2011’s The Muppets seemed to revitalize the creations of Jim Henson after slipping into near obscurity for over a decade. Brought back to it’s former glory by Jason Segel, the film injected new life into the showbiz puppets without sacrificing their long, rich history. Segel, who both co-wrote and starred in that film, decided not to return to Muppets Most Wanted in any sort of capacity, which could have been a signal of disaster. Instead, it proves that it was probably a good move as his character’s story had been fully resolved by the film’s end. Still, much of the behind the scenes talent has returned including co-writer Nicholas Stoller, director James Bobin (who co-wrote this one with Stoller), and Flight of the Conchords member Bret McKenzie, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for The Muppets. With that solid team intact, they bring together a film that feels more in line with the original Muppets films, proving their first effort wasn’t a fluke.
Picking up quite literally where the last one left off, the gang decides to do a sequel. Cue the first of McKenzie’s songs that humorously acknowledges that The Muppets itself was, technically, just another sequel. What’s most curious about this flick is that two of the three top billed stars portray villains. That’s especially true for Ricky Gervais whose character is actually named Dominic Badguy. Although, according to him it’s French and pronounced “Badgee.” He’s in cahoots with Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, who has recently broken out of a Siberian prison camp. He’s a dead-on lookalike for Kermit with the only difference being a prominent mole.
The gang is approached by Dominic who convinces them to hire him as their manager for a world tour, but who is secretly planning something much more devious. He sets Kermit up for disaster and he’s soon mistaken for the escaped Constantine and sent to the Siberian prison camp where Nadya (Tina Fey) is his guard. Although Nadya isn’t as diabolical as Dominic, it’s interesting and, honestly, refreshing to see Fey play someone much different from her usual roles. Add to that a pretty decent Russian accent and she soars in the part.
After Kermit is replaced by Constantine, he becomes despondent over the fact that no one seems to have noticed he’s gone. That’s because the rest of the Muppets crew is happy that this new and improved Kermit now has no issues with them doing any sort of performance they want, no matter how dangerous or self-involved they are. It’s Constantine’s plan, along with his “Number Two” Dominic, to use the Muppet tour as a cover for their burglaries. But close on their heals are French Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napolean (Ty Burrell) and Muppet CIA Agent Sam Eagle, who are reluctantly working together.
It’s a somewhat darker affair than the previous film, but no less fun. If anything, this one is much more streamlined and focused on moving the plot forward. That means there’s less character development but like the good old days, this one is more focused on Kermit and the gang. McKenzie’s songs also don’t pop quite as much as they did last time around, but they’re still no less effective. And, of course, the film is littered with cameos. Some are more major players, like Ray Liotta and Mckenzie’s Conchords partner Jemaine Clement as Kermit’s fellow inmates, while others, like James McAvoy as a delivery man, are in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-them role.
The Muppets was refreshing not only for reviving the Muppet’s greatness but for also stretching what a Muppets story could be. It had Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and the rest as prominent players, but also had a surprisingly emotional core that dealt with the idea of identity. Muppets Most Wanted feels like a more classic film from the Henson gang. It may not hit the highs of its predecessor, but it’s always inspired. Ultimately, it’s another solid Muppets effort that both adults and their kids can enjoy equally. If this is the direction they’ll continue to go in, Muppets fans should be quite happy.
Rating: 4 out of 5