There’s a moment early on in Muppets Most Wanted where Kermit and Fozzie Bear, during a musical number entitled, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” utter the telling line, “Everybody knows the sequel is never quite as good.”
And they’re right.
But that doesn’t mean that this eighth Muppet film doesn’t deserve a viewing. Just don’t expect it to step up and overshadow the resurgence the franchise experienced in 2011 with The Muppets. That film, penned by Jason Segal, boasted everything that was right with the franchise, capturing a childlike sweetness that entranced children and adults alike, bringing Kermit and company back to the glory days in fine fashion.
Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted misses that high mark but still functions as a playful film.
The movie picks up literally on the heels of the last, the crew just finishing up their big finale of the last when they find themselves wondering what’s up next. Enter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who suggests that now is the perfect time for the Muppets to take their show on the road, embarking on a world tour. Kermit’s skeptical but Badguy is convincing and wins over the rest of the crowd, most notably Walter who wins Kermit over to the idea. But what Kermit doesn’t know is that Badguy is in cahoots with Constantine, the most dangerous criminal in the world, who was recently broken out of a Soviet gulag.
And he bears a striking resemblance to Kermit himself. Thus, when Kermit finds himself in a blue mood as his friends begin to side with Badguy’s more lenient and flashy management and wanders down into a deserted back street, Constantine pulls a fast one on him, gluing a mole to Kermit’s face and framing him. From there the hijinks continue as Constantine steps into the role of being Kermit, Badguy working as his constantly belittled number two, as they set out to steal the crown jewels of England, using the Muppets traveling show as a smoke screen. In the meantime, Kermit is shipped off to Constantine’s gulag where he is now thought to be the master criminal, at least for a bit. What will happen? Will his friends eventually realize that Constantine is not the real Kermit and bail him out? Well, we think you know the answer to that one.
There are some strong points in the film for sure. Ricky Gervais’ dry, snarky sarcasm works well here, particularly given some of the Muppet’s classically dry jokes and Tina Fey shines as well as the head of the gulag, secretly hiding a deep crush on Kermit. She’s the Tina Fey we all know and love, unafraid of physical comedy in addition to playfully delivering her lines with pluck. But the real scene stealer throughout the film is “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell, whose Jean Pierre Napoleon, a French INTERPOL agent who reluctantly teams up with CIA agent Sam Eagle. The interplay between the man and the Muppet is perfect and the jokes all hit home, Burrell’s character living out a plethora of clichéd European stereotypes that truly do draw laughs.
Of course this is a Muppet movie so you’re going to expect plenty of cameos and this one’s got ’em but, unlike some of the previous films, these cameos are almost more like celebrity spotting in L.A. as opposed to really offering anything more than a wink and a nod. Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, and James McAvoy make appearances as do Chloe Grace Moretz, Ross Lynch, and Frank Langella but these are literally just that, appearances that are there for the sheer fact of the viewer being able to quickly say, “Hey! I know who that is!” Other cameos are more successful like Josh Groban’s singing prisoner and the trio of prisoners played by Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta, and Danny Trejo, particularly as they begin rehearsals for the gulag’s annual singing review show. And Celene Dion’s appearance singing alongside Mrs. Piggy is a near scene stealer, truly bringing laughs.
But somewhere in there the magic is just a little less, the story a little less strong, failing to hit on all the marks that the Muppets have for so many years made their hallmark. But, even with a bit of the shine wearing off this time out, Muppets Most Wanted is still an enjoyable movie, perfect for a family night out and for some great laughs, even if they’re not as hearty as the time before.