It’s not easy being mean. Muppets Most Wanted (G) finds Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear & Co on tour in Europe following their most recent success. Unfortunately, his so-called friends are largely unaware that Kermit has been replaced by his doppelganger, the evil master-criminal Constantine, aka ‘the World’s Most Dangerous Frog’, who has broken out of a Siberian prison with the help of his sidekick Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Can Kermit escape the attentions of the love-struck prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey) and prevent the greatest jewel heist in history? Directed by James Bobin, Muppets Most Wanted is a joy from start to finish, chock-a-block with hilarious gags. A whistle-stop tour of Europe’s capitals takes the Muppets from Berlin (“The world capital of comedy!”) to Madrid and on to Dublin and London, with famous faces — Lady Gaga, Hugh Bonneville, Tony Bennett, Céline Dion and Saoirse Ronan, to name but a few — popping up in cameos along the way. Fey and Gervais are in terrific form, happy to send themselves up in all manner of embarrassing ways, while Ray Liotta puts in a brilliant turn as a hard-boiled prisoner who terrorises Kermit. Those adults who drag children along as an excuse to see the Muppets in action should be aware that many of the jokes will very probably sail over younger kids’ heads, although it’s very likely the adults will be laughing too hard to care — and besides, there’s plenty of slapstick fun and games for the youngsters.
On the face of it, Robert Redford should be an awkward fit in his role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12A), but the veteran actor of classic paranoid conspiracy films such as Three Days of the Condor (1975) and All the President’s Men (1976) is a canny bit of casting. Now fully thawed out from his deep freeze since World War II and coming to terms with the contemporary world, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) — aka the retro-styled superhero Captain America — is fully committed to serving in his role with the secretive S.H.I.E.L.D.. Until, that is, a murder attempt on his superior Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) precipitates a crisis of confidence: can Steve trust Fury, his close colleague Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) or the politicians charged with America’s homeland security, who are led by Alexander Pierce (Redford)? Steeped in a claustrophobic atmosphere of suspicion, double-cross and intrigue, The Winter Soldier has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy thriller, as Rogers goes deep undercover in a bid to discover who has penetrated and compromised America’s security networks. Steve Rogers makes for an engagingly human superhero, given a quality of corn-fed goodness by the amiable Chris Evans as he struggles to work out who he can and can’t trust. As might be expected from a movie boasting three directorial credits, however — Anthony and Joe Russo direct the movie, with Joss Whedon contributing a ‘post-credits scene’ — the tone is very uneven, as the tense atmosphere frequently erupts into artfully executed but preposterously extravagant action sequences.
Escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) forces his way into the home of Adele (Kate Winslet) and her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffin), but Jason Reitman’s Labor Day (15A) is by no means a conventional home invasion movie. The story, adapted from Joyce Maynard’s novel, is a subtle and nuanced tale of two developing relationships. Adele, who suffers from manic depression, has long been separated from her husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg), and finds herself attracted to the ruggedly handsome Frank. Meanwhile, Henry is torn, desperate to protect his mother but craving a father figure. What follows is a tender and thoughtful tale, albeit one charged with the kind of menace you might expect given the circumstances: despite his apparent gentleness, Frank is a self-confessed killer. The three main performances are very strong, but Winslet’s is perhaps the stand-out turn, because her character — who fears for her son as he comes under the influence of this strange, dangerous man — is obliged to adopt a passive, subservient persona in Frank’s presence. Reitman’s patient pacing and his willingness to allow the emotional resonances time and space to flourish that ensure Labor Day evolves into an fully engrossing drama.