The good and bad bits of 'Muppets Most Wanted'

The most disappointing thing about the new Muppets movie is that it’s a movie. The Muppets have done perfectly decent work in the past in movies – mind you, they’ve also done Muppets Wizard of Oz – but it’s been as a variety show that they really stood out. And it’s not like the last two Muppets movies have tried to hide it either: The Muppets was about getting the Muppets back together so they could put on a variety show, while Muppets: Most Wanted has the Muppets taking their show on the road across Europe. So if they do their best work as sketch work, what are the highlights and lowlights of their latest feature-length spectacular?

Good: The stars, Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais, are both awards show hosts 

And what are awards shows but star-studded variety nights? It means that both of them have the right kind of energy to hold their own against a bunch of puppets. They’re performers who can go broad and cartoony if need be – well, Gervais not so much, but he’s playing his usual smarmy type here and we’re not meant to like him so it all even out – and they fit right into the Muppet world. Even if the film could have used a lot more Fey.

Bad: We don’t get to see much of the actual Muppet Show 

The best bit of the last Muppet movie was the crap variety show they put on at the end, because the Muppets in their most basic form are a bunch of crap variety acts. That’s what they do, that’s what they’re good at, and if you’re making a movie where they’re touring their crap variety show across Europe you really should put as much of the show on the screen as possible. It kind of feels like that was the original plan but as the film went on the variety stuff was crowded out by the plot… which was the wrong choice to make.

Good: Plenty of star cameos 

Yes, many of the cameos are nothing more than “hey, isn’t that-?” moments. But there’s a certain kind of bizarre fascination in watching a scene where Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo are in a Russian gulag with Kermit the Frog. And having a scene where Christoph Waltz waltzes with a muppet – Waltz waltzes, that’s the whole entire joke – is about as pure a Muppet Show joke as it gets.

Bad: The heist plot is a bit tired 

Didn’t we already have a Muppet crime movie in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper? Which is actually a really good Muppet movie, in large part because the Muppets play actual characters in a story and not just, you know, “The Muppets”. Then again, the idea of having Muppets play characters was pretty firmly driven into the ground with The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, though they were both films where humans had most of the lead roles. Anyway, involving the Muppets in a heist caper again?


Good: Constantine is a great bad guy

Remember how one of the best bits in The Muppets was those evil Muppet knock-offs Fozzie was hanging out with? The writers sure did, because Constantine – an evil version of Kermit who takes his place so he can commit a string of robberies across Europe with the help of his number two, Dominic Badguy (Gervais) – is basically the same joke stretched out across the entire film. But while it’s a pretty good joke, having an evil Kermit clone at the heart of the film does create some problems. To wit, 

Bad: The original Muppets don’t get much to do

They’re basically used as a front for Constantine and Badguy, so while the bad guys are actually driving the story forward with their various crimes, the regular Muppets are just… hanging around. Having them not realise Constantine isn’t Kermit is a good joke at first, but after a while it just makes them seem kind of heartless – especially as the real heart of the Muppets (that’d be Kermit) is off stuck in a Gulag after Constantine framed him. Throw in the fact than none of the regulars get to do anything new – Miss Piggy just wants to marry Kermit, Fozzie just gets to tell bad jokes, Walter (the new Muppet from the last film) is still doing whatever it is he does – and you’ve got a movie that seems to think that just having the Muppets stand around is good enough.

Good: The songs

Good: The songs 

Yep, they’re so good they’re worth mentioning twice. Written for the most part by Bret Mckenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame), they’re firmly a notch above the rest of the film. Which again, only underlines the fact that the Muppets work best in a variety format: if the best parts of the film are musical numbers that don’t really add much to the film (story-wise at least), then the problem is with the film, not the musical numbers.

Good: The Muppets are meant to be kind of crap 

Their whole sense of humour is based around them being kind of rubbish, which gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card when a joke doesn’t work: what else did you expect from the Muppets? It’s the kind of thing that only works when characters have a healthy store of goodwill to draw from, but these days the Muppets are basically nothing more than sacks of goodwill anyway – especially if you remember them from The Muppet Show and their early, good movies. So if this particular movie has a few dud scenes and a bunch of jokes that don’t quite get there… what else did you expect from the Muppets?

And it could always have been worse...

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