The 2011 film, The Muppets, was a surprise critical and commercial success. With its cleverly written screenplay by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, great performances from the human cast members, fantastic (and Oscar winning) songwriting by Brett McKenzie, and its affectionate and nostalgic tone managed to rejuvenate the Muppets for the younger generation, as well as serving for a return to form of a beloved franchise for older fans who haven’t gotten a Muppet film since the 1999 film, Muppets from Space and haven’t gotten a truly great Muppet film since 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. So, to say that Muppets Most Wanted has a big act to follow would be an understatement, and with Jason Segal not returning as a writer, a lot is riding on the sequel to continue the revitalized success of the Muppets that Jason Segal did such a god job with.
Picking up right where the 2011 film left off, the Muppets meet with Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who manages to convince the group to hire him as a manager, while at the same time the great criminal mastermind (and Kermit look-alike) Constantine escapes from prison and gets Kermit captured in his place. Constantine turns out to have been working with Dominic and he decides to use the Muppets by going on a world tour so the two can find the crown jewels. During that time Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle are investigating the museum break-ins, suspecting the Muppets and a mysterious criminal known as The Lemur. Meanwhile, Kermit attempts the make do in the Russian GULAG prison headed by Nadya (Tina Fey).
Let’s just get this out of the way; this is not as good as the 2011 film. In fact, this is by no means one of the best Muppets films. Having said that, this is also not the worst (and that’s considering that even the worst Muppets film is still relatively watchable). In the ranking of the now eight Muppet films, Muppets Most Wanted would rank somewhere in the middle.
So, what does work about the new addition to the franchise? It is very funny. The jokes are fast-paced and not all hit, but enough do, and when they do hit, it is hilarious. The songs are absolutely fantastic; they are all funny, clever and they each have their own style that adds a lot of unexpected variety and a memorable quality. Also the human characters are very well acted. Ricky Gervais gave a relatively understated performance that pays off very well, and was my favorite human character in the film. Ty Burrell essentially does his best Inspector Jacques Clouseau impression, but it is a good impression. Tina Fey is very charming and fun as Nadya. Despite her over-the-top Russian accent, she gives a very magnetic performance that makes her very likeable.
While I have heard some criticism that the film doesn’t have enough Muppets in it, I would have to disagree. Sure, some of the Muppets are underused, but the film never came across as the human characters are overshadowing them. The film is very much about the Muppets and they are the main focus. I would have liked to see more of some of my favorite characters, but I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything and in the long run, it did balance the human characters with the Muppets fairly well, in my opinion.
In terms of what doesn’t work, oddly enough are the celebrity cameos. The ones that are playing actual characters are fine. The problem I have is with the celebrities who come in and leave in the blink of an eye. Unusual for a Muppets film, the cameos feel forced. There are so many of them, and the way that they come about feels like that by the time your brain goes, “Hey, is that…“ the cameo is already done and over with. It took me out of the film a few times, and they seem to add very little to the film. Also, there are a couple scenes where there is some questionable CGI and green screen work, it didn’t last too long, but it was noticeable.
The film overall felt a bit uninspired. It’s as if the filmmakers had no intention to make a sequel, but their contracts say otherwise. However, uninspired as it may have felt, it is still not without effort, there is still much love for the Muppets displayed on the screen and you can tell that everyone is doing their best. Though it doesn’t necessarily have the heart of the 2011 film, it still makes for a solid addition to the Muppets film series. It has a witty script, great songs, and a likability that makes the Muppets as special as they are. Kids will enjoy it and adults will have a fun enough time, especially if they grew up with the original show and films. And if it says anything about the quality of the film, I did leave the film satisfied and wanting more Muppet films in the future.
Side Note: Since I mentioned that Muppets Most Wanted would rank in the middle of all the Muppet films. I might as well tell you how I rank all eight Muppet films. Starting at the bottom there’s Muppets from Space, then Muppet Treasure Island, followed by The Muppets Take Manhattan, then the new film, Muppets Most Wanted, then The Great Muppet Caper, and finishing off with the top three being The Muppets, The Muppet Christmas Carol and finishing off with the first and best, The Muppet Movie. That’s just my opinion, though.