Much Ado About Nothing vs Much Ado About Nothing

4 Jul

Though I could easily have called this post “My Relationship With Shakespeare” and went on and on like I did with my “Superman” post (maybe I will one day), I decided to rein myself in and stick to the task at hand… though we all know that’s not possible.

Tonight @luckyjon, a friend and I went to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Straight up, I really enjoyed it. After all, it is my favourite Shakespeare adaptation, due in most part to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film. I think it may have been my first Shakespeare experience. With the probable exception of Animanics…

*I had to. We’ve been on an Animaniacs kick lately. Thanks, YouTube.*

The first time I saw Branagh’s film was on tv one night. It was before I read any Shakespeare in high school, but for some reason remember being really excited about it. I popped in a not-exactly-new VHS tape and recorded it. It was one of the worst copies ever, but I watched it again and again. It used to get all fuzzy during the long trek down to Hero’s tomb, but that’s not the best part anyway. I just loved the fast pace, the quick wit, the play on words – it’s probably why I love the Marx Brothers so much – and the romance. Who doesn’t love romance? It’s one of those movies that just make me feel good.

When I knew we were going to be reading Shakespeare in English class, I got really excited. That all ended when the first thing we read was Julius Caesar. What a let down. I was a fan of the language, but not so much the story. Over the years we went on to read Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet. Both of which I enjoyed a lot more. But sadly, no comedies. That led me to go out and buy The Complete Works of Shakespeare. IT WAS MASSIVE. I enjoyed reading a few of the comedies… Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors… as well as pouring over Ado and imagining all the scenes from the movie and hearing their voices.

But now, almost 20 years later, there is a new Ado in town. In the same way @luckyjon introduced me to comics, he also showed me the Whedon-verse. Wait. That’s not 100% true.

Side Note Story… In my first year of university, my Communications professor brought up Buffy in one of the units, and in my opinion at the time, went on and on about Buffy for three weeks. “Great” is what you are all probably thinking, but at the time I didn’t like Buffy. I watched a few episodes when in premiered but thought it was kinda dumb. That is…. until 3 years later when a friend of mine lent me all seven seasons and I watched them all within three months! Hooked! Loved it! Oddly enough though, I have never re-watched them. I may have seen every episode, but only once.
Skip ahead to 2007 and I meet @luckyjon who is a HUGE Buffy and Angel fan and kind of a geek. He introduced me to “Joss Whedon the autuer”. Firefly may have been everything I ever wanted in a tv show…. including Nathan Fillion. *swoon*
Now I know what to look forward to if Whedon’s name is on something.
I also love that he has such a re-occurring cast. It’s always fun to find the link.
Since we found out he was doing an Ado adaption, I have been dying to see it. And tonight I did.

Because I love the Kenneth Branagh version so much, I can tell you this “review” will be a straight up comparison. It’s hard to get the classic you’ve seen again and again… and again out of your head when watching a new version. I must say though, this is not a win-or-lose review. I like both films a lot and for different reasons. Like my Man of Steel “review”, this is again just some thoughts on a movie I enjoyed.

I know the first comparison makes them two completely separate films, but the characters are still there. Branagh gave us a very period piece type of movie where Whedon went completely modern.
I enjoyed the modern setting a lot, but a part of me missed the fanfare score. Patrick Doyle is a brilliant composer and I always look forward to a film with his name in the credits. Great Expectations was where I first took note of his name, but check out IMDb. It’s quite the list.
Whedon’s film began silent, and the first thing I remember hearing was a lone piano note. But it worked. Whedon scored it himself (he usually has a hand in the music dept) and the music really fit the style.

The first fifteen minutes of the film was where I needed to settle in. These were my beloved characters, but they sounded so different. There were a few times I thought, “Hmmm. He said that differently”. “I like the way Emma Thompson said that better”. This mind set wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It already affected how much I liked/disliked the main characters. But I got over it.

Branagh is a tough act to follow, but once I settled into these new characters I felt Alexis Denisof was a brilliant Benedick. I wasn’t big on him at first, but he really took it over. The scene where he is trying not to be scene while eavesdropping on The Prince, Claudio and Leonato was my favourite bit. He nailed it. By the end I was a little bit in love. Kenneth who? 😉

Emma Thompson is also a tough act to follow. Amy Acker played Beatrice in Whedon’s version and although she had some really great scenes, I feel just-above-luke-warm for her. The scene where she is hiding from Hero and Ursula (huh, the other eavesdropping scene – that wasn’t planned) was pretty funny. I’ve also never seen someone fall down the stairs like that! Impressive.

Claudio. Now back when I first saw Branagh’s film, I loved Robert Sean Leonard. Still do. He was this cherub faced guy in love. Fran Kranz as Claudio was a bit different and at first I was unsure if I would like him. It wasn’t until @luckyjon pointed out that he was the stoner guy from The Cabin in the Woods that I began to appreciate his performance. The guy is a great actor. He’s also been in a lot more than you think. Again hit up IMDb. Now don’t think just because I figured out who he was a liked him more, his performance was really great. It was that first fifteen minute thing again. By the end, he had had so many amazing scenes. Mega impressed.

Now setting. I mentioned the period piece feel of Branagh’s, so the maiden and princes thing all kind of made sense. The “I liked you before I went to war and now that I’m back I love you” kind of thing. In this modernized version, I had trouble believing all that. First of all, we find out that Benedick and Beatrice have slept together in the past. She is not a maiden, but still gets married. Hero is “killed” because she is suspected of being promiscuous. Makes perfect sense in the Shakespeare sense, but not in this day and age. That got me thinking about the setting. Who are these people? Still Princes and Lords, but from where and of what? I haven’t read into any of the reviews before or after seeing this. I wanted to write my thoughts and how I read the film before I looked it up. I saw these people as CIA Royalty. They all have guns and suits and security. House has it’s own surveillance. Is he a real Prince? Why would you un-handcuff villains at the beginning of the movie only to arrest them later? Hhmmmm… actually I think Keanu was in cuffs at the beginning of the Branagh film. I’ll have to look into this. Talking to @luckyjon and my friend about it on the way home, @luckyjon suggested it was an alternate reality. Kinda of like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. A world that could be ours, but isn’t. That idea works for me. If this is a completely different world, they have their own world, and rules and customs. That was a lot of babble, but sometimes ya just gotta talk it out.

Now, for the best part of Whedon’s film, and the part I would willing swap completely to replace the scenes in Branagh’s. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry was a million times better than Michael Keaton’s. I get Keaton was the comic relief, but he just kind of made me feel uncomfortable. All greasy and weird. Funny yes, but it’s like Beetlejuice decided to be in Shakespearean law enforcement. Fillion and his sidekick of Tom Lenk (Verges) were completely amusing without being goofy. All those scenes were solid and they worked. Locking the keys in the car. Genius.

A quick bit about other characters. Loved this new version of Don Pedro. Denzel was great in ’93, but really loved Reed Diamond’s portrayal in the modern world. He was a perfect fit with Clark Gregg. They worked so well off each other and fit the style of suits, partying and drinking for breakfast. I found the ’93 versions of these characters a bit more…. goofy like Keaton? But not to that extent. I found the whole tone of Branagh’s version to have a bit more of a jaunty feel whereas Whedon’s felt a bit darker. Keanu Reeves vs “Simon from Firefly” (Sean Maher). The latter wins for sure. Love that Whedon made Conrade a woman. Ashley Johnson (Margaret) is great in everything I see her in. I’ve always been a fan of hers.

A few quick laughs from Whedon’s film. Leonato snapping his fingers to get his assistant (Joshua Zar) to stop making out with Ursula in the kitchen. Hero having to wake up Leonato after confirming her and Claudio are going to be married. Don John stealing a cupcake as they flee the wedding after “killing” Hero. The aforementioned scene where Dogberry and Verges find they are locked out of the car.

That about wraps it up. Another long babble from your truly.
If I were to score I would give 1993’s Ado a classic 9/10 and Whedon’s new version a solid 8/10… but I would bump it up to a 9/10 if there person is a Whedon fan. He really does bring the crew back together in this massive cast.


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