Film review: Much Ado About Nothing

WHEN you’ve saved the world several times, what do you do in your brief downtime windows?

Alexis Denisof with snorkel, mask and martini takes the plunge as Benedick in Shakespeare's classic. Picture: Contributed

Much Ado About Nothing (12A)

Director: Joss Whedon

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Running time: 107 minutes


I’ve always longed for a sequence where comic book heroes such as Thor and Captain America hunker down over Airfix kits, fervently augment their iTunes library or visit eBay and pick out a costume that a) looks a little less like a Russian Olympic cyclist and b) has a zip.

However, at least we know what current comic hero wunderkind Joss Whedon does when he’s got a fortnight’s break from a film: make another film.

Much Ado About Nothing was shot quickly and cheaply in 12 days, and looks like a palate cleanser before editing his multimillion superhero adventure The Avengers Assemble. Like The Avengers, there’s verbal sparring and a charming turn by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clark Gregg. Unlike The Avengers, there’s kissing.

Much Ado is stocked with actors from Whedon’s TV series, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dollhouse. Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with some or all of these shows; Shakespeare’s play is still the thing.

Shot in black and white, Whedon’s film is a sprightly little bagatelle that reminds me of end-of-term plays where some of the more popular prefects gamely hoof in unfamiliar roles. Instead of Italy, this Much Ado relocates to modern Santa Monica and plays out around a lovely airy property which is actually Whedon’s home.

The setting allows anachronisms such as cupcakes, 
mobile phones and Cirque Du Soleil performing at fancy-pants parties, while the “hey nonny nonnies” of Sigh No More, Ladies get re-interpreted as hip-hop refrains. But it 
remains a comedy about the reliance on hearsay.

Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) drop their hostilities and pick up each other when eavesdropping persuades each of them that the other has been hiding a secret crush. The treacherous side of rumour lies in the other love plot where Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) are trying to make 
it to the altar, but have their happiness almost ruined by rumours of Hero’s infidelity, spread by Claudio’s rival Don John (Sean Maher).

Much Ado is often said to lack the lyricism of Shakespeare’s other romances, becoming comedically problematic when we hit the tragic implications of Hero’s humiliation and estrangement from Claudio.

Even so, Beatrice and Benedick provide the template for a thousand Hollywood rom-coms, in that the play has them hate each other at the start then soften up when, after mocking the idea of falling in love, they find they’re not so averse to it, or each other, after all.

The standout is Acker, who is funny and fluent as Beatrice but also registers poignant hurt, but almost everyone seems at ease in this feather-light production which eschews the Bardolatry that accompanies more declamatory Shakespeare movie versions.

Whedon even manages to resolve the problem of Dogberry, who may have had audiences busting a doublet back in the day, but is usually a testing ground for tumble-weed in modern theatre. Astonishingly, however, Nathan Fillion manages to milk laughs from his stunned reactions to being called an ass. A funny Dogberry? That’s something worth making a fuss over. «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday