Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Crime
Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire
There’s almost a self-knowing realisation from Kermit & Co. that Muppets Most Wanted won’t live up to the brilliance of their 2012 reboot. Their opening number We’re Doing a Sequel even includes the line “everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good”; almost ironic considering that The Great Muppet Caper, the sequel to their original ‘79 Muppet Movie, was every bit as good as the first. Whereas 2012’s The Muppets was driven by love, both for Henson’s incredible characters and for the fans that had stood by them for so many years, Muppets Most Wanted evokes similar thoughts that were brought on by 1999’s Muppets from Space; that sense of the film being more of a simple cash-in, not motivated by the madcap intelligence of The Muppets’ finest films.
The frustratingly haphazard plot centres on our fuzzy friends going on a European tour following the success of their reboot. Chaperoned by new promoter Dominic Badguy, Kermit & Co. head for their first show in Berlin. However, it turns out that Dominic is true to his namesake and actually in league with evil frog (and Kermit doppelgänger) Constantine. Together, Dominic and Constantine set about having Kermit captured and carted off to a Russian cell, leaving them to infiltrate the Muppets and use their tour as a cover for pulling off a magnificent jewel-heist.
Of course a Muppets plot can be, and is actively encouraged to be, as zany as it wants, but it also needs to be fun and, no matter how much it wants to be, Muppets Most Wanted just isn’t. There’s a noticeable hole left in the wake of Jason Segel’s departure. It was his continued adoration of Henson’s Muppets that helped drive the original in to production, and his services as writer, producer and star grounded that film in a reality of what The Muppets are all about. An uncomplicated plot allowed The Muppets to strike a balance between plot and puppet that meant it’s pace was never allowed to slacken and nor were the laughs; the same of which cannot be said of this sequel.
It doesn’t help that Kermit, a leader still unquestionably popular with fans nearly four decades on, spends nearly half the film locked away in a Gulag and lumbered with minimal screen time. Bafflingly, the evil Constantine and Dominic, played by an almost subdued Ricky Gervais, drive the film instead. It’s not that the two of them aren’t fun to watch on the screen, but it’s not who you came to see. You’re there to see Miss Piggy and Kermit continue their slow-burning romance, see Fozzie and Gonzo dream up new, even more ridiculous feats to perform on stage and see a barrage of celebrities turn up during the show-stopping musical numbers.
All of which are present and correct, but just not as often as you would hope. The complicated plot continually gets in the way, muting the excitement that does continue to stir inside you when The Muppets do what they do best. Bret McKenzie’s songs are once again a notable highlight. His theatrical show tunes blend witty lyrics with catchy tunes, with particular highlights this time including The Big House, performed with fun and flair by Tina Fey, and Interrogation Song, which utilizes the film’s fine comic pairing of Ty Burrell’s Interpol detective and Sam Eagle’s CIA agent.
Yet the magic of the music, and of the cameos that roll in thick and fast from start to finish, can’t recapture what is lost by the puzzling narrative choices made by writers James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller. In the full length version of We’re Doing A Sequel Rowlf sings that they “can’t do any worse than The Godfather 3”; it’s a line that singlehandedly demonstrates that sense of fun, satirical wit and madness that The Muppets are known and loved for… that it’s cut from the finished film speaks louder than words!