Review – Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Directors: James Bobin
Starring: The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell
Muppets Most Wanted, the follow up to the Muppets’ triumphant big screen return in the 2011 film The Muppets, opens with a very self-aware musical number titled, “We’re Doing a Sequel.” “We’re doing a sequel. That’s what we do in Hollywood, and everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” As well as being the catchiest song in the film, it also, unfortunately, proves slightly prophetic.
The movie picks up where the last one left off. The Muppets return show has been a great success, the Muppet theatre has been saved and now they have to decide what they are going to do next. The forebodingly named Dominic Badguy suggests they make the most of their moment by going on a world tour. So with Dominic as their new manager, the Muppets head out on the road. But, surprisingly, Mr. Badguy isn’t all above board. He is actually the world’s second most wanted thief, and he is in cahoots with the world’s first most wanted thief, Constantine. Constantine is the world’s most dangerous frog and also just happens to be a dead ringer for Kermit. The old switcheroo is pulled and Kermit finds himself incarcerated in a Siberian Gulag while Constantine fronts the Muppets, with the tour around Europe serving as a front for he and Dominic to pull a series of high profile burglaries.
The Muppets was a brilliant film (it made my top ten of 2012). A vibrant, joyful movie, even in returning to these old, much loved characters it seemed to find a sense of freshness. At its heart was an incredible and overwhelming affection for these characters. In contrast, Muppets Most Wanted feels like a sequel, a more cynical exercise designed to exploit previous success.
Jason Segel, as both a co-writer and actor, was the driving force in getting the Muppets back on the big screen, but he was not involved in this sequel and his presence is missed both on and off screen. He and Amy Adams brought a sweetness and innocence to the human characters in the first film. They felt appropriately Muppety. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell (who spends the whole movie doing a bad Inspector Clouseau impression) are all gifted comic performers, but none of them have that same quality and as such you don’t feel the same investment in the movie’s human characters.
There are still plenty of laughs. Muppets Most Wanted has the typical Muppets combination of high brow and quite simple humour. One minute there will be an allusion to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in which we see a black and white scene of the Swedish Chef playing a game of chess with the grim reaper, the next you’ll be giggling at the fact none of the Muppets recognise Constantine has replaced Kermit, despite his thick Russian accent and his continually getting all their names wrong. There are also cameos a plenty. Lady Gaga, Danny Trejo, Puff Daddy, Salma Hayak, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, to name but a few. Some of them are so brief that you almost miss them. The pick of them though is Josh Grobin, who is merely a disembodied singing voice coming from an isolation cell at the Gulag
Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Concords is back as the songwriter. A few of the songs are quite good – notably the aforementioned “We’re Doing a Sequel,” Tina Fey’s big number introducing Kermit to prison “The Big House,” and the finale “Together Again” – but none quite reach the heights of his effort the first time around for which he won an Oscar.
While the Muppets themselves remain such loveable and fun characters that they are always worth seeing, the joyous vitality and exuberance of the previous film is just not there this time around and as a result Muppets Most Wanted falls a bit flat.
Review by Duncan McLean
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