3 out of 5 stars.
“Mamma Mia!” is the sort of musical that embodies escapism. The story of a daughter trying to identify her father before her wedding day is set on the gorgeous Greek island Kalokairi, far from the troubles of reality, and is filled with peppy songs by ABBA. It’s rather bizarre, even for a musical, but the stage version is one of the longest-running musicals of all time, while the 2008 film version of the same name was a massive success (financially, anyway—the movie itself isn’t good). It shouldn’t be a surprise then that now, almost exactly ten years since the film was released, we get a sequel, aptly titled “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” What is a surprise, however, is that this sequel is actually pretty decent, making good use of its characters and exuberant music numbers in a way that’s hard to resist.
The primary focus of the first film was Donna (Meryl Streep), the free-spirited woman reuniting with her three exes on the eve of her daughter Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) wedding. At the beginning of the sequel, which is set five years after the events of the first film, we learn that Donna passed away about a year ago, and Sophie is getting ready to reopen her villa as a luxury hotel. As she reunites with Donna’s best friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) and deals with trouble at the villa and in her relationship with her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), she reminisces about her mother and questions whether or not she can do all of this without her. It’s here that the film starts to jump back and forth between Sophie’s story and the past, when a younger, fresh out of college Donna (played by Lily James) first arrives in Kalokairi and meets Sam, Harry, and Bill, one of whom will eventually be the father of her daughter.
The story is much more emotionally resonant than its predecessor, which is rather shallow and doesn’t do a great job establishing all the characters’ relationships with each other, outside of Donna and her friends, and Donna and her daughter. This film takes that mother/daughter relationship and draws even strong parallels between them and the story flips back and forth between past and present, with some of their scenes even blending into each other to tie them even closer. Some of the scenes, one at the end of the film in particular, are flat out beautiful. The film also builds on Donna’s chemistry with Tanya and Rosie, and adds depth to her relationships with Sam, Harry, and Bill. Here, the younger counterparts are played by Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan, while Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard are all back playing those characters in the present. “Here We Go Again” is by no means a necessary sequel. We don’t learn anything about the characters that we didn’t already know, but it makes what we do know more meaningful. It’s by no means perfect, however; a couple subplots, like the one involving Sophie and Sky’s relationship trouble, are dropped halfway through the film; others, like Sophie’s pregnancy, are rushed in at the last minute; and the last 20 minutes or so feel like they drag on long than they should (I’m blaming the appearance of Cher for this; more on that later).
The film is directed by Oliver Parker, who does a great job with the musical sequences. For the most part, the movie utilizes ABBA songs that weren’t featured in the first movie, and the result is almost more fitting, as if by getting all the greatest hits out of the way in the first film, the filmmakers were able to select the best song for a particular scene. There’s a solid mix of more intimate numbers with huge, splashy ones that are so fun and infectious you can’t help but enjoy them. And they are enjoyable, more enjoyable than the first film because the focus has shifted some and for the most part the actors who can actually sing are the ones doing the singing (bless you for doing these movies, Pierce, but you can’t carry a tune to save your life). It feels less like karaoke and more like a legitimate movie musical. We know that Seyfried has a beautiful voice, and James has a lovely one as well, and thankfully they are the ones carrying most of the songs.
Most of the cast from the first film are back for the sequel, but newcomers James is the one who steals the show. It’s great to watch her completely own a character played by the one and only Meryl Streep. The young men playing Sam, Harry, and Bill do a good job embodying the personality traits we’ve seen from those characters before. Dylan’s Bill is rather forward, Skinner’s Harry, like Firth, is awkward, and Irvine’s Sam, like Brosnan, can’t really sing. Cher, as mentioned before, comes in toward the end of the film, playing Donna’s hitherto-unseen diva mother Ruby, who apparently just decided she wanted to be in her granddaughter’s life. In typical Cher fashion her scenes are over-the-top, but it’s rather fitting for this film, that sort of goes over-the-top all the time.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” has some hilarious one-liners, solid dramatic scenes, and fabulous music numbers, with a finale that’s not-to-be-missed. I wasn’t a fan of the first film, but this one is silly escapism at its finest, so ignore the previews and take a chance on it.
Runtime: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.