Sunday, April 6, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted Review

I know it's a bit late, but I feel like this movie has been getting a bad rep., so it's time for my dissertation on the newest Muppets film.

Muppets Most Wanted is a heist film, and much like it's Muppets heist film predecessor, The Great Muppet Caper, the sequel in its respective series of films. I feel like Bret McKenzie and screenwriters James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller were all ready to utilize this to their advantage from the very beginning of the film. The opening number was catchy and loaded with references to the the fact that it was a film, much like "Hey a Movie!" I thought "We're Doing a Sequel" really hit the mark, both musically and in terms of introducing the film. The Muppets self-deprecating humor is fully intact. In fact, even though I loved "Life's a Happy Song" and the Academy Award-winning "Man or Muppet," I felt like Bret McKenzie did an even better job as songwriter this time. I guess I'm going completely crazy, because I could have sworn the white and gold tuxedos in this number were a reference to something they wore in The Muppets Take Manhattan, but without rewatching the whole movie, I can't find any record of that being the case. They did, however, throw in a fancy Esther Williams finale featuring Piggy, just like "Piggy's Fantasy" in The Great Muppet Caper.

So onward, the movie jumps right in, no nonsense, straight to introducing Ricky Gervais as "Dominic Badguy." My biggest fear with Gervais in this film was that he would try to make it all about him, but he definitely took the backseat to the Muppets (and I don't just mean because he was number two and Kermit lookalike Constantine was number one), I mean he really let them take at least the amount of center stage that human actors would take, if not more.

Badguy is, as hinted both by his name and the trailer, a bad guy. Not the only bad guy though. Muppet News anchor is quick to introduce the other bad guy, Constantine. The Muppet News guy had a serious lack of things falling on his head, but they can't get everything right. Against Kermit's judgement, The Muppets embark on a tour of larger venues than they could possibly sell out, yet they somehow do. Kermit is stressed about his fellow Muppet performers' lack of focus and rehearsal, and Gonzo's usual recklessness, but Piggy decides to persist with wedding plans, causing Kermit to snap on her. And of course, as anyone who's seen the trailer knows, a series of events leads to Constantine making it seem as though Kermit is him.

Kermit is arrested and dragged off to prison, or the "gulag," as Tina Fey's character Nadia will soon inform everyone with my next favorite musical number "The Big House," but not before one of the lesser musical numbers by Constantine and Badguy, "I'm Number One." "I'm Number One" isn't a bad number, but I can't think of another good villain song from a Muppet film, and I feel like it detracts from the major characters just a bit. The point is clearly to outline Badguy's inevitable betrayal of Constantine, but if Doc Hopper had stopped to sing a song about frog's legs, we might never have gotten the level of character development we did in The Muppet Movie either. Fey's number is worth it though, introducing Kermit to "The Big House." Fey does do her own singing, despite the later running joke about how horrible her singing voice is. At the gulag, the other prisoners include Jermaine Clement, Danny Trejo, Josh Groban, and pro wrestler Dylan Postl.

So with Kermit out of the way and Constantine out of prison, Constantine and Badguy pull their first heist during a Muppets show. But never fear! Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell as Jean Pierre Napoleon (an obvious Jacques Clouseau homage) are on the case! I don't know why I didn't get the Pink Panther reference from the first time they mentioned the elusive "lemur" (Gervais), but it took me a few scenes with Napoleon to realize he was Clouseau.

From here, the film cuts between the scenes with Constantine and Badguy, scenes with Kermit in the gulag, scenes with Sam and Napoleon, and for some reason, scenes with Walter. The biggest complaint I'm seeing for this movie is that they gave Walter way too much to do, and even though I like Walter, I can't help but agree more the more I think about it. With Kermit gone, Walter seems to be pretty much the only glue holding this crew together. He and Animal are the only characters who seem to notice something off about Kermit/Constantine. Animal is great for merchandising, so I understand why they made him more central, but Walter hasn't even been that popular with fans (although, by all means feel free to buy me the plush of him from the first movie). Walter remains more lovable than, say, Bean Bunny, but I'm sure people could take less of him.

After Constantine is a total jerk to Piggy, Badguy stresses the importance of Constantine playing his role better. Constantine serenades Piggy with "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)." It's a great number, but it definitely seems like a Flight of the Conchords leftover ("you want to go to the moon//oo//I'll see what I can do").

Constantine and Badguy pull several more heists, headed for a final goal of the crown jewels. Kermit attempts several different escapes from the gulag before Nadia manages to convince him that his friends have moved on, and that he should use his talents to help direct the prison revue show (it is revealed to the audience that she also has an incredibly creepy obsession with Kermit the frog). Sam the Eagle and Napoleon attempt to uncover the perpetrators, and eventually connect the dots enough to realize the Muppets have been doing shows near the scene of each of the heists. They interrogate the Muppet performers during "Interrogation Song."

Walter becomes increasingly suspicious of Badguy, and finally follows him around town in a scene that was clearly stolen from Gonzo. You remember in The Great Muppet Caper when Gonzo discovers who the jewel thieves are whilst doing a photographic essay on kneecaps? Well he so clearly could have posed as a garden gnome as Walter did. But in any case, Walter discovers Badguy's plan, and he and Fozzie are able to deduce that "Kermit" is, in fact Constantine. Constantine catches Fozzie, Walter, and Animal, and they escape just in the nick of time. They move on to rescue the real Kermit, and Constantine lies about their disappearance. He asks Piggy to marry him at the Tower of London (to mask the crown jewel robbery) and tells the other Muppets that after the marriage, the Muppets will disband.

Fozzie, Walter, and Animal go through snow and a Lawrence of Arabia desert scene to get to Kermit. Meanwhile, the wedding goes forward, although Piggy feels like something it off. She sings a number including a "future" sequence reminiscent of "I'm Gonna Always Love You" from The Muppets Take Manhattan, and featuring Celine Dion. I don't have a problem with the Celine Dion cameo, but I agree with my mom that Piggy should have been fighting Dion for the spotlight.

Without spoiling the entire movie, the Muppets win, and close with a finale of "Together Again" whilst badly superimposed onto "the wall" (a gulag punishment from earlier in the film).

Muppets Most Wanted wasn't a perfect film, but it was a good Muppets film. It had comedy, action, emotion, and great songs. I will definitely see it again, and almost certainly buy the soundtrack too. I hope fans aren't deterred from watching and I hope Disney is smart enough to keep the franchise going with another great movie. And feel free to bring Jason Segel back any time.


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