Movie review: Whedon’s “Much Ado” an intimate, fun affair

From the June 20, 2013 edition

Let’s say you’re Joss Whedon. Your ascension to Lord of the Geeks has just reached its pinnacle with the massive success of “The Avengers.” What do you do next?

Correct answer: Go all Shakespeare on everyone’s ass.

You have to hand it to Whedon, the creator of such televised cult classics as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”;his following is so devout, there’s a collective term for all his projects (“Whedonverse”). I don’t think anyone was expecting that twist.

Whedon’s black-and-white adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” is a joyously intimate affair. It was shot over just 12 days at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica and features a number of actors known to the Whedonverse. The comfort level during filming translates smoothly to the screen.

This brand of romantic comedy is a fine fit for Whedon and friends. “Angel” alum Amy Acker is a show-stealer as the sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Beatrice. Fran Kranz — last seen as the wise stoner in “Cabin in the Woods” — makes a superb Claudio, though he upstages newcomer Alexis Denisof’s Benedick in the lead.

It’s safe to say there are as many treats for Whedon-philes as there are for Shakespeare fans. Nathan Fillion’s intrepid constable Dogberry is right in the vein of his charm set. The only thing that could have made it better? Anthony Head (Giles on “Buffy”) was slated for the role of Leonato.

I know you don’t mess with the Bard’s prose — even if you’re Joss mother-effin’ Whedon — but the decision to have a modern setting with the original language of the play can be disorienting. In the same way I still get hung up on movie musicals, I can’t help but think, “This isn’t how these people talk.”

Whedon will be back at the helm of the “Avengers” sequel soon, but for now, his summer blockbuster is Shakespearean, and it’s a walk in the park.