Muppets Most Wanted review

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Review Simon Brew 12 Mar 2014 - 05:43

Can this sequel live up to the pure joy of the first Muppets movie? Simon's still singing that last song...

If ever a film was worth it for the opening number, then Muppets Most Wanted is it. A glorious Bret McKenzie song that's up to the standard of anything in the last film - from which this film picks up directly - it gets the movie going with a few minutes of concentrated in-jokes, madness and sheer brilliance. Arguably, the rest of the film never quite gets to that level again, but conversely, the bar is set so ridiculously high within minutes that it's hardly surprising.

Muppets Most Wanted is no slouch after that outstanding beginning though (the closing number alone will bring tears of joy to anyone who's ever given two hoots about The Muppets). It has to work harder in some ways than the last film, given that the level of narrative ambition is heightened, but - despite one or two minor stumbles - it's a second straight big screen success for The Muppets.

This time, the film doesn't have nostalgia and goodwill to work with to such a degree though, so instead it injects a touch of The Pink Panther - with a nod to several classic movies along the way - as it takes the Muppets on a world tour, and a bit of a caper.

Said world tour is the masterplan of a pair of top criminals: the evil mastermind Constantine, and his sidekick, The Lemur, played by Ricky Gervais. Thus, the Muppets take in various cities, crimes are committed, and it's up to a mix of America's finest - Sam The Eagle - and Europe's laziest - Ty Burrell, channelling a bit of Peter Sellers - to work out what's happening.

There's more to it than that of course, and also, there's a generous collection of jokes, fourth wall breaking, cameos and musical numbers. In that sense, the recipe hasn't changed an awful lot from last time (and it hasn't from Muppets past). Nor should it. What does change though is that, once things get going, the emphasis seems a little more notably weighted towards humans rather than Muppets.

If you go back and look at the 2011 movie, that was a criticism there too. But the centering of the human action on the duo of Jason Segel and Amy Adams worked wonders. Here, the human side is shouldered fairly equally between Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey and a scene-stealing Danny Trejo. None of them is given the chance to contribute too much to the core of the movie as a result, and it does make Muppets Most Wanted bumpy at times (three of them are paired up with Muppets though). We're going for the engine metaphor here: at times there's spluttering, although for the most part, the film roars into life.

We should touch on Ricky Gervais here as well. You don't need more than 20 seconds in the company of Google to know that his casting in Muppets Most Wanted has been divisive. But fear not: he fits his villainous role very well, generates a good few laughs, and fits in far better than many may end up giving him credit for. In fact, the same applies to all the main human performers. Some of the cameos are priceless, too, but we've no intention of spoiling them here.

As always in the land of good Muppets films, you've never too far away from a song and dance number, and Oscar-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie's return is very, very welcome. There are a couple of smashing songs in here (not least that opener), and even the weaker ones (if it's even fair to call them that) are entertaining, and serve purpose.

The real joy of Muppets Most Wanted though is being able to sit back and admire the sheer craft and brilliance that continues to breathe life into the Muppets themselves. Some of the sequences, again giving nothing away, must have been severe headaches to work out, but are utterly joyful on the screen. The expression that the performers behind the Muppets can wring out what's on the end of their arm is ceaselessly impressive. That it's turned into such magical entertainment is all the better.

Furthermore, director James Bobin pushes the visuals of his film a lot harder this time around, soaking up the surface of the European cities he takes the film across, and rarely resisting a nod to another film or a good joke as he does so. Should a further Muppets adventure be greenlit on the same timescale, it's likely that it'll proceed without Bobin, given his apparent commitment to make Alice In Wonderland 2. And that'd be a pity. Along with Nicholas Stoller, Jason Segel and Bret McKenzie, he's been one of the leading lights in bringing the Muppets back to the screen in such striking form. He would not be easy to replace.

Muppets Most Wanted, then, may lack the novelty of The Muppets, a film it doesn't quite match the standard of, and it certainly treads a very different path. But it's hard to feel shortchanged. It's not the best Muppet film, but it's another very good outing nonetheless. Plus whilst you don't quite get the Muppet equivalent of Nick Fury popping up after the end credits teasing another film (there is a very brief sting though), as you walk out of the cinema humming the film's final tune, it's very likely that you'll want one.

As Waldorf and Statler would never often say, "more please". And soon.

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