The End. Now the movie's over with, the reunited Muppets ponder their next move, what could they possibly do together that would live up to their huge success? How about a sequel? Not a bad idea, but what form would it take? After a spot of discussion, Kermit the Frog (voiced and performed by Steve Whitmire) decides to go back on the stage, putting on a show would be the best use of their talents, and he seeks a professional to take care of the bookings. Unfortunately for them, he is Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who persuades the Muppets to take on a world tour when in fact they will be a front for the criminal operation masterminded by himself and the world's most dangerous frog, the Kermit looky-likey Constantine (Matt Vogel)...
As they point out in the first couple of minutes of Muppets Most Wanted, the previous comeback vehicle for the beloved puppet franchise was a triumph, reasserting their place as top entertainers as befitting their general obsession with commenting on showbusiness. The follow-up, on the other hand, while not a financial disaster by any means, wasn't exactly a runaway success on the same scale, not quite a Muppets from Space disappointment but no blockbuster either. Whatever the reason was - maybe the novelty had worn off, maybe word of mouth just wasn't as good - it seemed that by emulating The Great Muppet Caper (which was also a Pink Panther-esque crime comedy) after the last film emulated The Muppet Movie, they had faltered.
It could have been the casting, with Jason Segel's unironic appreciation missing as our heroes were set against the embodiment of evil, Ricky Gervais. Or Ricky Gervais playing an embodiment of evil, at any rate, a curious choice for his brand of coldhearted social observation humour (even when it was supposed to be sweet it came across as relentlessly manipulative in a manner that suggested Gervais didn't believe it and was making up for something) was at odds with the Muppets' genuine good nature and willingness to poke fun at themselves and come across like they meant it rather than it being the source of audience suspicion. You could observe since Gervais was literally playing the "Badguy" his director James Bobin - they had worked together at the beginning of their television careers on The 11 O'Clock Show, one of the worst comedy programmes of all time - knew what he was doing.
Which was playing up the contrast between the heartless and the, er, heartful, but the match was jarring in a way that Tina Fey's comedy-accented Siberian gulag warden was not, as in her 30 Rock sitcom it was always clear she really did like her characters, and so it was we believed she liked the Muppets as well (Gervais seemed not entirely enthusiastic in his promotional interviews). Same with another sitcom star, Ty Burrell who offered his best Peter Sellers as an Interpol detective who teams up with the C.I.A.'s Sam Eagle to hunt down the ne'erdowell who has been staging heists across Europe, not so coincidentally where the Muppets have been sent to perform by Badguy. What they don't know is that Kermit has been replaced by Constantine, and is now languishing in that gulag wondering why nobody has rescued him.
The point is that Kermit, while a taskmaster, was sensible for his team, and when the villains take over with a lassez-faire attitude we understand that when people (or puppets) are allowed to do whatever they want with no rules they behave like complete idiots. We should be glad the Muppets didn't turn to violence, well, no more than the usual slapstick, but here the characters apart from Kermit and the antagonists are so resolutely daft that they appear more selfish than anything else, the camaraderie encouraged by Kermit falling away in a welter of wrongheaded activity, and while some of that is very funny, there was always an intelligence behind the Muppets, emotional or otherwise, that was missing this time around. Not that this was a dead loss, it was colourful and fast-moving with Bret McKenzie's excellent songwriting meaning the musical numbers were well worth waiting for, and regular oneliners were enough to tickle the funny bone. It's just that when the last film got it so right, this tended towards the lukewarm, even with the endorsement of masses of celebrity cameos.