Published on March 24th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Muppets Most Wanted
The Muppets are back! Or are they? Sure, I suppose there are a couple of Muppets in this movie. Look hard, you may spot them.
Jason Segel was instrumental in rebooting the much loved, but well-worn Muppets franchise, with his understanding of what made The Muppets dear to our hearts, not to mention his love of puppetry. There were a few more behind the scenes connections that helped 2011’s The Muppets soar: it was directed by James Bobin, who co-created Flight of the Conchords, which starred Bret MacKenzie and Jemaine Clement (MacKenzie won an Oscar for Best Original Song for his tune from the last movie, ‘Man or Muppet’). Segel isn’t in the mix for the latest film, Muppets Most Wanted, but with Bobin and MacKenzie on board, there is some continuity between the two films (Clement also shows up as one of the prisoners in the Siberian gulag). However, I must unfortunately report, they’ve lost some sheen this time around.
I had a lot of problems with this movie that we’ll get into, but I want to first say that Muppets Most Wanted is not a bad movie by any means. It’s fun, cute, and clever, and hey, there are Muppets, so it’s got that going for it, right? This time around, in excellent meta fashion, The Muppets are capitalizing on their sudden comeback by staging a world tour. However, unknown to them, their new manager Dominic Badguy (um, it’s French, and pronounced ‘Bad-gee,’ he tells them), is secretly engineering the tour to coincide with a daring series of heists leading to the theft of the Royal English Crown Jewels. Badguy (played by Ricky Gervais) is also using The Muppets so he can pull the old switcheroo on behalf of his boss, the criminal mastermind Constantine, who just happens to look exactly like our hero, Kermit the Frog, albeit, with a prominent mole. Constantine switches places with Kermit, taking control of The Muppets, while Kermit is thought to be Constantine and is shipped off to a harsh Siberian gulag run by Tina Fey.
If it seems like it took me a long time to rattle off that plot synopsis, it’s because it did. Herein is one of the big problems with Muppets Most Wanted. Most movies don’t plot well enough, leaving me complaining about that. Well, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Muppets Most Wanted is a well-plotted heist movie — but wait — wasn’t this supposed to be about Muppets? This is one occasion where I’d rather have seen them indulge themselves with comedy over plot. This tight, overplotting means that the movie has to move along quickly, leaving behind most of the opportunities for great jokes. And some of the gags it does have don’t breathe very well — the bit about Ty Burrell being a typically French employee always taking breaks and vacations pops up strangely late in the movie, and if you don’t know anything about the culture of the French, you probably wouldn’t get the joke as the filmmakers don’t (or can’t) take the time to explain it.
Worst of all, where are The Muppets? There are very few subplots, or even moments, featuring our favourite characters. One of The Muppets they do focus on is Walter, brought back from the last movie — he’s a total cipher — the most boring Muppet ever. Why not give newer favourites like Pepe the King Prawn or classic Muppets like Gonzo something to do? I came to see the Muppets, not Tina Fey butchering a Russian accent.
Oy, the guest cameos. Always a staple of a good Muppets movie, but this time we’re shoehorning in people so quickly that you can’t even tell who they are. Chloe Grace Moretz, Toby Jones, and MacKenzie Crook flash so quickly on screen that you aren’t sure whom you just saw. The previously mentioned subplot with the eagle Muppet (whom I never really liked) and Ty Burrell is completely unnecessary. There’s a lot of screen time following these characters around, showing us things we’ve already seen, that could have been filled with Gonzo being shot out of cannons or whatever. We skimp on this, just so we can feature Ty Burrell, also butchering his French accent? Bah.
How about some positivity? Well, since it’s the Muppets, okay. On the plus side, Constantine was a better character than I thought he’d be. He phones in a hilarious half-assed attempt to imitate Kermit, with a funny accent that makes him refer to The Muppets as, “Mappets.” Both Ricky Gervais and his character were great, as the put upon second in command to Constantine — the movie should have just focused on his arc as the human character interacting with The Muppets. And in the gulag scenes, having Ray Liotta (who was also in Muppets From Space), Jemaine Clement, and Danny Trejo show up was awesome. There was a great movie buried in there somewhere.
It wasn’t terrible, but it’s probably a wait until home video situation. I enjoyed the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes of Muppets Most Wanted, even if the middle was fairly dry. I don’t think the kids in the theatre were terribly into it either, as it was a pretty subdued audience for a Muppet movie. Still, there were laughs, and it’s always good to go one more round with the Muppets gang. No, make that, The Muppets family. Box office results aren’t looking good and poorish word of mouth on the film isn’t going to help, but let’s hope they get another chance and that the filmmakers remember to go back to what makes The Muppets so successful — The Muppets themselves.