3/18/2014 @ 9:57AM |2,328 views
Review: ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ Is A Terrific Muppet Movie
The good news is that the film cost just $45 million to produce and earned a $165m worldwide. A solid worldwide total, plus about $52 million in DVD/Blu-Ray sales, an Oscar for Best Original Song, and strong merchandising sales sealed the deal, and just over two years later, the Muppets are back. While Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have the copious free publicity that came with being the Muppets’ big comeback film, it’s also a far-less tear jerking picture than the last one. This time around, it’s all about madcap comedy and relentless tomfoolery, which may make it more appealing to the core kid audience.
The prior installment was a genuinely sad and poignant look at nostalgia and the notion that some acts and/or franchises weren’t destined for that second wind. There is no such melancholy in Muppets Most Wanted. I imagine it will quite possibly be a somewhat leggier picture, although I don’t expect as large an opening weekend due to the lack of advance hype and strong kiddie competition from LEGO Movie and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Offhand, I’d guess an opening weekend of around $20 million and a final total of over/under $60 million. But once it opens, it will be the last “new” kid-friendly attraction until Rio 2 in three weeks.
The film cost $50 million, so once again blockbuster numbers aren’t required for financial success. But what Muppets Most Wanted is testing is the franchise’s durability. Absent the wave of nostalgia and free advertising that greeted the last go-around, can a Muppet film series be a reliably sturdy box office performer, or was it merely absence that made the heart grow fonder last time around? We’ll know soon enough, but if Muppets Most Wanted‘s quality is any indication of the batting average of this series going forward, I hope it gets at least enough to get another installment green-lit.
The Muppets was one of the best films of 2011, not so much a reintroduction to the beloved characters but a would-be series finale that the franchise never got, a chance to say goodbye both to our childhood icons and to Jim Henson twenty-one years after his shocking and unexpected demise. It was such a powerful farewell, a would-be one last show, that I frankly did not want a sequel. But the Muppets are indeed back. The highest compliment I can pay to this sequel is that I’m glad they gave us another go-around after all. Muppets Most Wanted may not be the emotionally-draining powerhouse that the last film was, but it’s not trying to be. The Muppets wanted you to laugh and cry. Muppets Most Wanted wants to you cry with laughter.
After a prologue which takes place moments after the closing scenes of The Muppets, the sequel quickly establishes its globe-trotting heist plot. The Muppets tricked into conducting a world-tour alongside new manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Kermit may not approve, but he has been discreetly replaced by one Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog who looks exactly like Kermit save for a single facial mole. With Kermit stuck in a Russian gulag and Constantine impersonating our hero, can anything or anyone stop Dominic and Constantine’s international crime spree? And just what will the Muppet Show be like without Kermit’s stabilizing influence?
The film amusingly plays out somewhat like a standard superhero sequel. No, Constantine doesn’t intentionally get caught so he can escape his glass prison and murder Fozzy, but the film does feel like writer Nicholas Stoller and writer/director James Bobin are riffing on the formula. Once again we get the super villain who is basically the doppelganger for the hero, and the film does indeed place more emphasis on the villains at the expense of the heroes while showing the cracks beneath the seemingly satisfactory status-quo established at the end of the first film. There frankly isn’t much else under the surface, aside from a token parable about the need for creative constraints. The good news is that while the picture has little in mind save making us laugh, it does a superb job doing just that.
I could spend the next paragraph or two spoiling my favorite jokes, but what would be the point? The picture is filled with wonderful gags, puns, callbacks, and snarky references to its own existence and the franchise’s legacy. There is a wonderful bit that directly calls out one of the key complaints about the last film, with the usual barrage of celebrity cameos who earn laughs often just by showing up. At its best, The Muppets Most Wanted operates as a glorified spoof of itself, including subtly commenting on the fact that the Muppets haven’t been super popular since the 1980′s. The songs frankly aren’t as good as the last time around (there’s nothing on the level of “Life’s A Happy Song” or “Man Or Muppet”), but you’ll probably be humming a few of them, and Tina Fey does get to sing with a Russian accent.
While some of the core characters once again lack spotlight time thanks to an emphasis on villainy, everyone, human and Muppet, is in peak form. Bobin and company have crafted a somewhat throw-away caper adventure with the self-knowing wit of a top-notch Mad Magazine parody of itself. How exactly the last two films fits into Muppet continuity, whether it’s a sequel to The Muppets or the eighth Muppet movie, is something that is debated without really being answered. That’s probably for the best since it doesn’t bother to explain why Walter’s brother is never referenced despite Jason Segel’s starring role in the last film. The plot barely holds together and no one really gets a character arc, but the jokes are copious and hit with about 90% accuracy.
Muppets Most Wanted is above all an incredibly entertaining comic adventure. It is the very definition of all-ages entertainment, with belly laughs for young and old. It may not be a profound work of art, but Muppets Most Wanted is a genuinely hilarious comic sequel. While one can argue that The Muppets was a fitting farewell to Kermit and his merry entertainers, Muppets Most Wanted nonetheless justifies itself by trading pathos for utter hilarity. The world may not need the Muppets and The Muppets may not have demanded a sequel, but we got an awfully good sequel nonetheless. The highest compliment I can pay is that Muppets Most Wanted makes me eager for an ongoing series of Muppet movies under the Disney regime. Muppets Most Wanted is a terrific Muppet movie and a just-plain terrific comedy sequel.