Although it was adapted from the long-running stage production of the same name, no one was prepared for the international smash that Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! would become. Nevertheless, musical fans came out in droves, and the film went on to gross $615 million internationally, raking in more than ten times its projected budget and becoming the fifth highest-grossing film of 2008. Thus, it was only a matter of time before shooting schedules aligned and our stars found themselves making their way back to the fictional Greek isle of Kalokairi. Part sequel and part prequel – making it the de facto Godfather Part II of the Mamma Mia!verse – Here We Go Again does precisely what it says on the box, with a title that serves as both a pronounced reference to a lyric from the titular showstopper and an unambiguous warning to the viewer that it is going to be an unaltered rehash of its predecessor.
There is an inescapable joy to these movies that makes it nearly impossible for even the most staunch cynics to write them off entirely. However, the sequel tries to also balance an undercurrent of sadness. Since our last trip into this Europop fever dream, we’ve lost a key player, and nearly every frame of Here We Go Again is nursing a Meryl Streep-shaped hole. But never fear, diehard fans of Donna Sheridan, as she is present throughout both of the film’s parallel narratives. In order to expand upon this kooky universe, the story swings between the present, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is trying to navigate a world devoid of her mother, and the past, where a youthful Donna (Lily James, magnetic as ever) sets out to explore new lands and budding romantic opportunities.
“…swings between the present, where Sophie tries to navigate a world devoid of her mother, and the past, where a youthful Donna sets out to explore new lands…”
Even without taking into account the Academy Award-winning elephant in the room, Here We Go Again is fighting an uphill battle. Ol Parker (Mr. Thandie Newton) has taken over the directing reins and the far less picturesque Croatia – as well as a jarring amount of shoddy green screen – serves to try and recreate the first film’s idyllic Skopelos setting. In order to distract from the change of scenery, Parker relies on tight close-ups, missing out on much of the breathtaking vistas that fans loved so much in Mamma Mia! This movie already has to prove it must be more enchanting than simply throwing on ABBA Gold while doing a Google image search of Greek coastlines, and Lord knows the barebones plot isn’t doing them any favors.
Half of the film is set in 1979, so our heroes from the original are all given younger stand-ins. We are able to see the great loves of Donna’s life (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård) back when they were the tender heartthrobs who initially won her over (Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan). Nearly all of the performers are doing straight impressions of their older counterparts, none more so than Jessica Keenan Wynn, who is having an absolute ball in her over-the-top Christine Baranski impersonation. Alongside Alexa Davies (doing her best Julie Walters), she makes a compelling argument for a Tanya and Rosie spin-off prequel. Rounding out the cast with Cher, Andy Garcia, and a returning Dominic Cooper, it’s made abundantly clear how much more enjoyable these movies are to make than they are to watch.
“…clear how much more enjoyable these movies are to make than they are to watch.”
The soundtrack, presumably the film’s chief selling point, breathes little new life into these beloved ABBA classics. Viewers are gifted retreads of many of the original’s most compelling musical numbers (“Mamma Mia,” “I Have a Dream,” “Dancing Queen”), while several deeper cuts are dusted off and given the show tune treatment (“One of Us,” “Fernando,” “When I Kissed the Teacher”). Of the new crop of songs, it’s “Waterloo” that truly leaves a lasting mark, set to an elaborately choreographed Napoleon-themed promenade around a French restaurant.
While Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again wears out its charm long before its two-hour runtime is through and constantly echoes the flaws of its predecessor, fans of series are sure to look past its shortcomings and simply revel in the brief miracle of Cher and Meryl Streep occupying the same space once again. For everyone else, it’s little more than well-lit karaoke in an exotic setting. Even as the breezy romp that it aims to be, the film only works in isolated beats. When it eventually makes its way to streaming services, fans can skip around to their favorite songs and ignore the needlessly melodramatic bits in between. This toothless jukebox musical has energy, but it doesn’t have much in the way of soul.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) Directed by: Ol Parker. Written By: Ol Parker. Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Cher, Meryl Streep, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies.
6 out of 10