So "Muppets Most Wanted" brings back Kermit, Miss Piggy, new addition Walter and the rest of the gang, along with the previous movie's creative team: director James Bobin, co-writer Nicolas Stoller, and "Flight of the Conchords" star (and now Oscar-winning songwriter) Bret McKenzie. This time the Muppets take their act to Europe while simultaneously being used as, well, puppets for criminal masterminds Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) and Constantine, Kermit's evil Russian doppelganger.
But does "Muppets Most Wanted" manage to recapture the same nostalgic spirit that made the previous film such a success? And does it have everything fans could possibly want in a Muppets movie? We broke down the new film to find out.
It's definitely meta.
Part of the Muppets' enduring charm is their meta sense of humour, and "Most Wanted" picks up mere seconds after the last movie ends -- in fact, it opens with that film's "The End" title card. From there, the movie's book-ended with self-referential musical numbers in "We're Doing a Sequel" and an updated version of "Together Again" that adds an extra "again." Bobin and Stoller's decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to the sequel (or technically the seventh sequel, as the Muppets point out) extends to the plot too, which seeks to expand the gang's global appeal by taking them and their new movie to Europe, with foreign box office-friendly stops in Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. And for those that have issues with the last movie's newest Muppet Walter taking valuable screen time away from old favourites, don't worry, they even acknowledge that too.
It's not hurting for cameos.
It'd be criminal to spoil them, since the surprise is always half the fun (although if you're so inclined, they're listed at IMDB). But again, you can expect the same mix of rapid-fire celebrity cameos as in previous Muppet movies, including a few that are head-scratchingly random. No offence to Toby Jones, but we doubt many kids (or their parents) are going to squeal with delight when he pops up as a Spanish museum guard. As for the recognizable names playing the Muppets' token human costars, they're just as enjoyable, especially Tina Fey as the warden of a Siberian gulag.
The musical numbers aren't as tight.
The last movie earned McKenzie an Oscar for his "Man or Muppet" earworm, but the songs in "Most Wanted" aren't necessarily a lock to win him a second, even if this movie is more of a non-stop musical than the 2011 film. The opening number "We're Doing a Sequel," complete with its Busby Berkeley-style choreography, is a highlight, along with a mid-movie interrogation scene/song. But while the rest of the tunes are cute enough, you're much more likely to leave the theatre humming the Muppets' old standards than any of these new additions.
There's too many pop culture references to count.
Long before kids' movies like "Shrek" were including winks and nods to counter parents nodding off, the Muppets were riffing on pop culture with the best of them. That said, in "Most Wanted," some of the sight gags are almost as dated as the Muppets themselves. Sure, making a "Shawshank" reference in a prison break scene is practically a contractual obligation at this point, but busting out a nod to the Bond villain Jaws or Hannibal Lecter just feels off-the-mark and out of character.
The capers are suitably wacky.
This one's less nostalgia-driven than the 2011 reboot and more of a caper flick thanks to the heist plot, but that's just fine. Because it wouldn't be a Muppet movie without a good "family-style adventure," as Constantine promises, and the caper at the centre of "Most Wanted" certainly delivers on that end. It helps that Bobin and Stoller managed to balance the hijinks with strong, entertaining antagonists of both the human and Muppet variety in Dominic and Kermit-lookalike Constantine. And although the emotional element's a little lacking, as a stand-alone adventure, "Most Wanted" certainly fits right into the Muppet canon.
So is it as good as [insert your favorite Muppet movie here]?
Probably not. But as the Muppets point out themselves in the film's opening number, everybody knows sequels are never quite as good. And whether that's true or not, "Most Wanted" is still enough of a crowd-pleaser to ensure that everyone's favourite felt-based variety act is back to being, yes, a viable franchise once again.
"Muppets Most Wanted" is now playing in theatres.