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
Have you seen Muppets Most Wanted? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
1. Argo (Ben Affleck)
People have to stop talking about Ben Affleck “being on a hot streak” or “enjoying a purple patch” as a director and accept that perhaps he is just a really talented director. Maybe he didn’t ride Matt Damon’s coattails to that screenwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting all those years ago like so many joked. Argo, Affleck’s third film, is the year’s best thriller and mixes moments of extreme tension with some great laughs. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are fantastic as the CIA’s Hollywood collaborators.
2. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Scorsese was going to adapt a children’s book as his next project, but with David Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret it made perfect sense. Hugo was Scorsese’s love letter to the early cinema. A visually stunning film it is also one of the few films that have been made which have convinced me there may be some merit to 3D.
3. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Of course, Hugo was not the only film in cinemas this year which celebrated the early days of cinema. Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist went one step further, engaging with the long-lost art of silent storytelling. This was such an ambitious project, but it was just so endearing and charming that it won people over. It also came out at exactly the right time for me as I’d recently been watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin films and my interest in silent cinema was peaking.
4. Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
With MGM’s financial troubles we were forced to wait four years to see James Bond back on our screens after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, but boy was it worth the wait. Skyfall had everything you want in a Bond film, some great action sequences, a bit of humour, a fantastic villain. But on top of that, having a real filmmaker in Sam Mendes at the helm meant that the film also had an attention character development and an emotional depth that we’d never seen in a Bond before. Skyfall is not just a great Bond film, it is a great film.
5. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
This was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea just because of the sheer volume of singing, but Tom Hooper’s ambitious film is a cinematic achievement, successfully translating one of the West End’s most successful and most tragic musicals to the screen. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway gave two of the year’s best performances in this gut-wrenching story of poverty and injustice, rebellion and redemption.
6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
The thing that struck me about this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel was its stillness and quietness. You feel like it is moving slowly, but when you stop and think about you realise that a lot has been happening. We are so used to seeing spy movies in the James Bond mould, that the stillness Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is quite intriguing. An absolute all-star British cast led by a great performance from the chameleon-like Gary Oldman.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film through and through, which means some people will love it and others will hate it. Many of his usual collaborators are back with the key additions of Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Anderson’s films are always deadpan and contain a touch of darkness, but this ups the ante on that. As always, the use of music, in this case Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, is very clever. But for me, the sight of Harvey Keitel in shorts alone makes this film noteworthy.
8. The Muppets (James Bobin)
This may look like a strange pick alongside the other films on this list but The Muppets was a hard film not to love. No other film this year projected pure joy the way The Muppets did, and that should be celebrated. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay showed a real love for these classic characters and, along with Bret McKenzie’s songs, found the perfect balance between nostalgia and contemporary comedy.
9. Looper (Rian Johnson)
There is nothing better than being genuinely surprised (in a positive way) by a film, and for mine Rian Johnson’s Looper was the surprise movie of the year. I saw it on a whim, expecting it to be a reasonably run of the mill sci-fi romp but what I got was the most original and interesting science fiction movie since District 9. The story of an assassin from two different periods in time going head to head with himself also engaged with that moral conundrum “If you could go back in time to when Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot was a baby, would you kill them to save the world future suffering?”
10. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh’s comedy isn’t going to appear on a lot of Top 10 lists but this is my list, dammit, so I’m including it. This sharply written comedy about a screenwriter who finds himself in a tough situation after his friend kidnaps the beloved dog of a local crime boss is a strong follow-up to McDonagh’s 2008 debut In Bruges. Yes there are some holes and some problems, but there are also some big laughs, with terrific comic performances from the always brilliant Sam Rockwell and the always quirky Christopher Walken carrying the film.
Not far off: The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan), Shame (Steve McQueen), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher), The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
The Worst Movie of the Year: Act of Valor (Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh). Not even close really. This military propaganda film in disguise (and not much of a disguise at that) proudly trumpeted the fact that all the major characters were played by real life Marines as though that were a good thing. It wasn’t.
Cinematic Highlight of the Year: Getting to see Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on the big screen as part of its high definition re-release. It was the movie which started the whole blockbuster movement, and which launched Spielberg into stardom, and it still holds up. Similarly, it was good to see Titanic on the big screen again. While the 3D transfer didn’t do much for me it was interesting to see that enough time has passed that we are all over our anti-Titanic bias and can accept that, while it has its faults, it is actually a very good film.