D: James Bobin / 107m
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz, and a list of cameos as long as the Great Gonzo’s nose
Picking up right where The Muppets (2011) ended, Muppets Most Wanted starts off with a musical number explaining the inevitability of a sequel (it’s even called We’re Doing a Sequel). Having broken the fourth wall so anarchically, the gang then ponder what they can do next. Enter international tour manager Dominic Badguy (Gervais), with an offer to take their show around the world. Kermit is reluctant, wanting to take things more slowly and hone the show they’ve only recently revived. However, the gang’s enthusiasm for the idea makes him relent and they head off to the first date of the tour, “comedy capital of the world, Berlin”.
Meanwhile, in a Siberian gulag, the world’s greatest criminal, Constantine makes his escape. Constantine looks exactly like Kermit except for a mole on his right cheek, and before you can say “Hel-lllooo, my name is Kerrrr-meet the Frorg”, Kermit has a mole glued to his face and is shipped off to the gulag, while Constantine applies some green makeup and takes over as Kermit. Along with Dominic – his Number Two; there’s a song about it – they plot various thefts that will eventually allow them to steal the Crown Jewels. With no one realising Kermit has been replaced, and with Dominic allowing the gang free rein with the show, the tour’s success – after Berlin, they travel to Madrid and then Dublin – keeps everyone happy, except for Animal who’s the only one who knows Kermit isn’t Kermit.
In the gulag, Kermit is kept under the watchful eye of warden Nadya (Fey), and although she comes to believe he isn’t Constantine, she tells him it doesn’t matter, he has to stay there anyway. It’s not long before he’s persuaded to oversee the annual review show, and getting the inmates to perfect their song-and-dance routines. Back in Europe, the thefts are connected to the Muppet tour by Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Burrell) and FBI agent Sam the Eagle. They follow the gang to the UK where they are due to perform at the Tower of London. Will Kermit make it out of the gulag in time to thwart Constantine’s plan? Will Miss Piggy get to duet with Celine Dion? Will the world’s second greatest criminal, the mysterious Lemur, get to the Crown Jewels first? Will the gulag inmates see their show transfer to Broadway? And will Constantine succeed in marrying Miss Piggy in a bizarre third act twist?*
Where The Muppets was a reboot filtered through Jason Segel’s love of the gang, this is the kind of Muppet movie that we’re more familiar with: two or three human co-stars to interact with throughout, a bunch of songs to break up the manic activity and often screwball (and screwy) humour, a plot or storyline that serves as a springboard for both, and some of the gang being given legs (here though, it’s problematical: with Fozzie it makes a sight gag work, with Kermit it makes a song and dance routine look like he’s a poorly stringed marionette). The emphasis is on having fun and while the plot veers dangerously close to being too lightweight, it’s no bad thing as the movie zips along at a good pace, and the mix of corny jokes, visual gags, great songs (again courtesy of Jemaine Clement), cameo appearances**, and clever practical effects is expertly handled by returning director James Bobin.
On the human front, Gervais coasts along for most of the movie, his role getting smaller and smaller as things progress. Gervais is a somewhat diffident actor, and here his character serves more as a facilitator for the plot than anything else. Burrell has fun playing against Sam the Eagle and their game of oneupmanship with their badges makes for a great gag (and one not entirely spoilt by the trailer). It’s Fey who gets the best role, investing Nadya with a goofy realpolitik approach to the material, and perhaps inadvertently, nabbing the movie’s best (throwaway) line. Of the Muppets, Constantine is a great new addition and deserves his time in the spotlight, the highlight of which is when he has to introduce the show for the first time. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the gang all get their moments, and Beaker gets to save the day with his Bomb Attracting Suit.
Muppets Most Wanted is a fun-filled follow up to The Muppets and works on its own merits, incorporating in-jokes and references from other Muppet movies as well as giving its audience a better plot than usual to follow. This knowing mix makes all the difference and avoids the too reverential approach of its predecessor. With an action-packed finale to round things off, Muppets Most Wanted has all the energy and purpose you could need from a Muppet movie, and more besides.
Rating: 8/10 – for a movie that is – as Dr Bunsen Honeydew quite rightly points out – the eighth in the series, Muppets Most Wanted still hits the mark and proves the Muppets are as entertaining as ever; “Good night, Danny Trejo”.
*The answers are: Yes, Yes, Yes, Who knows?, and What do you think?
**Those cameos in full: Hugh Bonneville, Christoph Waltz, Salma Hayek, Tom Hollander, Frank Langella, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, Céline Dion, Rob Corddry, Zach Galifianakis, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Til Schweiger, Usher Raymond, Josh Groban, Ray Liotta, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jemaine Clement, Russell Tovey (though if you blink you really will miss him), and Danny Trejo.