Muppets Most Wanted Review
There's a certain amount of courage in admitting right off the bat that sequels are usually not as good as their predecessors. (Especially considering Aliens, Terminator 2, Godfather Part II and The Dark Knight have proved that sentiment wrong.) But that is the off-kilter, self-deprecating humor one can expect from Kermit and the gang. Scratch that, they do not just say it - they sing it! In a full-fledged song and dance number about how they are doing a sequel. Now, that's the Muppets. And the Muppets are back again in their second adventure... actually (as the film even points out) their seventh. But it is their most recent adventure - we can all agree with that!
One of the nice things about the Muppets is that they can pretty much to be inserted into any type of story. After all, they already had a sci-fi story, one heist film, and their own retellings of films such as Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol. So it should be no surprise they follow up their big comeback film with another heist-style film. Now that the Muppets are touring again, they are persuaded by a manager who convinces them to go on their first world tour. Unbeknownst to the Muppets, their new manager is using the world tour as a backdrop for international robbery. And he has another ace in the hole: His partner - Constantine - happens to be the spitting image for Kermit the Frog. Constantine busts out of jail and convinces and switches place with Kermit. So now Constantine is touring with Muppets while Kermit is stuck in the Gulag. Meanwhile, Sam the Eagle - representing the CIA - a French Interpol agent are on the case, trying to solve the robberies all over next week. Also, Miss Piggy is breathing down Kermit's (and by definition Constantine's) neck to marry him.
This movie suffers from one of the same problems as its predecessor - a plot that is all over the place. Diligent readers probably observed that I just described four different plots in that synopsis. While that is about how many plots one would see in a typical 20-minute sitcom, it has its drawbacks. In this film, the drawback is that there end up being a few plot lines that feel unresolved. For example, there is a running joke about how Dominic Badguy is second fiddle to Constantine and Dominic very clearly resents this. There is even a whole song number about this, but the payoff feels anticlimactic. Also, there is a clever reveal in the third act with Nadya the Gulag Guard that never really pays off (in fact, it is such a good reveal, I still will not spoil it). Some ideas also come off as a little underdeveloped. There is a subplot about the Muppet cast having crazy ideas for their world tour, but Kermit is too cautious to let them do it. Being only in it for the heist, Constantine lets them run wild. This leads to some kind of funny moments but never takes off like it should. There is still gold in this story: The subplot about Piggy wanting to marry Kermit leads to some good laughs. Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre Napoleon's attempt to solve the case is entertaining enough I would watch an entire movie about those two together.
Story is not everything though. I have made it clear in the past that I am more of character person than a story person. Besides, people are here to see the Muppets, right? Well, there is good news and bad news here too. The Muppets are here, but they largely feel like supporting players in their own film. Yeah, that has worked in the past. They were supporting players in the last movie and I even already praised their Christmas Carol and Treasure Island adaptions where they were supporting players. The difference is that The Muppets told a story that because it was from the perspective of a die hard Muppets fan. And the two adaption films had them in funny roles. Here, most of the Muppets feel lost in the shuffle. And to be honest, if someone asked me who the lead character of this movie was, I might have to think about it. (Surprisingly, it might even be the bad guys since they are the ones moving the plot.)
Still, many of them have their funny moments. Walter's presence in this film is kind of pointless. He is a likable character, but unlike the previous film, he has no story and no character arc. His role in this film could have easily been filled by any of the other Muppets. His brother does nowhere to be seen (that obvious body double at the beginning does not count). That is no surprise since human characters typically do not make comebacks in these movies. So there has to be SOME connection to the previous film. Besides, there are probably a lot of kids out there who would be upset if Walter were missing so his presence can be taken with a grain of salt.
Speaking of the human characters, they are a lot of fun. Ricky Gervais has always been a little hit and miss for me, but as a diabolical second banana villain, his skills are put to good use. Tina Fey is very likable as a stern prison warden with a bit of a goofy side - and even Kermit's inmates in the Gulag are a lot of fun with their flair for showmanship. As mentioned before, Ty Burrell's Jean Pierre Napoleon is a hilarious spoof of European stereotypes that surprisingly does not come off as culturally insensitive - mainly because it comes off as a spoof of how American's perceptions of Europeans.
Anybody going to a Muppets movie will probably expect some laughs. And Muppets Most Wanted delivers... for the most part. Admittedly, not every joke in this movie. Sometimes, jokes feel like the writers' B-material. Other times, it comes off like the writers just barely missed their missed the mark and could have punched the joke up just a little more. But for every miss, there are definitely hits. And I did find myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions. The humor here is everything we expect: Fourth wall humor, Statler and Woldorff's trademark acid tongues, pop culture jabs and jokes so corny that I laughed at just how corny they were. And yes, they definitely mix up the jokes aimed at adults with the jokes aimed at kids. Having grown up watching Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, it's nice to know a whole new generation will grow up confused by references to The Seventh Seal.
Songs are also a big draw in... in... pretty much everything the Muppets do. After all, in various media, the Muppets are responsible for so many iconic songs. The show gave us "It's Not Easy Being Green." The first film (the very first film I mean) gave us "Rainbow Connection." Even the previous film The Muppets gave us memorable songs such as "Man or Muppet." The songs in this film probably will not be remembered for years to come, but I did enjoy them. Mileage may vary, but my two favorites were "We're Doing a Sequel" which is a pretty clever spoof of how sequels are cranked out and "The Big House" which is a doo-wop ear worm.
Overall, Muppets Most Wanted is a worthy sequel to the 2011 hit and a good entry in the Muppets franchise. Anybody who liked the 2011 film should enjoy this one. Since this film has similar issues with that one, anybody who could live with those (meager but still there) issues will likely take this film's issues with a grain of salt. Even though The Lego Movie is still a strong contender for best family film of 2014, Muppets Most Wanted will likely keep kids, adults and Muppet fans entertained.
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