Whedon’s love of language comes through in his own writing, so it should be no surprise that he digs in with such zeal here, or that he is able to clearly communicate what it is that Shakespeare wants us to take away from this romp.
Part of what allows the film to be so effective, despite a budget probably not far in excess of an “Avengers” craft services table, is the subtle balance and contrast it achieves between courtly language and contempo mores. The archaic codes of honor that govern this late-16th-century work provide a poignant reminder of what’s been lost in the rites of modern coupling, even as the characters’ onscreen dalliances, though filmed with tasteful discretion, help to bring out the text’s deep, lustrous sensuality.
The best part of Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is probably when Fred and Wesley finally get to be happy together, despite the villainous machinations of Simon Tam. Or wait, maybe the best part is when Topher, Dominic and Agent Carlson conspire to play matchmaker. Or when Andrew and Captain Mal show up as bumbling cops. The point is this: There’s a very strong possibility that a viewer’s enjoyment of Whedon’s take on William Shakespeare will be affected by how much of a Whedon fan he or she already is. It’s not a requirement, mind.
It’s my position that there are films in the world the highest and greatest purpose of which is to be delightful. That the creation of delight is an entirely valid use of one’s talent, and that normal humans have always known this, and it’s only critics who sometimes forget because they are bombarded with so much false and forced delight. So certain projects exist in part to remind you that real delight is an end unto itself. Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is exactly this kind of film, and because it’s utterly delightful, it’s utterly successful.
Whedon’s Much Ado is a bold challenge for the director not because of fancy costumes or complex staging, but because he removes two of his greatest assets: his dialogue and a budget. Of course, nothing Whedon (or anyone else) could write would surpass the Bard, but it’s an entertaining exercise seeing the director speak only in a visual language, and then having his budget limit what visuals he has available. With no money and another author’s work, Whedon finds his film’s strength in the superb cast, clever staging, and an expert understanding of dialogue.
Simply put, Much Ado About Nothing is a masterpiece. A heartfelt, beautiful, affecting masterpiece. Not a beat in its entirety goes amiss. Fans of his work will love seeing their favourite actors collaborating once more, and newcomers will love Whedon’s take on a classic play that has never been told quite like this. It is a remarkable adaptation of the highest calibre that Shakespeare himself would no doubt be proud of.