“Muppets Most Wanted (2014)” Review

It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights.

Why did I watch it?

It’s the Muppets, innit?

Did it meet expectations?

I love the Muppets, obviously. The Muppet Show is a terrific format, hard to beat, with its mix of surreal show numbers linked with a behind narrative, and its confused guest stars. That’s not necessarily something that translates well to film and the Muppet movies have been a bit hit and miss, with the very best films adopting the trick of doing a straight up classic with muppets in key roles – let writers like Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson do the heavy narrative lifting – and the meta-commentary is in the muppet casting. For the record, I consider Muppets Christmas Carol a cinema great, and curiously it’s one of the most faithful adaptations of the story committed to film.

The Muppets (2011) tried to have its cake and eat it by resurrecting the classic theatre venue, and dash-it, succeeded, by rather cleverly weaving a quest around saving the theatre and bring the gang back together. So this is a straight up sequel, acknowledged in the first song “We’re Doing a Sequel” (in which Dr Bunsen pleasingly and pedantically points out that it is, in fact, the 7th sequel). But when you’re doing the clever-meta thing and you point out “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good”, even in song, you do look a bit smug when it proves true…

It’s a decent try, though, taking its cue from the international action movies like Bourne, combining and international tour and a heist; and from Superman III in giving its start an evil doppelgänger. The evil Constantine (Animal: “bad frog”) is hilarious when the writers take delight in perverting Kermit’s dialogue (“it is time to light the lights” he says, remote detonating explosive charges). Equally Kermit putting on a show with a bunch of siberian convicts (“we have annual lighthearted Gulag Revue”) is a hoot.

But there’s a tendency to go for all the gags, however weak, when it might be funnier to take some things seriously. Example: most of the time the CIA/interpol duo are painfully unfunny owing to a series of sub-Clouseau pratfalls – but having them do a (more or less) straight up interrogation of the muppets is superb, because we get to see, for example, how Bunsen, the Swedish Chef or Fozzie react under police pressure. Sometimes you’ve got to commit to the story (even while performing a musical number…)

It wouldn’t hurt if there was a bit more to the plot, too – for example, it’s somewhat unclear why the Muppets are such good cover that it’s worth going to such lengths to hide among them – and couldn’t we at least have muppets tricked/coerced into conducting the heists?  Why wasn’t it Miss Piggy in the skin-tight suit, dodging the lasers to reach the crown jewels?

Also: Ricky Gervais? Why? As the two-faced Domonic Badguy he is neither sinister nor beguiling enough. The best guests are enjoyable either because they give a fully committed performance alongside their muppet colleagues, or just look bewildered by the whole thing. Gervais plays along but gives the impression of being faintly bored by the proceedings.

Tina Fey, on the other hand, is brilliant but under-developed as the sinister stalker/commandant, bursting into the film as Kermit arrives at the Gulag with a full-blown dance number “The Big House” sung, of course, with her Russian accent.

There are many cameos too – several of which I missed. But among the highlights are the stage numbers, harking back to the original Muppet Show, with guest stars who don’t get to be part of the main plot, but seem to have a lot of fun!

Anyway, plenty of laugh out loud moments. It’s worth the admission price just for the concept of the Swedish Chef in The Seventh Seal.

You should watch it if…

  • You’re a Muppet fan (obviously)

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You’re offended by lazy national stereotypes
  • You dislike cheap gags (but then whey are you considering watching the Muppets?)

Next up: The Lobster (2015)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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