Friday, March 21, 2014

MUPPETS MOST WANTED - REVIEW

Muppets Most Wanted
March 21, 2014
113 min
United States (English)

Directed by James Bobin
Written by James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller


Muppets Most Wanted is an improved sequel reminiscent of music-filled Muppet favorites of yore!

Muppets Most Wanted begins with the end. Literally. Fireworks spelling out "The End" sparkle over Hollywood and fans will immediately recognize this as the final shot from 2011's The Muppets. The story picks up precisely where that one left off. It was three years ago that successful reboot kicked new life into the long-beloved and never-forgotten show and film series put on by Jim Henson and company. It was a love letter to the Muppets, one of the most creative demonstrations of fan service in filmdom, and now they're back to do it all again.

Without missing a beat Kermit begins the film's first musical number, "We're Doing a Sequel." The Muppets have always been known for their keen ability to seen through the fourth wall and provide punny commentary on the show itself. Perhaps none of the Muppets demonstrate this more than Statler and Waldorf, the two stingy old men who are essentially the group's muses and very own meta-critics. Their secret to longevity is the ability to make themselves laugh. It's true for all of the Muppets. I always have a good time because they always have a good time, especially when its able to skip over getting everyone aboard again because it is a sequel. "That's what we do in Hollywood. And everyone knows that the sequel in never quite as good." I mean it when I say I've never seen a sequel have a better beginning. Okay, maybe The Godfather: Part II.

They tell use themselves that all they need now is a half-decent plot and they've got it. Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog, has escaped a high security Russian prison (where Tina Fey plays a GULAG officer to great effect). Luckily for Constantine he looks a helluva lot like Kermit. Unfortunately for Kermit and the gang Constantine's right-hand man, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), has just fooled them into thinking he's their manager for their newly resurrected act on the road. Gervais convinces the felt-faced dopes that his name is pronounced "Badgy." Of course, they take his word for it. The Muppets was tasked with the harder job of setting the stage for a new generation so that subsequent films could play on it. In spiritual succession this one dances around The Great Muppet Caper.

If it's a musical you're after, welcome aboard! This just might have more numbers than any previous Muppets film to date (and this marks the eighth time they've torn up the big screen). Constantine's "I'll Get What You Want" is destined for a Greatest Hits album while the Tine Fey-led song about the prison ("The Big House") feels like something right out a Broadway play. Film references? Yes, from The Seventh Seal to The Shawshank Redemption. Celebrity cameos? Check. While most last mere seconds, denoting an afternoon booking for each, they're scattered evenly throughout, from Lady Gaga to Danny Trejo. (Wow, we haven't seen the like of them since, well, last year's Machete Kills.)

But the reason all of this works have and always will be the Muppets themselves. They occupy a middle realm between the screen and the audience. It's their inherent disconnect that excuses their bad jokes and promises their self-awareness. Practically the whole cast is here, including a surprisingly big role by Sam Eagle who works alongside an Interpol inspector (Ty Burrell) to track down who has been swiping valuable relics across the globe. These two provide us with the "Interrogation Song," possibly my favorite number in the film. It pushes the story along in lieu of a montage or exposition, gives many of our favorite Muppets a chance to hilariously defend themselves and lets us listen to Burrell's outrageous French accent set to melody.

I have little to no gripes about Muppets Most Wanted. It has everything fans could want in a Muppets movie. I will admit to taking frustrated note at what I assumed could only be CG-doctored shots. There's an early moment where Constantine frog-kicks his way down a hallways of GULAG goons. It's closer to something in Oldboy than anything we've seen in the Muppet universe. I later learned that while yes, a blue screen (a green screen wouldn't really work well for Kermit) was used for several of the more complex shots involving full physical action, there were always puppeteers responsible for his movements. Sometimes one assigned to each limb. There's these technical additions that I feel will wear worse with age than the timelessness of puppetry. It's a gripe that this fan is willing to overlook if not forget. Despite the line from the show-stopping (starting) opening number, this is a sequel that's as good as 2011's The Muppets, if not better.

“It’s not easy being mean...”
- Constantine


Curator's Note: Currently playing in theaters!

CONTENT: some mild action and some crude humor

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