It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to meet the Muppets… again! Unfortunately, their newest outing doesn’t quite meet the standards set by its predecessor, 2011’s The Muppets. Instead, what we get is a decent Muppet caper that, while enjoyable and even pretty good at times, is almost immediately forgettable and at other times rather bad.
Most Wanted picks up literally two seconds after The Muppets, as our felt friends are left wondering what to do now that they’ve managed to get the gang back together and have just wrapped filming their latest movie. They decide to capitalize on their return to fame by taking their show on a global tour, despite some initial protests from Kermit.
After hiring a new publicist named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), they hit the worldwide stage. However, what they don’t know is that Badguy is, as his name would suggest, a bad guy, and the “Number Two” to the world’s most dangerous frog, a renowned criminal named Constantine who bears a striking resemblance to our green protagonist.
Constantine manages to swap places with Kermit, placing him in a Siberian gulag and taking Kermit’s place as the leader of the Muppets. Constantine and Badguy use the Muppet tour as a front for high profile heists, in search of a way to steal the Crown Jewels — and frame Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang in the process.
I have several problems with this film, but before I get into them I have to say that despite its shortcomings, Muppets Most Wanted is an entertaining film with everything we love about the Muppets. Quirky humor, celebrity cameos, kid-friendly messages, and catchy tunes. It interestingly works as its own film, separate from the rest of the franchise (including The Muppets, which you actually don’t have to have seen to enjoy this movie) while also paying its respects and giving several nods to the beloved classics along the way.
So, as long as you walk into the theater with metered expectations, you’re bound to have a good time. Is it as enjoyable or magical as the 2011 film? No. But it does have some good things to offer, creating an enjoyable moviegoing experience. At the end of the day, there’s just something about these characters that allows me to forgive any of their shortcomings.
While the human characters aren’t as well rounded or relatable this time around (more on that in a minute) I did love Ty Burrell’s little subplot with Sam The Eagle, and would be completely okay if they got their own spinoff. Their dynamic played with the “international rival police” tropes nicely, and provided some of the best comedic moments in the film.
Tina Fey is similarly effective, even if she hams it up quite a bit with her ridiculously over-the-top Russian accent. She plays Nadya, the musical-loving head of the Gulag, who shares a surprisingly sweet relationship with Kermit, and gives our little green friend something to do other than mope around in his gulag cell while Constantine fools all of his friends.
The music this time around is not as memorable as it was in The Muppets (I still find myself singing “Man or Muppet” from time to time), but the musical numbers are perhaps the most enjoyable scenes in the movie. They do a fine job of playing around with familiar styles while breaking up some of the less-than-stellar story bits, and I found the musical breaks refreshing.
Now, without further ado, grab your bottle opener because we’ve gotta open up some drinks…
Let me preface this by saying I really don’t like Ricky Gervais. At all. I just don’t find him funny, and just want to punch that smug smile off of his face every time I see him. With that said, he’s absolutely the worst part about this film and feels completely out of place. It’s not just because I don’t like the guy (though I’m sure that didn’t help), he’s just an unnatural fit surrounded by the Muppets and too much of a caricature to be interesting. He’s toned down quite a bit of his schtick for this film, which I appreciate, but he seemed uncomfortable in the musical numbers and his dry wit did him no favors.
His allegiance to Constantine grows tiresome by the end of the film, as the dastardly frog continually refers to him as “Number Two.” There’s even a whole musical number devoted to Badguy living in Constantine’s shadow, and while it may have been funny the first few times, the constant reminders started to wear me down two or three heists in.
My biggest problem with this film is that it fails to recapture the magic of its predecessor, making it completely forgettable. I saw the film Saturday afternoon, and had completely forgotten about it by Saturday night. It’s not a bad movie, and I’ve certainly seen worse sequels. But as the Muppets themselves point out in their opening number, sequels are “never quite as good.”
The most obvious reason for this is the absence of Jason Segel, who not only acted as the audience’s anchor for the last film, but helped in several major ways behind the camera as well. He co-wrote The Muppets and gave the film touches of nostalgic flare; creating a touching reunion story that merged classic Muppets elements with thoughtful social commentary. This film lacks the cultural reflection that made the first film special, and five minutes into Most Wanted it became clear that this was not so much a labor as love, as the last film had been, but more of an atypical Hollywood sequel. I wouldn’t go so far as call it a cash grab, but it’s missing the creative spark that garnered the 2011 venture near universal praise.
The problem, I would say, is in the human characters. Jason Segel and Amy Adams acted as the audience’s conduit, bringing us into the crazy and wacky world of the Muppets but grounding the proceedings in a reality that we could sympathize with. There are absolutely zero normal human characters this time around, and instead we’re given caricatures and celebrity cameos. Gervais, Fey, and Burrell aren’t playing actual people in this movie, they’re playing cartoons. In fact, you could have easily replaced them with Muppets and no one would have been able to tell the difference.
As I said before, Muppets Most Wanted is not a bad movie. I even thoroughly enjoyed most of it. But it serves as a sad reminder that not every Muppet outing is gold, or worth getting excited over. While The Muppets managed to bring a bit of the magic and charm back into the characters and introduce them to a new generation, Muppets Most Wanted gives them a predictable and often cliche crime caper that you’ll likely forget about as you walk out of the theater. While the last film was a labor of love from the heart of Jason Segel, this film feels like little more than an attempt to cash in on their newfound success, from the greed of a Hollywood executive. After all, Miss Piggy says it herself in the opening number: “The studio considers us a buyable franchise.” While their last cinematic adventure felt like a warm welcome, this one feels as cold and distant as a Siberian gulag.
Take a Drink: every time Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell flash their ever-growing badges
Take a Drink: for every musical number
Take a Drink: for every incredibly bad CGI-moment (there are many)
Take a Drink: every time Celine Dion is mentioned
Take a Drink: every time they mention a past Muppets movie
Do a Shot: for every celebrity cameo (which all feel more forced than last time, unfortunately).