Most directors would milk the recognition and money after making a superhero blockbuster, perhaps even taking a rest before starting on their next project. Not Joss Whedon though, who when not even finished with The Avengers decided to take on one of the Bard’s most famous works. Indeed, Whedon carted a copy of the play around set with him for a while, and was set on filming it at his house and with a cast that had invariably worked with him on past projects.
Stars Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker have both worked with Whedon on Angel, and their chemistry from the very start is there to see. Denisof is a charming screen presence, and makes Shakespeare’s words his own very quickly. Acker also fits in to the Shakespeare mould instantly, and you find yourself smiling and nodding along to her speeches and her mannerisms. It’s very good casting by Whedon, which is the general theme of the film, as every character is just as believable.
Because of its Shakespearean presentation, the film takes around ten minutes to settle in to, but that is no fault of either Whedon’s or Shakespeare’s, it is simply the time it takes to fit in to the mould. Once you do, it’s a sharp-witted and intricate romantic comedy, and quite possibly the first of its kind. It isn’t a laugh a minute stuff, but it’s his intricate character building and the mixture of the ridiculous and the ingenious that grabs your attention, like in any other Shakespeare, and the familiar tropes and plot points so associated with Shakespeare’s genre works are endearing rather than annoying, which is always the mark of a good production.
Another star turn comes from Nathan Fillion, another Whedon favourite whose screen presence is just as large, if not larger than Denisof’s, making every scene his own and producing a lot of laughs as police chief Dogberry. His delivery of the lines is timed perfectly, and Whedon ensures that his role remains the same as it was in the play, appearing just the right amount of times to keep him that way. Worthy appearances by other actors like Clark Gregg are also likely to be taken to very well by Whedon fans, as he brings his very astute brand of acting to his role as Leonato.
Whedon’s direction means that the film feels like it has no baggage whatsoever, and its shift in to the modern day is easy to go along with. There are various iconic shots and the setting is beautiful, his house really being an idyllic substitute for Messina, with beauty to match it. The film certainly isn’t as groundbreaking as other Shakespeare adaptations like Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus but it’s clever, snappy, interesting and charming, and will make you smile and grimace along, just as the Bard would have wanted you to, which is no higher than Whedon could aim. His transition from blockbuster to independent movie works flawlessly, and there is no evidence of a mismatch in style relating to the low-budget format. It is in fact on the contrary, as Whedon slips on the more technical side of direction like second nature. It’s definitely a worthy experience, and one worth watching for Whedon and Shakespeare fans alike.
This article was amended on 23 July 2013. Due to an editing error, the original said Brendan Fillion rather than Nathan Fillion