I hereby bestow on Joss Whedon the ability to adapt any bloody work of Shakespeare he so wishes into film (I believe that’s part of my abilities as an ex- English Major). And here’s why:
1) We Missed You, Whedonverse!
Audiences have been treating Much Ado as some weird departure from regular Joss Whedon material. Most of the man’s work comprises of action-adventure/ scifi-fantasy genre work with slick-talking, butt-kicking protagonists and large-scale production work. And yea, I guess when you put it that way, it does seem like a surprise move to follow the third highest grossing film of all time with a micro-budget, Shakespearean adaptation shot in Whedon’s house with actors whose names don’t rhyme with Bobert Mowney Punior.
BUT, I’d argue that Much Ado is very much in vein with Whedon’s work– in fact, much more so than The Avengers franchise. Five minutes into Much Ado and you get the odd sense that you’ve seen this before. The bound-for-love couple who express their love for each other with insults and denial. The miscommunications that deeply wound otherwise wonderful relationships. The unique balance of a sharp, fun, and nuanced script with plenty of physical comedy. Like any good ‘auteur,’ Whedon takes his themes, his dramatic structure, his characters, from one of the greatest sources of Western storytelling and incorporates them into his unique creative vision, whether it be that of a teenage girl fighting big baddies or of rogue soldiers on the fringes of the galaxy. Shakespeare seems to be everywhere in contemporary culture, but Whedon truly knows how to use it for meet his own vision as a storyteller.
Also, how much fun was it to see our favorites from the Whedonverse! Who knows why Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker haven’t had roles as exciting as their Angel characters? Those two are just brilliant. Luckily, their versatility and charm are on full effect in Much Ado. Every time a Whedonverse actor appeared on screen, 50% of the audience gave a happy squeal (Andrew! was most audible) and with reason– Whedon’s assembled a great bunch of people over the years to do his bidding. The more, the merrier!
2) LESS IS MORE
Like any normal six-year old, I regularly watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation of Much Ado. My 16 year old sister insisted I be a cultured second grader. This same sister also introduced me to Buffy and Angel and Firefly. (Come to think of it, she’d probably be a better source about the connections between Billy Shakes and Jossy Weed than me). Branagh’s version always existed as a kind of model for the way Much Ado plays out, so much so that even the Tennant/Tate partnership last year took came in second to it (you know, on the list I have on my wall next to my bed of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever.)
Rather than go for Branagh’s Italian villa setting or the Donmar’s 1980’s shindig, Whedon’s Much Ado is much simpler. The black-and-white movie, filmed completely in Whedon’s
palace home, makes for some strikingly nuanced yet affirming visuals, and allows Shakespeare’s word to vibrate unhindered throughout the story. Maybe that’s why audiences seem surprised that they are actually able to understand the story in Whedon’s film. They’re unmediated, direct, and resounding. (That being said, check out both other adaptations if the interest moves you. I personally like Branagh’s but the trick scenes in the Tennant/Tate production are pretty wonderful).
3) I don’t have a three. I guess…. Shakespeare’s awesome and I’m so glad that artists continue to push the boundaries of his work. Go team!