Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

I hate being a bad guy.  Or well, I actually love being a bad guy - it allows me to wear flamboyant outfits, give maniacal speeches to terrified minions, and laugh like a lunatic while leading an army of zombie Jews to conquer Madagascar.  Being evil is a dream job in a lot of ways, I would definitely recommend it to young people looking for a career.  What I mean though, is I hate being a bad guy to movies I thought I was going to love.  Hey, if some naive knight in shining armor breaks into my Doom Fortress to save the princess I kidnapped fair and square, I won't feel bad at all to impale him for all to see.  But now I have to impale Kermit the Frog.  It doesn't feel right.

"Muppets Most Wanted" was a movie I was really looked forward to.  I'm not the kind of man who wears Muppet underpants or Kermit the Frog watches, but I do appreciate the artistry and the love that has gone into the forty-year career of these puppet characters.  2011's (kinda sorta) reboot, "The Muppets" was a genius return for Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, and all the other characters.  It focused itself as a movie made for the fans by fans about fans, with its new Muppet character, Walter, being a supercharged Muppet fanboy.  Jason Segel as star, producer, and writer, really managed to find exactly what made the Muppets such a beloved vaudevillian institution and wrote a love story as to why they still matter today.  Together with his support team of director James Bobin, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, and song writer Bret McKenzie, they made "The Muppets" one of the best movies of 2011, and seemed to perfectly resurrect the franchise.

Logically, one would think, the best place for the Muppets to go would be right back on television, with the original 1970s variety show format brought back and modernized for the 21st century.  Instead Walt Disney came to a different conclusion, which was that the Muppets were to be a film series above all else.  So "Muppets Most Wanted" is here, Jason Segel-less, with a huge new movie for its fans to enjoy.  "Muppets Most Wanted" is loud, its busy, its full of gags, and its here to entertain.  Its everything you would expect to see from the Muppets, just on the big screen, not on TV.  But when its not on TV, when its two hours long, when the plot can barely hold together, when there's no lead or much of a focus, "Muppets Most Wanted" turns into a mess.  And I have a job to do.  So Kermit, its time for you bend over, take this huge iron spear up your ass, and realize where you went wrong.  Just know, this hurts me more than it hurts you.

"The Muppets" was about a grand Muppet reunion, the fans coming together, stepping up, and bringing their beloved characters back to the screen.  But now with "Muppets Most Wanted", once we have our friends back, what do we do with them?  Nobody, not James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller, not Dr. Bunsen and Beaker, seem to know.  I must commend "Muppets Most Wanted" for being the first major Muppets movie since 1984's "The Muppets Take Manhattan" to actually star the Muppets rather than some human actors or Jason Segel and Walter*.  Jason Segel's disappearance, I feel, is more of a problem behind the camera than in front it.  Without his singular presence dominating the movie, bringing in Walter, bringing in Amy Adams for a lost interest, a movie about the Muppets feels off-the-rails, spinning around with no destination in mind.

"So guys, we're back....  Um....  Now what?"

The plot involves an international super criminal named Constantine, an evil amphibian art thief, who has escaped from a Russian gulag and stolen Kermit the Frog's identity.  Serving Constantine is the Number #2 greatest thief in the world, Dominic Badguy (pronounced "bad-jee" he claims), played by Ricky Gervais, who has infiltrated the Muppets as their new manager.  Badguy leads the Muppets on a world tour to cover his and Constantine's ridiculous crimes, while Constantine keeps the other Muppets happy by indulging their egos and letting them do whatever they want, up to proposing to Miss Piggy.  Meanwhile the real Kermit languishes in prison, ruled over by a Russian-accented Tina Fey.  And then, just to add another plot thread in an already overly-complicated movie, Walter, the newest Muppet, begins to suspect something is off, and together with Fozzie and Animal he searches for their lost green leader.

So clearly there's a problem immediately.  "Muppets Most Wanted" has three lead characters:  Kermit, Constantine, and Walter.  Its fun to see Constantine manipulate everybody and he's got a great running gag of blowing things up for no reason, but he takes up too much screentime from the nominal hero, Kermit, who is often as forgotten by the writers for half hour stretches as he is by his Muppet pals.  Then the plot busily adds in extraneous rarely funny characters, such as Ty Burrell's French Inspector teaming up with Sam the Eagle who make a mismatched law enforcement team that eventually manages to catch the crooks, but never once catches a laugh.  Dominic Badguy is shown to be a jealous traitor, and is given an entire terrible song to show his motivations, when really he doesn't add much.  Meanwhile the always cute and enthusiastic Tina Fey is underused, sadly.

"Muppets Most Wanted" skirts very briefly with a solid simplified story just about Kermit and Miss Piggy.  I look at this movie, and most of the story seems to challenge the relationship between these two characters specifically.  Kermit is locked away and Piggy is given what she's always wanted in this sexy Constantine who seems to want to please her directly.  Does she pick this suave fantasy Kermit, or does she choose her real awkward Kermy?  Does Kermit finally learn to appreciate the abusive sow that has been chasing him for decades?  But the movie isn't about Kermit and Piggy, its about everything.  And unfortunately, that also means its about nothing.

Dominic has to cover his ears for a few of the weaker songs.

Here's the thing - no focus means no plot.  No plot means no tension.  No tension means no pacing.  And no pacing means the movie has no energy, the humor falls flat, and the entire experience is lacking.  And lacking experience means that "Muppets Most Wanted" loses out to the newest teen fantasy romance nonsense, "Divergent" at the box office.  Everybody loses.

There are a few technical problems as well beyond just a messy plot.  The brilliance of the Muppets is how the characters are puppets, above all else.  So simply watching Kermit the Frog talk in an interview is entertaining all on its own, knowing that this wonderfully animated creature with so much personality is really only a hand inside a green sock.  But then the movie has to muck things up by having Constantine do a dance in front of a green screen, and it looks terrible.  There are too many CG effects that never could have been made from traditional puppetry, and it distracts from the real soul of the film.  The finale of the film features every Muppet together frozen on a Siberian wall, singing, and the projection effect is some of the worst I have seen in decades.  If they were all just together, with all the puppeteers working at once, it would have been twice as authentic and would have looked infinitely better.

Even the music is not as good as "The Muppets" with the very first song "We're Doing a Sequel", being this fantastic memorable song that will inspire many amateur renditions in the shower.  But the rest of the songs are increasingly weak.  At least Chris Cooper doesn't rap...

And really, one of the lyrics in "We're Doing a Sequel" predicts the whole problem - "and everybody knows the sequel is never quite as good".  "Muppets Most Wanted" is probably not a bad movie, it might even be above average.  But the problem is that its running off the success of "The Muppets", which was not content to be merely "above average", but managed to create the best Muppets movie of them all.  You have to judge this as a Muppets film, and its merely mediocre.   I cannot say the people making this film were not trying, but it seems like they were trying too hard, trying to get too much done with a single film.  "Muppets Most Wanted" would have probably made for a fine running plotline for an episode of the Muppets on television, framing the skits and musical numbers.  But instead its a movie, and it just doesn't work.  I'm sorry.

So Kermit the Frog has bled enough frog blood now and bled quite a bit of human blood from his human operator too.  I think I'll let him down from the spike now.  Here's to you, little green friend, may your next movie be more successful.  And here's to my spike, who in many ways, is a truer friend than any Muppet can ever be.

* Last-minute research tells me that "Muppets from Space" mostly starred the Muppets too.  But I have never seen that movie and I don't believe anybody else has either.  Somehow we still have received reviews - most likely from inter-dimensional shade creatures - and they're not glowing.


  1. I've seen Muppets from Space. It's okay. Probably of equivalent quality to this movie. Granted I haven't seen it in several years so who knows how good it actually is.

  2. That final paragraph.

    Right in the feels.

    Makes you lose a little bit of hope for humanity, I guess, if the Muppets get screwed over. Obviously not the first time it's happened, but still......

    You'll need some glue for your heart.

  3. Yeah I do have to agree they should have stayed away from the movie scene for a while. That's the things with bringing back these franchises: Companies don't know what to do with them. They don't want to give them a TV shows to warm up to people, because that would cost money and manpower that the Big Guys don't feel like spending. TV specials are out unless they're going they're going to pander to a specific crowd like with the Gaga special (*Shivers* Never again.....never again.......). So this leaves them with movies. And with this mindset Disney screws them over bigtime. I movie of an franchise is supposed to make you feel excited that it's coming to an theater near you. You're suppose to feel "Oh hey! I love watching/reading this! And there is going to be a movie about it! I can't wait to see that!" Where as if you just leave them movie wise with nothing in between people (Especially the younger crowd) are going to say, "Oh, they're making another muppets movies. Whoopie?"

    Sorry about the rant, it's just so irritating when these people have the money and resources to make good products and fail.

  4. its petrified kermit poop. nobody should have to see this.

  5. I hate anyone who likes being a bad guy.