By Ross Miller
After more than a decade hiatus from the big-screen, the nostalgia-twinging Muppets returned a couple of years ago with a film that was pure joy from start to finish, featuring some of the most witty movie musical songs in a long time. Its success meant another inevitable sequel in the long-running franchise and three years later we have Muppets Most Wanted, a considerably less focused and slick affair but not without its own sense of fun.
In true behind-the-scenes movie business fashion, the sequel reveals the first one to be what it was actually was, a movie, and so the gang try to figure out a way to keep themselves popular. Enter shady businessman Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who proposes they all go on a world tour and Kermit reluctantly agrees. Unbeknown to them, Dominic is actually the Number Two villain to Constantine, a dead-ringer for Kermit (with the exception of a mole on his face) and the World’s Number One Criminal who surreptitiously switches places with Kermit who is now stuck in a horrible Siberian prison. Constantine then fools the rest of the Muppets into thinking he’s the loveable frog they all know while planning an epic crime caper to steal The Crown Jewels.
The last Muppets film had real direction and a lot of heart to it, mainly due to the central plot surrounding Walter wanting to become part of the gang which he idolized and how that impacted on the relationship between Jason Segel’s Gary and Amy Adams’ Mary (sadly neither of them feature here). The sequel unfortunately lacks both the sense of polished focus and the gooey heart with a plot that takes much more of an anarchic approach this time around. While that may play to some of the more chaotic charms of The Muppets from decades past it also makes for a far less satisfying experience overall.
Much of it seems manufactured around allowing just about every big name in pop culture right now to appear for cameos, ranging from Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta (whose cameos verge on fully fledged supporting roles) to a plethora of others of whom I won’t spoil here. But in a film that contains music, once again, from Flight of the Conchords’ Bret Mackenzie and comedy talents like Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell, it’s a bit of an issue that most of the enjoyment comes from playing “spot the celebrity.”
As I said, the music is once more provided by McKenzie but the songs are oddly unmemorable here. I, like many, listened to the last movie’s soundtrack pretty much on a loop after seeing it and while the songs are perfectly fine while watching the film here, they don’t have the same sort of catchy impact. There’s nothing to rival the wonderfully upbeat “Life’s A Happy Song,” sharp-witted “Me Party” or genius Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet,” with songs like “The Big House,” sung by Fey’s over-the-top Siberian prison warden, or opening number “We’re Doing a Sequel” escaping from memory as soon as they’re over. The music sadly plays second-fiddle to a scattershot plot that’s merely there to throw up one ridiculous situation after another.
Where the last one felt like a loving ode to The Muppets as much as a legitimate entry into the cinematic canon, Most Wanted feels like an oddly off-kilter wannabe that tries its best but only seeks to remind you that they’ve been showcased on-screen a lot better in the past. It’s ultimately a serviceable sequel with enough silly yet savvy humour but one that lacks the nostalgic magic that made the last one work so well.