Let’s be honest, we were all a little worried, excited too, but worried. The Bard adapted and produced by the man behind last year’s biggest supercharged blockbuster was all but set up to crash and burn, but in reality it’s as cool as Downey Jr. in a shiny metal suit.Filmed over 12 days at Whedon’s Californian home, this tale of love, deception, distrust and manipulation is really not that far from Hollywood anyway. We are immediately brought bang up to date with a contemporary setting and then thrown back in time with original language and a black and white palette. Settling somewhere perfectly in the middle, only the most important parts of tradition are retained – the language, the story and genuine humour.
Slapstick comedy that is often unfashionable in Hollywood these days is played with relish and ridiculousness and to big laughs. Alexis Denisof’s smart and silly Benedick is gamely perfomed as a lovesick fool, but Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk absolutely steal the show as bumbling, incompetent PD partners. When good comedy can often be oversold or hard to come by, the consistent laughs from all the audience here are an enduring credit to the master, and his ambitious director.
Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson in Avengers) is an excellent, understatedly powerful Don Pedro and Amy Acker as Beatrice would rival Lizzie Bennett for her wit, timing and delivery. The gender switch of Conrad (Riki Lindhome) is inspired and the underlying tensions and passions exposed in Whedon’s creation make for a seductively engaging piece from beginning to end.
This is somewhat gentler in its reworking than Romeo + Juliet - which it feels necessary to reference. While both succeed in updating classic texts for audiences old and new, here there is no budget, no car chase, and only a couple of guns, but delights and excites as much as Baz Luhrmann’s lovers.
The aesthetic is youthful and naturalistic through the plot’s absurd twists, and refreshingly light at 109 minutes, there’s really no excuse not to catch Much Ado. This is classic romcom with real romance and laugh-out-loud comedy, and intelligently executed to boot. What more can we ask for than that?