Muppets Most Wanted
2014, 112mins, PG
Director: James Bobin
Writer (S): Nicholas Stoller, James Bobin
Cast includes: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Christoph Waltz
UK Release Date: 28th March 2014
It’s hard to recall many cinematic experiences as boundlessly euphoric as 2011’s “The Muppets”. Written by Jason Segel, the film was a loving rebirth for Jim Henson’s legendary entertainers, reprising their good-natured mania with a healthy helping of post-modern reflexivity. Audiences both new and old flocked to enjoy the feature, leading to “Muppets Most Wanted”, the second film in this invigorated strand and the eighth (!) to harbour Muppet branding. Director James Bobin returns to the furore, whilst Segel bows out, allowing new human performers like Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey to fill the void. “Most Wanted” preserves the high octane enthusiasm of the previous movie, without threatening the same levels of heart, hilarity or innovation. It’s an amusing sequel with a respectable roster of delightful moments at its disposal, but it’s a baggier less infectiously envisioned project than its practically perfect predecessor.
Picking up precisely where the last movie ended, “Most Wanted” finds Kermit and the gang hitting the road with suspicious new manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Badguy convinces the Muppets to head for Europe, selecting a variety of choice venues, promising sell-out crowds and critical adulation. However his real intentions are more sinister, teaming-up with criminal Kermit doppelganger Constantine to rob a series of landmark museums, shipping off Kermit to a Gulag in place of the amphibious thief. With the majority of Muppets oblivious to the switch, it takes a select band of renegades and two law enforcement officials (the human half played by Ty Burrell) to rescue Kermit and bring Constantine to justice.
The 2011 film picked up an Academy Award on the back of the sterling musical work by Bret McKenzie, and happily “Most Wanted” almost upholds the standard. The songs are a little more uneven this time around (the opening “We’re Doing a Sequel” feels old hat) and they certainly don’t compliment the emotional underpinnings as satisfactorily (it misses a “Are you a Man or a Muppet?” equivalent), but McKenzie’s riotous lyrics and whimsy still plant grins firmly on faces. The highlights are “The Big House” (which features a surprisingly competent vocal contribution from Fey) and “I’ll Get What You Want”, both designed to elicit toe-tapping and giggles. The songs act as a parallel to the movie itself; fun but less interested in proper characterisation and celebration than the previous endeavour, yet in a way that’s relieving. It’s a looser fitting musical arrangement befitting of a less disciplined final product.
The Muppets are always affable hosts, and the new characters (including the nefarious Constantine) are solid additions. Bobin’s direction is more confident both visually and editorially, flexing a heightened ambition for irreverent and layered sight gags. Aesthetically it’s an improvement with a grander sense of scale, but the new human faces can’t adequately replace Segel or co-star Amy Adams. Fey and Gervais have fun in hammy supporting parts, but the genial humanity of Segel and Adams is absent, particularly when the movie tries to register an emotional anchor. In the previous movie the romance between the pair, combined with the overtures of brotherhood (Walter plays a sizeable part here too) led to a simple but lovable centre. The best “Most Wanted” musters is a continuation of the Kermit/Piggy saga, and it’s not even the most interesting subplot this longstanding relationship has endured. The appearance of Celine Dion only adds insult to injury.
“The Muppets” adhered to the “one last show” trope, and consequently “Most Wanted” devotes itself to another Hollywood formula, the globe-trotting caper. Narratively it’s thinly scripted, but that’s to be expected. What infuriates more is the picture’s egregious length, almost hitting the troubling two hour mark. The climax is particularly over-stretched, the movie’s bubbly veneer having become somewhat exhausting, with no storytelling substance stepping in as compensation. The good humour, charming icons and jovial set-pieces are enough to buoy the majority of the picture, but “Most Wanted” stumbles during a generic ending and uninspired final number.
It all gets rather tiring by the finish, but “Most Wanted” has just enough zeal to make the experience worthwhile. Non-Muppet fanatics might want to wait for the feature’s Home Entertainment debut, but devotees will probably find the offering a delirious continuation. You certainly get ample doses of wit, celebrity self-deprecation and Kermit; which I’m led to believe are all that matter anyway.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014