Prior to seeing Much Ado About Nothing, it had been a couple years since I last sat down with The Bard. For a while, my life was filled with lectures, essays, and Sparknotes dedicated to the plays of Shakespeare. But as semesters passed by, so did my reference bank. I figured my failure to preserve those works would be detrimental to my evaluation of Joss Whedon‘s latest venture. Happily, I was wrong!Much Ado is at once classic and cutting edge, a seamless blend of style and content. Black and white cinematography lends an air of sophistication and makes the amiable cast even more attractive. The film feels indulgent and sensuous, from its dreamy, lounge-room soundtrack to its glistening scenes of revelry. In contrast, the use of Shakespeare’s original dialogue stimulates the mind. (Baz Luhrmann may have done the same in Romeo + Juliet, but Whedon handles his source material with more finesse.) The actors–most of whom are beloved repeats from the director’s previous ventures–deliver their oft recited lines with unparalleled freshness and ease. Amy Acker beautifully renders the shrew-like Beatrice into an independent, multi-dimensional woman. Meanwhile, Alexis Denisof adds equal parts swagger and silliness to Benedick, the bullheaded leading man with a sentimental streak. Whether they’re exchanging verbal jabs or tender kisses, the chemistry between these two leads is effortless,. What’s more, supporting players like Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, and Tom Lenk contribute more than their fair share of wit and wiles. They prevent the story from drowning in melodrama.
Though the film brims with stylistic and theatrical integrity, perhaps the most impressive achievement is Whedon’s ability to cultivate a sense of familiarity. As I’ve expressed before, Shakespeare can seem a bit intimidating. Accessibility and applicability to the modern viewer is always a gamble. Yet, it seems that sort of uncertainty is what fuels Whedon’s projects. After all, one might also question the relatability of vampire slayers, superheroes, or struggling villains. Whedon asserts that all of these characters have stories to tell, and those stories hold universal appeal. In the case of Much Ado About Nothing, he proves that revisiting Shakespeare is worth the fuss.