I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
On paper The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sounds entirely intriguing. Great literary figures with amazing abilities who come to life to fight evil at the turn of the century? Oh yeah. The film based on a cult comic book (which film isn't these days?) chronicles the lives of these seven extraordinary--and extremely solitary--characters who sometimes view their individual abilities as more a curse than a blessing. Leading the group is Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) a skilled hunter and great adventurer whose exploits are renowned; joining him is Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran) aka The Invisible Man a rogue master thief whose invisibility makes him darned hard to catch in the act; Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) a half-human half-vampire beauty who carries on the supernatural powers of her vampire lord Count Dracula; Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) a dashing aristocrat (and Mina's ex-lover) whose immortality and guiltless conscience make him a perfect assassin; Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) a brilliant scientist and anarchist whose inventions are way ahead of their time; Agent Sawyer as in Tom (Shane West) a hotshot American secret agent who is deadly with a rifle; and last but not least Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) a meek enough fellow within whom lurks Mr. Hyde a ferocious beast who emerges at Jekyll's will. The league is called upon by the mysterious British secret agent M (Richard Roxburgh) to stop a malevolent force known as The Fantom from creating a war among the world's nations by using the most advanced technologies of the day. In return for their service each of them are promised either cures or redemption for their acts. Unfortunately the rest of the story isn't nearly as interesting as the seven extraordinary characters themselves.
The large ensemble cast generally works together well tackling their iconic literary figures in unique ways. The king of the hill is definitely Connery who dominates the proceedings as the aging Quatermain. For a 73-year-old man the actor can still pull off the dashing hero--never once do you feel his is out of his element. Yet Connery works the age angle well showing how Quatermain's lifelong experiences as an explorer--along with a great personal tragedy--has worn the adventurer down. Other standouts include Townsend as Dorian who seems to have mastered the coldhearted yet deadly sexy killer persona since playing the vampire Lestat in Queen of the Damned; Flemyng (From Hell) as Jekyll who aptly displays the good doctor's never ending and sweaty battle to fight the urge to let the grotesquely huge Hyde loose and Wilson (TV's La Femme Nikita) who gives an interesting twist to the vampiress Mina--although it isn't made entirely clear how she can retain her human qualities like walking around in sunlight after being made into a creature of the night. Don't remember that story tic in Dracula…. The other members of the league--including Shah (Monsoon Wedding) as Nemo and Curran (Blade II) as the Invisible Man--are unfortunately left sorely underdeveloped which is a shame since they are just as intriguing as any of the others. And what about a grown-up version of Tom Sawyer? There's plenty of potential in that scenario but West (A Walk to Remember) as Sawyer is relegated to being just another hotheaded American.
To get League made was a feat in itself. From the onslaught the production was plagued with some serious setbacks including last summer's terrible flooding in Prague the film's main location which damaged prop houses and a few of the elaborate sets including Nemo's ship the Nautilus. There were also rumored problems between star/executive producer Connery and director Stephen Norrington (Blade) wherein Connery believed Norrington was taking too long to make the film. This could be one of the reasons League is majorly flawed: nothing seems cohesive and it suffers in its execution. The action sequences are a mess--too dark and confusing you aren't quite sure who's doing what to whom. The special effects are run of the mill nothing spectacular save for the Nautilus which does loom large in the water like a steely shark. In fact League's sets are one the film's few assets especially the inside of the ship with its opulent Eastern decor and Dorian's dilapidated waterfront lodgings. The complex themes the film brings up are only glossed over such as the evils of an industrial age and of a scientific world gone mad as well as the idea of using formidable literary characters with strange superpowers to do good. Instead the film goes for the easy action-thriller way out--and doesn't even do a good job at it. League just doesn't live up to its potential.