VIDEO: This week’s new films reviewed

Deadly amphibian Constantine assumes the identity of Kermit The Frog to pull off a series of daring thefts in Muppets Most Wanted

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (U)

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted

Created almost 60 years ago by Jim Henson, Kermit The Frog and his hand-operated chums gained a new lease of life in 2011 with the release of the seventh feature film, snappily entitled The Muppets.

Combining an irreverent script, tongue-in-cheek cameos and uproarious song and dance numbers, James Bobin’s film was a treat for fans of all ages.

Muppets Most Wanted is the inevitable sequel and harnesses some of the same charm and zany energy including original compositions by Bret McKenzie from Flight Of The Conchords, who garnered an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the first film.

The New Zealand-born comedian and musician delights with his pithy worksmithery including a rousing opening number featuring Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga that declares, “We’re doing a sequel, the studio wants more/While they wait for Tom Hanks to do Toy Story 4!”

The ramshackle plot bounces along at breakneck speed, providing a hook for hare-brained set pieces replete with Celine Dion as Miss Piggy’s Fairy Godmother.

The world’s most deadly criminal, Constantine (voiced by Steve Whitmire), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit (Whitmire again) except for a facial mole and strong eastern European accent, escapes from Gulag 38B in Siberia.

Commander Nadya (Tina Fey) and her men give chase and mistakenly apprehend Kermit, believing him to be the amphibian mastermind.

While Kermit languishes behind bars, Constantine poses as The Muppets’ leader to orchestrate a series of daring robberies with the help of his second in command, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais).

French Interpol inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) is hot on their heels and hooves.

Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), Fozzie Bear (Jacobson again) and the gang don’t notice that their beloved green ringmaster has been replaced by an imposter.

They embark on a world tour that takes them from Berlin to Madrid, Dublin and London – “home of the Crown Jewels... and good manners”.

Thankfully, Kermit has a daring plan to escape and expose the diabolical doppelganger.

Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t quite scale the dizzy comedic heights of the first film but the sequel is peppered with belly laughs and droll in-jokes.

Thus when the newest member of the Muppet fold, Walter (Peter Linz), abandons the world tour, Rowlf is incredulous.

“We just spent a whole movie watching him join The Muppets!” he laments.

Bobin doesn’t tarry on holes in the narrative or flimsy sub-plots like Miss Piggy’s desire to make an honest frog out of Kermit, and hopes we’ll do the same with grins on our faces.

The sequel is preceded by a delightful computer-animated short, Party Central, which revisits Monsters University favourites Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) and the misfits from Oozma Kappa fraternity as they attempt to outwit the bully boys from Roar Omega Roar once more.

RATING: 7/10

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (12A)

Past and present collide in Anthony and Joe Russo’s action-packed sequel to the 2011 blockbuster, which continues to expand the sprawling Marvel Comics universe.

Addressing timely concerns about unrest in the Middle East and the corruptibility of the political establishment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a bombastic, big budget extravaganza that’s every bit as entertaining as the opening chapter.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are duty bound to deliver a miasma of explosive thrills, and they don’t disappoint.

A crunching car chase involving SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) is edge-of-the-seat stuff and a climactic showdown involving the titular hero and diabolical Hydra lets loose the special effects wizards.

Amid the death and destruction, Markus and McFeely flesh out characters and back stories, fanning an air of fear and paranoia that harks back to Cold War thrillers of a bygone military age.

The canny casting of Robert Redford in a meaty supporting role conjures fond memories of Three Days Of The Condor, which also explored skulduggery within the corridors of power.

Set two years after The Avengers, The Winter Soldier opens with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) acclimatising to life in present day Washington DC.

In his heroic guise as Captain America, he leads a daring rescue mission at sea, flanked by sexy spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and SHIELD’s counter-terrorism unit.

Soon after, Nick Fury escorts Rogers into the bowels of the agency’s headquarters, which houses three state-of-the-art heli-carriers.

These aerial warships, codenamed Project Insight, will extinguish threats to global peace from the skies, killing terrorists before they have a chance to strike.

“I thought the punishment usually came after the crime,” observes Rogers.

“We can’t afford to wait that long,” retorts Fury coldly.

Alexander Pierce (Redford), a senior member of SHIELD and the World Security Council, echoes Fury’s grave concerns.

“To build a better world, sometimes you’ve got to tear the old one down,” he warns Rogers, who seems to be the only person concerned about the moral implications of playing judge, jury and executioner with the push of a button.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is cut from the same tried and tested cloth as the first instalment.

Evans and Johansson enjoy verbal jousting in between their fight sequences while Anthony Mackie proves a likeable addition to the team as winged warrior Falcon, who looks at Captain America’s superhuman efforts and quips, “I do what he does. Just slower”.

There’s an inescapable feeling throughout that this is an appetiser to the main course of a third film in 2016 and sure enough, the Russo brothers’ picture ends with a cliff-hanger.

True fan boys and girls should stay in their seats for the obligatory extra scene during the end credits that hints at the mayhem to come in next year’s The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

RATING: 7/10