“The Muppets” was just about a perfect movie, tapping into our nostalgia while also offering something new and innovative. There’s no way director James Bobin and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller could ever top it. Kermit and friends acknowledge this fact in the opening number of “Muppets Most Wanted,” singing about how the sequel is never as good as the original. This second film, which is technically the eighth film in the franchise, might not be on par with its predecessor. It is, however, a fun, self-aware satire well worthy of the Muppet name.
Where “The Muppets” borrowed much from the original 1979 “Muppet Movie,” “Muppets Most Wanted” is like a spiritual successor to “The Great Muppet Caper.” The film picks up immediately after the last one as the Muppets prepare for a world tour. Their new manager is Ricky Gervais as Dominic, a bad guy so bad his last name is Badguy. Dominic is secretly working for Constantine, the world’s No. 1 criminal who happens to look just like Kermit. The only difference between the two is a mole on Constantine’s right cheek and an accent that sounds like a blender of Russian, German, and French. Whichever it is, it’s an incredibly thick accent.
So what else is going on in this movie? More like what isn’t going on. The Muppets soon get obliviously entangled in a complicated scheme to help Constantine and Dominic steal the queen’s jewels. Kermit meanwhile is mistaken for Constantine and incarcerated under the strict watch of Tina Fey as a Russian GULAG officer. While all that’s going on, Sam the Eagle sets out to catch the villains along with Ty Burrell, channeling Inspector Clouseau as a French police officer. There’s also another baddie in the mix named the Lemur, whose true identity isn’t much of a surprise. Then on top of all that, there’s a plot in which Constantine plans to marry Miss Piggy.
One of the joys of the last “Muppet” feature was the simplicity of its getting the gang back together plot. “Muppets Most Wanted” packs in a little too much plot for its own good. As a result, many fan favorite characters like Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, and ’80s Robot get sidelined. Even Kermit really doesn’t have that much screen time for a lead. The film does make time, though, to reference Rizzo the Rat’s absence in the previous movie.
Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for “Man or Muppet,” returns to write the songs. They’re inventive and energized, although only the opening number is particularly memorable. None of them hit the mark like “Life’s a Happy Song” or “Rainbow Connection.” The same can be said about some of the celebrity cameos, which includes Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, and Lady Gaga to name a few. At least the lineup is better than the one in “Muppets from Space” where the biggest name was Rob Schneider.
For everything that doesn’t work in “Muppets Most Wanted,” there’s still an equal amount of jokes that do work. If Christoph Waltz doing the waltz with Sweetums and Miss Piggy singing “My Heart Will Go On” doesn’t put a smile on your face, you’re made of stone. The caper plot, while overstuffed, is put to good use and produces a lot of inspired material. Constantine himself makes for a terrific villain, literally stealing the spotlight from Kermit. Basically, this is a movie where you need to take what you can get. What we get is an entertaining romp with amusing characters, a handful of solid gags, and explosions. It’s also much better than Statler and Woldorf will give it credit. Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.