In 2011, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, along with director James Bobin, were able to successfully bring the Muppets back into the public consciousness after 12 years of dead air. Their love for the long-running franchise shone through clearly on the big screen and it lead to the film, The Muppets, becoming a critical and financial success.
Two years later, audiences are being invited to take part in yet another Muppet adventure, this time without Jason Segel. So, is Muppets Most Wanted good enough to make you forget about Segel or should they have quit while they were ahead?
Much like how The Great Muppet Caper followed The Muppet Movie over thirty years ago, writers James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller have followed up The Muppets with another caper comedy that's light, innocuous, enjoyable, but fails to live up to the previous film. While it's certainly fun to see Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy go on a real adventure, Muppets Most Wanted is a little too reminiscent of The Great Muppet Caper to really stand out on its own.
That trademark off-beat, irreverent humor is still very much there, but the movie is a little too concerned about plot to let any of these wonderful characters standout. Whereas the 2011 film allowed time for each of the primary Muppet characters to have their moment in the sun, the sequel spends a little too much time on Constantine and Ricky Gervais.But wait... who's Constantine? Well, he's only the world's most dangerous criminal! He bares a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog with the only discernible distinctions being a mole on his upper lip and a foreign accent. With the help of Gervais's character, Dominic Badguy (pronounced BAD-GHEE, of course), Constantine devises a plan to switch places with Kermit the Frog, take the Muppets on a European tour, and commit a series of robberies. Initially, this works out just nicely for the Muppet gang as they've grown tired of listening to the original Kermit and now that this Kermit impostor has taken over, they can do anything they want. They're so happy with their creative freedom, they don't even realize he's not Kermit. The robberies come to the attention of two inspectors: Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) who are hot on the Muppets' trail. Meanwhile, Kermit finds himself trapped in a Russian gulag where Nadya (Tina Fey) forces him to put on a show starring the gulag's prisoners. Eventually, Fozzie, Animal, and Walter realize that Kermit is missing and they set out to find him before Constantine does any further damage. Remember Walter? Don't worry, I barely do as well. He was one of the main characters from the previous film and, for some reason, the writers have kept him around a second time. While his character worked in The Muppets (a lifelong Muppets fan who gets to meet his idols), Walter is so devoid of personality that he bogs this film down when he starts to get more screen time. For the first half of the film, he just had a few lines here and there, but when he gets involved in rescuing Kermit, you just wish he could be replaced by Gonzo or even Rizzo the Rat. Other than to keep some continuity with The Muppets, there's no reason for him to exist in this film. The Muppets already have a voice of a reason, Kermit the Frog. Walter adds nothing here. On a more positive note, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell bring forth a great amount of energy to their roles. Fey is a bit underused, but she's still fun to watch as the strict Russian security guard who happens to be a secret admirer of Kermit's. And, I can't believe I'm saying this, Ty Burrell has really great chemistry with Sam the Eagle. In fact, they could have centered the entire film on these characters and it would have been a blast. There's a scene where they're interrogating the Muppets, in musical form, and it's easily one of the highlights of the film. Ricky Gervais, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag. I was actually delighted to see him try his hand at a musical number; it would have been nice to see more of that from him. But he has this knowing grin that keeps him from feeling like a natural part of the film. While Jason Segel threw himself into the Muppet universe, Ricky Gervais seems less willing to fully immerse himself into the silliness. It's as if he's saying to us "can you believe how silly this is?" and that type of approach kinda ruins the fun. Still, his musical number with Constantine was very enjoyable as were all the musical numbers in the film. Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for his work with the previous Muppets film and he does another outstanding job here. The movie opens so strongly with a ridiculously catchy song called "We're Doing A Sequel" and, for a few minutes, you start to believe that we're going to get another classic Muppets movie. Each of McKenzie's songs are on an entirely different level than the rest of the film, it's a real shame that the screenwriters couldn't keep up the pace. Like The Muppets, there are a staggering amount of cameos in this film, but they are a lot less fun this time. We get to see Christoph Waltz do a waltz, but the execution isn't nearly as fun as you'd hope. The most wasted cameo appearances are at the gulag where we get to hang with Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, and Jemaine Clement but Liotta and Clement are essentially extras. What's up with that? Many of these cameos are so brief, they hardly make an impression, and start to feel unnecessary. Every cameo in the 2011 film felt like a big deal; that's not the case here. In spite of all of its flaws, Muppets Most Wanted is still mostly enjoyable. If there is one thing James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller got right - it's the film's humor. They have nailed the tone of a Muppets film for the second time in a row, and most of the film's laugh-out-loud moments feel effortless and fresh. Unfortunately, they seem too afraid to do something truly unique with these characters, which is strange because these movies have such an "anything goes" quality to them. They're so meta and self-referential that there's really no reason for the film to be so plot heavy. This movie isn't necessarily missing Jason Segel, but he brought real energy to the 2011 film that made it feel special and that's lacking here. As it is, Muppets Most Wanted is a pretty fun ride, it's just not very memorable.