Muppets Most Wanted
|UK Release Date||28th March 2014|
|Starring||Our felt heroes|
|Reviewed||29th March 2014|
Ah, the Muppets. Nothing else quite survives in my psyche like the Muppets. So many happy childhood hours spent watching repeats of The Muppet Show on Saturday tea time TV. Their peculiar brand of celebrity savvy joyous anarchy still seems fresh to this day. And so it was when James Bobin brought together the joyous anarchy of The Flight of the Concords with our felt friends and it was good. His reboot of the franchise after a number of years in the wilderness (Muppets from Space had been more than ten years and nobody was arranging an anniversary release for that) was a good old fashioned getting the band back together romp with added travel by map.
So here we are, just two years later with his sequel Muppets Most Wanted. Can he pull the same trick again? Short answer is kinda….
It certainly starts well. Picking up from the exact moment the previous movie closed, our heroes are instantly thrown into an existential dilemma that would make Stoppard proud. As the crew clear the detritus from the scene of their closing number and everybody drifts away, it soon dawns on them that all the friends they had were in fact extras and they are left with that eternal question: What to do when the music stops. The existential conundrum is soon emphasised with a superbly surreal shot of the Swedish Chef playing chess with death, complete with moody black and white photography and English subtitles. All of this is of course shelved in true Muppets fashion - with a superbly knowing song about doing a sequel (complete with acknowledgement that although sequels are never quite as good, the studio clearly believes it now has a viable franchise). It’s not long before the gang are sat in front of Ricky Gervais’s media agent extraordinaire Dominic Badguy (it’s pronounced slightly differently), offering them a chance at a world tour. Kermit has his reservations, weirdly (considering how well he knows everyone) insisting that it may be better to hone their act rather than jetting off with nothing planned. Obviously Kermit’s view takes a back seat and they have soon signed the equivalent of the standard rich and famous contract.
Meanwhile in Siberia, a suspiciously familiar looking but somewhat differently sounding frog is busy escaping from a gulag with designs on world domination by way of pinching the crown jewels. He is of course in league with the dastardly Badguy and for a variety of convoluted reasons intends to use The Muppets new world tour to hide his nefarious activities. Before we know it, our Kermit has been swiped and sent to the gulag and has been replaced by Constantine. Meanwhile (again) the FBI (in the inspired form of Sam the Eagle) and Interpol (in the equally hilarious form of Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon) are on the trail of arch criminal The Lemur. Or at least they think they are.
What follows is a mixed bag but it hits more of its targets than it misses. The celebrity cameos abound as always, thrown to the wolves in most cases for no discernible reason (James McAvoy as a UPS man). The list is long and probably amongst the most successful are Ray Liotta as the gulag inmate Big Papa and Danny Trejo as, inexplicably, himself (but also a gulag prisoner). To be honest, they whizz by in such a scattershot fashion that not many stick. Gervais has the time of his life as Badguy and the movie’s only consistent human presence but his role is lacking the charming relationship that Jason Segel formed with new Muppet Walther (who is also pretty much sidelined in this one). Constantine’s constant reminders to his assistant that Dominic is very much the number 2 criminal are entertaining but never really catch, though the musical number is pretty funny.
As for the other elements, well, the movie probably suffers from trying to spread itself too thin. We have the gang globe trotting, Kermit attempting to escape the gulag and the detectives chasing down Constantine. When you combine that with the usual bonkers acts, cameos, gags and musical numbers, it’s an awful lot going on at once. Easily the most successful in terms of outright comedy is the strand following the two detectives. A superb mismatched pair who inevitably get it together, their bumbling is consistently funny without ever becoming tiresome. Sadly one of the best gags is partly spoilt by the trailer but it’s funny anyway. Ty Burrell is hilarious as the French stereotype Interpol agent and as with all things Muppty, it’s all played with its heart on its sleeve.
Ultimately I think Muppets Most Wanted suffers in comparison to its predecessor because the original (re-boot) felt more like a personal tale from a person who had loved the Muppets for his whole life. That love led to everything chiming perfectly with the nuts world of Muppets and its charming nostalgia worked brilliantly for us grown-ups as well as the constantly fizzing humour and energy working for the kids. This movie lacks that personal touch and consequently feels flatter than the last. It is however still superbly funny in places and its constant good natured lunacy, hilariously knowing musical numbers and daft cameos mean it is still well worth heading out to the cinema for.
Check out the trailer here.