In 2011, The Muppets (review here) wowed me. I wasn’t really a fan before that but Jason Segal was able to write and star in an incredible film, introducing us to the new muppet Walter and his introduction to muppet society. The same director and same songwriter are back, but Segal is gone from the equation. Can this sequel recapture the magic? Or should this movie be called Muppets Least Wanted?
The gist is that, following their successful return, the muppets decide to go on an international tour, but it’s all a trick by their new agent, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Badguy is working with the #1 most wanted criminal in the world, Constantine, who just happens to look exactly like Kermit. Constantine pulls a switcheroo and gets Kermit locked in a Russian prison while he impersonates Kermit and leads the muppets. In charge of this prison is Tina Fey, with notable prisoners like Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and Jemaine Clement.
Unfortunately, not much. I chuckled a few times, mostly at Constantine, who kept calling the muppets different names (my favorite was how he kept calling Fozzy Bear “Fonzie”). Every once in a while, these little quips would make it in, and I would catch myself smiling, but unfortunately it was a rare moment.
What doesn’t work?
Let me emphasize what worked in the previous movie. We had an engaging and interesting story arc where Walter was trying to find where he belonged, parallel to the story of Jason Segal and Amy Adams. It was easily accessible because these people, like us, were not muppets and were seeing this world from the outside. It gave us an anchor. In Muppets Most Wanted, we lose that human element and the only humans in the story are relegated to supporting characters. Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and Ricky Gervais get the most screentime but they really only serve to move the plot forward.
Walter was the key to the original, as his story was simultaneously heartbreaking but joyful, as he had to come to grips with giving up his human life and embracing his muppet one. Here, his story arc is flat. He’s moving the plot forward, but there’s no emotion, no sense of urgency, and really, no consequences. The story in general feels like they had all these jokes and cameos and just needed to tie them together.
The music isn’t bad here, with Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie writing the music again, but without the substance to build up to them, they’re flat. A few were painful, probably due to situation that our writers put them in. I don’t blame McKenzie for this. The story just doesn’t hold the music up, in the way that the original did. Especially the cameo-bloated finale here felt horrible, not earning the weight it was trying to carry.
So I covered that the movie wasn’t as emotional/impactful as the first, but is it funny? Sadly, mostly not. Constantine provided the most laughs for me but that was still rare. The other characters were flat and the supposedly funny cameos made me shake my head. There were entire sections that I could feel were supposed to be funny but clearly weren’t tested with a real audience.
This movie wouldn’t be as bad if the 2011 The Muppets wasn’t absolutely fantastic. But it was. Meaning that we all knew this movie could be too. But instead, they lose the human element, lose all sense of urgency and emotional impact, and lose a bit of the creative spark, resulting in a dull and lifeless husk. This is an absolute shame and one that you shouldn’t encourage by seeing this movie in theaters. If you’re curious, wait til it’s eventually available to rent.