2011’s The Muppets was a breath of fresh air since it was a reboot which never really felt like one. There wasn’t a grand gesture to reinvent the characters, a notable lack of cynicism, and it was most importantly, fun. It was a reunion with old pals that sort of wrote itself into a corner. Their meta narrative of avoiding obscurity left them at a place they really couldn’t continue from.
That’s where The Muppets…Again! Muppets Most Wanted comes in. In an attempt to return to their Caper days, Most Wanted tries to pretend The Muppets never happened by jovially throwing the original premise out of the window. By returning to their classic comedy, however, the Muppet gang may have gotten themselves into a worse situation.
Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Release Date: March 21, 2014
Muppets Most Wanted takes place immediately after the first one (in a bit of meta humor) as the Muppet gang find themselves in a sequel without a plan. After a bit of singing, the group decides to just put on some shows to get their groove back. However, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) convinces the group to go on a World Tour against Kermit’s wishes in order to steal the Crown Jewels in London. Along the way, Kermit is replaced by “Evilen Froggen” Constantine and thrown in a Russian Gulag. Then it’s a race against the clock as Kermit needs to break out of the Gulag before Constantine and Dominic are allowed to rob the world blind.
As mentioned earlier, the sequel is a nostalgic return to the earlier line of Muppet movies. You have a classic tale of two Kermits, a wedding scene, and lots and lots of sight gags. The immediate problem with all of this, however, is it becomes incredibly dated. As much as the gang knowingly jokes about their fade into obscurity in the sequel, the screenplay is reverting to the same comedic wiles that put them in that situation in the first place. It’s sort of an attempt to have the cake and eat it too. There’s an open cry for relevance while refusing to adapt and move forward.
With all of that said, Muppets Most Wanted is still a fun time. As corny as a lot of the jokes are, they’re the right kind of corny. Each line, each joke, is delivered with that same Muppets charm. As with the first film, Most Wanted is at its best when it indulges in meta humor. It’s a form of self degradation that comes from a loving place. Most importantly, these “we’re sort of old and terrible” jokes find the right balance between constructive criticism and nods to their past. Unfortunately, unlike the first Muppets (or sixth Muppets movie, as the film reminds you), a lot of these jokes aren’t very palpable to children. While the first film somehow found an audience with both children and adults, a lot of the jokes are skewed to an older audience. For example, one of the best gags is a callback to one of the forgotten Muppet gang who was replaced by Walter. The older audience will laugh, but the kids will be left scratching their heads.
But as to make up for the lack of consistent meta humor that kept the original afloat, the simplistic nature of the story helps elevate some of the film’s weaker moments. Ricky Gervais doesn’t really work as a central part of the film as there seems to be a lack of full involvement (he seems distant rather than completely invest in the Muppet illusion), but thankfully he’s never in a scene alone. His involvement is also pushed to its ridiculous extreme and eventually justifies his role late in the film. Tina Fey is pretty great as the warden of the Gulag, and adds some personality to the pitiable character. But the true human actor standout is Ty Burrell. Completely throwing himself into the cartoonish Interpol agent Jean, his interactions with Sam the Eagle (a character who was once notably a parody of American nationalism) are some of the best in the movie. They even get one of the best songs too.
Speaking of songs, Muppets Most Wanted hits its out of the park once again. With a few of the songs reaching “Man or Muppet” level of quality (namely “Interrogation Song”), each musical number is toe tappingly great. There’s not a slug in the bunch. Unfortunately, the songs can’t be the entire movie. While Muppets Most Wanted has charm, it’s never quite the amount of charm needed to sustain the entire film. And although the sequel wants to make a grand return to the Caper days, it really is resting on its laurels rather than remind us why we love the Muppets gang in the first place.
Now if Muppets Most Wanted wants to go anywhere from here, there’s no platform to stand on. By fighting against obscurity, the gang sort of ends up with a middle of the road film that’s only truly great in brief spurts, making their sad, inevitable fate all the more reasonable. There is definite fun to be had as Most Wanted is a solid film, but something’s missing from all of this that I can’t quite put my finger on.
The original title of Muppets Most Wanted was The Muppets…Again! A title reflective of the meandering follies for the majority of the run time. Rather than become a sequel that’s indeed “most wanted,” we’re left with a film that’s simply the Muppet gang doing things again.