"We're doing a sequel!" Kermit and Fozzie sing at the start of Muppets Most Wanted. "That's what we do in Hollywood! And everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good!" Then either Statler or Waldorf chimes in: "How hard can it be? We can't do any worse than The Godfather III!"
And yes, thankfully, director/co-writer James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller take their cues not from Coppola, but from 1981's The Great Muppet Caper. The latest Muppets' movie sets out on a world tour that quickly gets complicated when bad guy Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) uses their show as cover for a crime spree—and installs Constantine, a Kermit look-alike and "the world's most dangerous frog," as leader of the Muppets. Meanwhile, the real Kermit is sent to a Siberian gulag that's run by iron-fisted guard Nadya (Tina Fey, who is perfect, as always) and is full of terrifying inmates like Prison King (Jemaine Clement), Big Papa (Ray Liotta), and Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo).
Thankfully again, this Muppets fixes the biggest problem with 2011's The Muppets reboot—which, annoyingly, spent a bunch of time on Walter, a new Muppet nobody liked. (Even Kermit thought Walter was annoying, and Kermit likes everybody.) With Most Wanted, the focus is back on the core gang—which means that even if this film is a little too long (it is), it is still a fun, fast-paced time. (That Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie is still handling the musical numbers helps, as do the cameos, which I refuse to spoil).
If there's any downside to the goofy Most Wanted, it is that in its race for frantic fun, the movie loses a bit of what made 2011's The Muppets a surprisingly retro comeback: a willingness to embrace Jim Henson's trademark combination of mischievous wit and earnest sap. While The Muppets had Kermit's "Pictures in My Head"—a song that may or may not still make a certain writer teary-eyed (sniff, sniff)—Most Wanted is a quippier, lighter affair. Maybe a few more affecting, Henson-esque moments will pop up in the next one; in the meantime, Most Wanted is still impossible not to enjoy. Unless you're Statler or Waldorf.
Muppets Most Wanted
dir. James Bobin
Opens Fri March 20