Muppets Most Wanted strikes an odd chord right from the very beginning. The opening song, taking place literally moments after 2011's surprisingly charming, nostalgic, and hilarious The Muppets, suggests right off the bat that sequels are never better than the original. It's a catchy tune, and often cites the film's original title, The Muppets...Again. Why change the title but keep it in the title track? Anyway, the song basically admits right up front that all they are doing is giving the audience more of what came before, and it turns out that hanging with Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang still hasn't gotten old.
The first film was largely a pet project belonging to Jason Segel, and it was structured as such while in his loving care. With him gone from the sequel, the emphasis is squarely on the Muppets as they try to figure out their next move. With the Hollywood buzz of their last outing having quickly faded, they face the prospect of becoming yesterday's news all over again. It's the perfect time for sketchy agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to swoop in and suggest they take the show to Europe. Trusting in Kermit's judgment, the Muppets enthusiastically agree and head off on a world tour.
What they don't know is that the appropriately named Badguy is little more than a lackey to Constantine, Kermit's evil doppelganger and the "world's most dangerous frog". Having escaped from prison, Constantine worms his way into the Muppets' lives, framing Kermit and getting him sent off to a Russian gulag run by the Kermit-obsessed Nadya (Tina Fey). It also features a crew of heavies played by Danny Trejo (as himself!!), Jemaine Clement, and Ray Liotta. You haven't lived until you've seen Machete performing prison musical numbers. The cameos aren't as pervasive this time around, and some are easily missed (blink and you'll definitely miss James McAvoy), but the major ones connect because everyone seems to be having a good time making fun of themselves.
The introduction of Constantine as a (possibly) recurring nemesis has its ups and downs. While his floundering attempts to mimic Kermit and hide his disgust for Miss Piggy are often very funny, he's afforded a little too much screen time. That's time probably better spent with the other Muppets, who have been allowed by Constantine to indulge in every ridiculous act Kermit would have shot down. It's Walter, the new Muppet introduced in the last film, who begins to suspect something isn't quite right. If only he was as curious about the disappearance of Segel's character, who he supposedly grew up with. But that's a minor nit-pick as returning director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller have wisely set it up for us to look at this as a purely standalone effort, one that is more of a heist comedy in the vein of The Great Muppet Caper and The Pink Panther. Adding to this is the presence of Ty Burrell as a Clousseau-esque Interpol agent teaming with Sam the Eagle to investigate Constantine's crimes. As Kermit tries to escape, Constantine rolls out his global jewel-thieving plot while systematically insulting Badguy at every turn.
Even as Muppets Most Wanted acknowledges its status as a perfunctory sequel, the loving attention to detail, subversive humor, and pure fun haven't been diminished.