Like they say in the opening number, sequels are rarely as good as the first film – does it make it less so if it’s pointed out in song? After singing about dull and pointless sequels, MUPPETS MOST WANTED threatens to become one.
After their successful revival and last-minute rescue of their beloved theatre, the Muppets wonder what adventures and hijinks are in store for them next. They don’t have to wait for long before slimy talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) offers his services to help them mount a world tour of their show. Meanwhile, Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, escapes from a Russian gulag and manages to switch places with Kermit, to the complete ignorance of his co-stars. What is Constantine’s plan, what will become of the Muppets without Kermit’s level green leadership, and how many celebrity cameos can you cram into one movie?
Narratively, the film is divided into three linked vignettes. The primary one is Kermit’s predicament – how will he escape prison and prove he’s the genuine article? The second is the Muppets’ world tour which acts as a smokescreen for Constantine and Dominic’s crime spree (not a spoiler – it’s in the trailer). The third involves Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell playing an Interpol agent hunting Constantine and “The Lemur” across Europe. The gulag set stuff is great, and so is the buddy cop storyline. I’ve never seen a police interrogation or an introduction to life in a Russian prison in song before, but they’re both hilarious musical numbers brought to life by the comic genius of Burrell and Tina Fey, both wielding outrageous French and Russian accents respectively.
Most of the world tour storyline (in fact, any scene with Ricky Gervais) is uninspiring. They spent a good portion of 2011’s THE MUPPETS establishing how much of a superfan new Muppet addition Walter was of his idols. He spent his whole childhood and much of his adulthood obsessing over THE MUPPET SHOW, and was instrumental in reuniting the team. And yet it takes him two out of three acts of the film to work out that Kermit has been replaced by a doppelganger with a Russian accent. The other Muppets not noticing is funny, as it’s a running gag that he’s a bit of a buzzkill within the group, but Walter not noticing doesn’t really make sense within the context of the films.
The cameos are a pleasingly random assortment, but most of the famous faces and most of the film references bill be lost on the little ‘uns (how many kids will get a gag about THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or THE SEVENTH SEAL?) I’m not going to spoil the majority, because they work best if they surprise you, but Danny Trejo appears as an inmate in the gulag section, and hilariously, unlike his co-inmates Jermaine Clement and Ray Liotta, isn’t given a character name – he’s just Danny Trejo in a Russian prison. He also has the best line in the film, when the inmates are preparing for the end of the year prison show spectacular (don’t ask, it’s a Muppet movie) he claims to be “a triple threat – a singer, a dancer, a murderer!”. Tina Fey gets another great line, after foiling several of Kermit’s predictable escape attempts, she explains that she “has seen every prison movie, even the ones set in space”.
The songs are hit-and-miss. Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie once again brings a jolly knowing feel to the musical numbers, particular highlights being “We’re Doing a Sequel” which preemptively takes the wind out of most film critics’ sails, and “Interrogation Song” which stands among the greatest police questioning scenes and shows the very best of Ty Burrell’s comic timing. It definitely goes downhill when Gervais tries to sing, and none of the songs, even the good ones, come even close to the genius of “Life’s a Happy Song” or “Man or Muppet” from the previous film.
Unless you hold a grudge against fur and felt, or actively hate having fun, it’s impossible to completely dislike a Muppet movie, but this one does admittedly lose momentum. It’s slow to start, there’s too much going on in the middle, and the finale (discounting the final musical number) leaves a lot to be desired. It’s got highlights for sure, and the celeb contributions are more amusing and over-the-top than they ever have been in the history of big screen muppetry, but overall, Most Wanted ends up firmly in the middle of the Muppet pack.
Muppets Most Wanted has some funny lines, a couple of good tunes and the comedy double-whammy of Tina Fey and Ty Burrell playing entertaining caricatures, but it lacks the sweetness, earnesty and good intentions of its predecessor. It’s a decent enough sequel, but this is a Muppet movie, and that’s something special. The Muppets are cultural icons, and they should encourage you produce something that’s a little more than just decent. SSP