It was great to have the Muppets back on the big screen three years ago, but now the novelty has worn off, so where does the series go from here? Sadly, instead of coming up with an answer, the sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, shows the plucky troupe flailing for direction now that they’re back in the public eye.
The movie opens with a typically self-aware musical number: “We’re doing a sequel! / The studio wants more / While they wait for Tom Hanks to make Toy Story 4.” In the wake of the Muppets’ newfound success, the group embarks on a world tour and hires on a tour manager, Dominic Badguy. (Ricky Gervais, who says, “It’s pronounced ‘bad-zhee.’ It’s French.”) Unfortunately, Dominic is secretly working for a Russian villain named Constantine who just happens to look like Kermit the Frog. With Dominic’s help, Constantine escapes from a Siberian gulag, has Kermit tossed in there in his place, and takes over the Muppets to afford him an opportunity to steal the crown jewels of England.
This follow-up really misses Jason Segel both as an actor and a writer. Director James Bobin takes Segel’s place as a co-writer, and the material they come up with is too often not up to scratch. Some of the celebrity cameos are incredibly literal-minded: Usher portrays an usher, and Christoph Waltz dances a waltz. The idea that the other Muppets have come to take Kermit for granted doesn’t yield anything interesting, and the comic potential in an evil version of Kermit is entirely wasted with the grim Constantine. Much of the human talent falls down here, too: Gervais doesn’t look particularly happy to be here, and Ty Burrell adds little as a French Interpol cop who continually interrupts his investigation to take another vacation.
The only human performer who emerges with any credit is Tina Fey, who brings the right kind of Broadway swagger to her number “The Big House,” as a Russian prison warden introducing Kermit to gulag life. The movie features more musical numbers than the original, penned by the same songwriter, Bret McKenzie. They’re uneven in quality: Constantine’s disco song wooing Miss Piggy (“I’ll Get You What You Want”) is this movie’s high point, but the featured duet between Miss Piggy and Céline Dion (“Something So Right”) lands with a thud. Needless to say, nothing matches the Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” from the 2011 movie. Still, the numbers help keep the film watchable, as do the blink-or-you’ll-miss-them cameos from the likes of Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Saoirse Ronan. When Kermit organizes a prison musical revue, Tom Hiddleston, Ray Liotta, and Danny Trejo are among the prisoners singing “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. I think that was a dream I had once.
That bit of weirdness aside, if there’s to be another Muppets movie, it either needs new blood or Segel to come back. Now that How I Met Your Mother is ending, maybe he’ll have time to give the old gang some bigger laughs.
Muppets Most Wanted
Starring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Constantine. Directed by James Bobin. Written by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller. Rated PG.