Being as much of a Joss Whedon nerd as I am — and seeing how Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays of all time — it’s kind of surprising how long it took me to watch this movie.
Ultimately, it’s . . . okay. But I didn’t love it nearly as much as I had hoped to.
Uh, brief spoilers, I guess, for a play that’s been around for several hundred years.
Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) mischievously schemes to get sworn banter enemies Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) together. Meanwhile, Don Pedro’s evil brother, Don John (Sean Maher), malevolently schemes to ruin the upcoming wedding between Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese).
1. First, this review’s going to pretty short. I guess I could talk about how quickly the movie was shot or the fact that it’s all in black and white or a hundred other things, but none of that’s very interesting to me. Mostly, I want to talk about the players involved, and why I struggled with this particular version.
So. I know Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing like I know the back of my hand. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it (although it actually has been a while since I watched it last, like years) and despite some of its totally bizarre flaws (Keanu Reeves), I find the movie totally delightful.
So, it was a little distracting, at times, because I kept hearing the echo of other actors in my head as these actors said their lines. You know, that occasionally makes it a little hard to focus. But I also know that this whole ‘echo effect’ would probably get easier each time I watched the movie, and actually, I could mostly move past it after the first twenty minutes or so . . . except when it came to Benedick.
Try as I might, I never warmed up even a little to Alexis Denisof in this movie. He had maybe two lines that I found kind of amusing, but the greater majority of his delivery seemed overwhelmingly flat and unfunny to me. Which, unfortunately, was a pretty big problem. Keanu Reeves is pretty bad as the villain in Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado, but when you think about it, he really only has like fifteen lines or something. Benedick, though — he’s a huge part of the story, actually the best part of the story. His relationship with Beatrice is what this play is all about, so when you don’t like half of that arrangement . . . yeah. That’s a serious issue.
2. I did, however, very much enjoy Beatrice.
Amy Acker continues to do no wrong in my eyes. I very much liked her performance in this movie. Most of the cast does decently well, I think — I also enjoyed Reed Diamond and Clark Gregg. (Clark Gregg, in particular, has some of the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen.) Nathan Fillion is actually an improvement on Michael Keaton, who I never quite liked, and Sean Maher is certainly better than Keanu Reeves — although, if I’m being honest, I didn’t like him quite as much as I had hoped. (There’s a scene with him and a genderbent Conrad that was kind of evil and sexy, I guess, but . . . I don’t know. I like Sean Maher, but I couldn’t help but feel he was a little bit miscast here. I think that scene would have been ten times more awesome if they’d cast an actor with a little bit more presence or charisma.)
3. The big surprise to me was Fran Kranz.
I enjoyed Kranz in Cabin in the Woods and I absolutely loved him in Dollhouse, but when I read that he was going to be playing Claudio . . . it just seemed like a really odd choice to me. But actually, I think he’s easily one of the best actors in the whole cast. The Shakespearian dialogue weirdly fit better on him than some of the others, and he was surprisingly intense. I really want to see him in even more things now.
4. I also like the actress who played Margaret, and I was glad to see she got a little more to do. I mean, not much — Margaret’s a pretty minor character — but still. I played her for a scene in high school, and I always rather liked her. (Is it weird I still remember that? Probably. Oh well.)
5. Finally, Hero has never been a particularly interesting character, but I did really like this moment near the end of this film when she tells Claudio, “I am a maid,” with this little bit of steel in her voice. That was nice — it makes me feel a bit better about her taking that ass back and marrying him.
Cause, seriously. You think your betrothed has been unfaithful, fine. I can see how you might call off the wedding, but who waits until the wedding itself to publicly shame and humiliate the intended bride? Claudio, you’re an ass.
Decent enough adaptation, especially considering how quickly it was made, but I’m probably never going to love it, mostly because I found Benedick far too grating to enjoy.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD, SMELLY FISH:
Leonato. You probably thought I’d say Claudio, and you’re right: he’s an ass too. But when you’re ready to kill your own daughter after some dude says she’s been sleeping around? Yeah, that makes you officially awful. Especially if you’re going to be all sanctimonious about it to Claudio and Don Pedro later, like you didn’t just take someone else’s word for your daughter’s supposed harlotry. At least those guys thought they saw it with their own eyes, and they didn’t actually try to kill her. Seriously, you ASS.
Matchmaking is crazy easy to do.