hilarious and heartbreaking here. (It probably isn't a spoiler to reveal that Whedon finally gifts them the happy ending that their Angel characters were denied.)
Though these two are a clear highlight, Whedon doesn't make the mistake of focussing entirely on them (something other Much Ado productions could be accused of). Ever the ensemble man, he's assembled a rich roster of talent – some from his other TV shows, others newbies – to flesh out his cast. Of them all, newcomer Jillian Morgese (as Hero) is a delight, and a dead ringer for Acker, while Fran Kranz (from Cabin In The Woods) as Leonata is quietly affecting.
Of course, Nathan Fillion just about steals the show from under all their noses as detective Dogberry, a self-proclaimed "ass" who likes to remind everybody of that fact. Frequently. With its snappy dialogue (for once, not Whedon's), laugh-out-loud set-pieces and knowing sense of irony, Whedon's film is a breath of fresh air – and irrefutably makes Shakespeare cool again. Buffy would be proud.
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