Having just reformed, the Muppets go on a grand world tour with their new manager Dominic Badguy, selling out everywhere they go. Little do they realise the nefarious plans that Dominic has in mind, helped with evil Muppet Constantine, a deadringer for Kermit.
The Muppets reboot in 2011 did a brilliant job of (re)introducing the beloved characters to a modern audience. And its best idea was not to change a thing about them. Try to imagine any kind of modern updating of their original design and shiver... But while it was a thoroughly enjoyable film, with a great performance from Amy Adams as usual, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was not a Muppets film as such, rather one that had been hi-jacked by Jason Segel with them being relegated to the background.
The second film starts immediately where the first one ended, quite literally, with the Muppets wondering what to do now that they have reformed. And they launch into a cheeky musical number about sequels and the law of their diminishing returns. But this time, the focus is squarely back on them. As such, this feels a lot more like a vintage Muppets film. Gone is the angst and trials of growing up present in the first film, we are here in the more familiar territory of a crime caper. And how you feel about this will determine your level of enjoyment.
The humour is a bit more broad, and along with some of its great musical numbers, feels a little more old-fashioned. But this is not meant as a criticism, on the contrary, Muppets Most Wanted is hilarious and thoroughly entertaining, valiantly carrying the nostalgia from the original tv serie. I have grown tired how, in the last decade and outside of Disney/Pixar, too many American "family" films have followed the same pattern (with Dreamworks being the worst offender): tiresome celebrity cameos, overwritten jokes and inept pop culture references meant for the accompanying adults.
But here the film has found a delicate balance, and the director understands that it doesn't have to try too hard and be too smart to please a wider audience. Yes there are celebrity cameos here too, in fact, plenty of them, in actual fact I cannot think of any recent films which had so many, and I recommend you do not check the cast list on IMDB to keep the surprise intact. But let's not forget this is what the Muppets used to day decades ago, and they are all seamlessly integrated to serve the story as opposed to just randomly popping up (my favourite being oops I nearly said it, let's just say she was in Desperado). Oh and that Austrian Oscar winner). ￼
As for the human cast, well yes, it does feature Ricky Gervais. It is quite the achievement that you do not spend the film wanting to smack him in the face, yet he proves that he quite simply is not an actor. Faring much better as Ty Burrell as a Clouseau-like Interpol inspector and Tina Fey as a Gulag prison guard (and closeted musicals fan), both very funny. If I have a small niggle, it is this modern affliction, the overlong running time, here just under two hours. And after a raucous and lively first hour, a good fifteen minutes could have easily been edited out from the second half.
But this is minor, and there is no denying the perennial and good-natured charm of the Muppets present in abundance in this sequel.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Muppets Most Wanted. 2014 USA. Directed by James Bobin. Starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, and half of Hollywood in cameos.
Released in the UK on the 28th of March 14.