For Mamma Mia! fans, Here We Go Again! offers a jubilant return to the unapologetically silly world of the original ABBA stage musical-turned movie.
The Mamma Mia! film sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again recaptures much of its predecessor's adorkable charm, despite having taken a decade to come together. While it's no surprise that a second Mamma Mia! film ultimately got made (the first one grossed $616 million worldwide, after all), what is unexpected in its form. Taking a leaf from The Godfather: Part II's book of all sources, Here We Go Again! presents two parallel stories: one that's set in 1979 and follows co-protagonist Donna as a young woman, the other set five years after the first Mamma Mia! and centered on Donna's now 25-year old daughter, Sophie. By and large, however, this approach works. For Mamma Mia! fans, Here We Go Again! offers a jubilant return to the unapologetically silly world of the original ABBA stage musical-turned movie.
In the film's present timeline, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is preparing to re-open her mother's villa on the Greek island of Kalokairi, a year after Donna (Meryl Streep) passed away. However, Sophie's desire to stay on the island creates tension between her and her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is far from sold on the idea. When a storm threatens to derail her plans altogether, Sophie struggles to not give up, even with support from her mom's old pals Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), and one of her three dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan).
Meanwhile, back in the '70s, young Donna (Lily James) is fresh out of school and ready for an adventure, as are her friends and fellow members of The Dynamos, Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn). Donna thus decides to set out a journey to Greece - one that leads her to a ramshackle villa, which she forms a connection to and envisions as being something more. Along the way, however, Donna also crosses paths with three young men who are inextricably linked to her fate: Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan), and Sam (Jeremy Irvine).
Directed by Ol Parker (Imagine Me & You), Here We Go Again is a jukebox musical in the same vein as the first Mamma Mia!, and carries over some of that film's more popular ABBA songs (like "Dancing Queen" and, naturally, "Mamma Mia"). Thankfully, the vast majority of the sequel's musical numbers are based on ABBA tunes that weren't featured in its predecessor and give rise to some creatively-staged song and dance sequences, under Parker's supervision. Here We Go Again's best musical set pieces (like "One of Us" and "Waterloo") similarly benefit from the cinematography by Wes Anderson's frequent collaborator Robert D. Yeoman, who films everything in a clean fashion and draws from a bright color palette to keep the proceedings feeling bubbly and chipper. Though certain musical numbers are noticeably better in their execution and camerawork than others, the Mamma Mia! sequel largely delivers the goods, as far as musical spectacle is concerned.
However, as one might expect, the actual story here - which Parker shares credit for penning with Richard Curtis (About Time) and Mamma Mia! writer Catherine Johnson - is rather flimsy. To be fair, there are certainly times where the film effectively juxtaposes Sophie's difficulties with young Donna's efforts to figure out where she's going in her life, in part by cross-cutting smoothly between the two storylines. Problem is, on the whole there's simply not a whole lot to either plot thread, either in terms of conflict or thematic substance. The '70s-based through-line also fails to reveal anything significant about Donna's past that the first Mamma Mia! hadn't already established, at the same time that it retcons certain aspects of the first movie in clumsy ways. Still, as fluffy as Here We Go Again's narrative is, the film deserves credit for not merely re-hashing its predecessor's plot (as sequels are often guilty of doing) and making an actual effort to expand upon it.
Of course, much of the fun of the Mamma Mia! sequel comes from seeing the old gang back together singing and dancing, including Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård as the older versions of Harry and Bill. Like in the first movie, the cast is more than willing to be as goofy and playful as the song lyrics and dance choreography here calls on them to be. The returning players likewise slide easily back into their former roles and their banter is all the more easy-going and enjoyable for it. In many ways, the Mamma Mia! franchise's greatest strength is its cast's willingness to be as dorky and ridiculous as this heightened reality of this musical universe calls for. Indeed, that's Here We Go Again's saving grace as much, if not more, than any other aspect of the film.
James as young Donna feels right at home in the Mamma Mia! series for related reasons. In many ways, her energetic performance supplies Here We Go Again with its beating heart, as do her (largely successful) efforts to channel Streep's physical mannerisms as the character. Young Harry, Bill, and Sam are not quite on the same level as James' turn as Donna, but for the most way they are believable enough as 20-something versions of their respective A-list counterparts. Other new additions here include Andy Garcia as the mysterious yet suave Fernando, the manager of Sophie's re-opened villa (the Hotel Bella Donna), and Cher as Sophie's vainglorious showbiz grandmother, Rubie. Both characters are pretty cartoonish and the trajectory of their arcs is clearly telegraphed early one, but are perfectly amusing at the same time.
On the whole, Here We Go Again offers as much (if not more) cheesy entertainment and escapist fun as the first Mamma Mia! film. It won't convert anyone to the shrine of ABBA and those who found the original movie musical to be tedious and creaky might not care much for the sequel, but Here We Go Again (wisely) never bothers to try and broaden the appeal of the Mamma Mia! brand in that sense, either. Those who are so inclined are thus advised to go spend another two hours watching what (essentially) amounts to celebrities performing karaoke in scenic Greece. And of course, this being a sequel that's arriving in theaters in 2018, don't leave before Here We Go Again's end credits are completely done rolling.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 114 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material.
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- Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) release date: Jul 20, 2018