The lights have been lit once more for James Bobin’s Muppets Most Wanted (2014), a somewhat lacklustre follow-up to his 2011 comeback hit The Muppets, with Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais replacing Amy Adams and Jason Seigel as the film’s human points of interest. In The Muppets, the fuzzy little furballs of fun were introduced to a brand new generation of fans, whilst Bobin also paid homage to the now-greying supporters of yesteryear. This time around, the fun has subsided as Most Wanted battles all the problems that sequels inevitably bring. Expectations being high, the Muppets tackle the issue head-on in opening number We’re Doing a Sequel (cue applause).
There’s an enjoyably tongue-in-cheek realisation that any Muppets follow-up was bound to contain clichéd elements and so there’s little to no point ignoring it – so the movie’s internal logic goes. Riding high after their recent rejuvenation, Kermit and company decide to embark on a world tour, giving ample opportunity to tick off Europe’s most iconic locations. Whilst travelling, Kermit is kidnapped by his doppelgänger, Constantine, a jewel thief on the run identical to Kermie in every way save for a mole and a lip-curling snarl. Tossed into a Russian Gulag, Kermit is left to rot with prison guard Nadya (Fey), whilst the nefarious Constantine uses the rest of the Muppets as the perfect cover to allow him to continue plying his trade.
This globetrotting, crime caper narrative allows for plenty of zany antics. There are also oodles of mistaken identity gags and a great deal of poking fun at the paranoia-stoked spy cinema of the sixties. Muppets Most Wanted toddles along at an enjoyable pace, and yet the magic isn’t quite there. Much like The Muppets Show, Bobin’s sequel is more a series of comic sketches with a through-line plot that’s constantly stretched to breaking point. Fortunately, the film has some saving ammunition in the form of Flight of the Concords’ Bret McKenzie (who picked up an Oscar for Man or Muppet back in 2012), who offers up his talents once again for some toe-tapping tunes. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of British funnyman Gervais as Dominic Badguy, Constantine’s dastardly aid.
Since his move to Hollywood, Gervais – who won so many over with BBC mockumentary series The Office – has failed to impress with his past American efforts (2008’s Ghost Town, 2009’s The Invention of Lying and Night at the Museum 2). Rather disappointingly, he also does precious little to catch the eye here. Expectations were always going to be high after The Muppets, which managed to capture the sheer silliness and childlike tenderness that the titular creations are capable of. With Muppets Most Wanted, Bobin fails to overcome the problems inherent in franchise filmmaking, but there’s still just enough to warrant a watch for fervent felt fanatics.