Review – ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is throwaway fun that never comes close to the original

Poster for 2018 musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Genre: Musical
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 20th July 2018
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Ol Parker
Writer: Ol Parker
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Dylan, Cher, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Omid Djalili, Meryl Streep
Synopsis: The gang is back to celebrate a new renovation of the idyllic island hotel, and a shedload of ABBA musical numbers as well.

 

 

A decade on, it seems like a no-brainer that Mamma Mia! became a box office phenomenon. Much like last year’s surprise multiplex sensation The Greatest Showman, it’s a breezy musical tale focused around a terrific songbook and some fun central performances. For a generation brought up on the camp pop classics of Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid, Mamma Mia! was exactly what the doctor ordered. A sequel has always seemed like a distinct possibility and now it has finally arrived in the shape of the sadly unimaginatively named Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Surely Super 2per or Thank 2 For The Music would’ve been a better title? Even Water2 at a push?

We pick up with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who still lives on the Greek island of Kalokairi with stepdad Sam (Pierce Brosnan) after the death of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep). She has renovated the hotel and has planned a grand reopening, to which she has invited her mother’s friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) as well as her other two potential fathers (Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård). Meanwhile, flashbacks show us the young Donna (Lily James) as she moves to Kalokairi and engages in romantic liaisons with the three men, culminating in her falling pregnant without knowing which bloke is the father.

The problem with Mamma Mia 2 is that it isn’t able to come up with a good enough reason for its own existence. Neither of the plot threads is particularly exciting – Sophie’s worries over the reopening and marriage struggles with Sky (Dominic Cooper) are never a threat and the flashbacks take us through a story that we’ve already been told. This is just an excuse to get the cast back together and, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s baffling that the movie makes us wait more than an hour to get there. When everyone joins forces for a rousing chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’, it brings about a wildly entertaining third act, helped even further by the dynamite presence of Cher as Sophie’s grandmother.

To get to that third act, though, requires a journey through the very stodgy first hour. The decidedly B-tier ABBA songs are a long way from the string of bangers that kept the first movie popping and the flashback stuff is more than a little disposable. It’s not even that anyone involved is doing a bad job, necessarily. Lily James makes for a charming proto-Streep and her singing voice is a delight, with Hugh Skinner especially providing affable support as the young Firth – including a joyous ‘Waterloo’ – while Jessica Keenan Wynn snarks with relish as the young incarnation of Baranski’s character. There’s just not enough new material to justify spending so much time darting back and forth.

Ol Parker, replacing Phyllida Lloyd in the director’s chair, does helm proceedings with a sense of slick invention that wasn’t present last time around. He gives the editing between timelines a zip and an energy that is rather lacking from the script, with the exception of some terrifically lewd dialogue delivered almost entirely by Baranski – on filthy form. Parker is constantly battling, however, against his own half-baked story and the rather lacking roster of ABBA tracks with which he’s working.

Without the all-consuming presence of Streep, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again does feel like it lacks a protagonist. Neither James nor Seyfried, as fun as they are and as impressive as their pipes transpire to be, are given the opportunity to anchor the narrative as Mighty Meryl did first time around and so it isn’t until she makes her big return late in the day that the movie finds its beating heart in an emotional climactic scene. The closest this movie gets to that level of transcendent charisma is Cher, although if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen all of her best bits. This feels throughout like a film in search of its purpose – and it never quite manages to track it down.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

When it hits its stride, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a wild, kinetic party soundtracked to the beloved ABBA hits everyone fell in love with last time we met these characters. However, Ol Parker takes his sweet time in pulling the characters back together and so it feels like he’s asking his audience to sit through something of a slog to get there.

There’s not a lot wrong with the first half, per se, and the performances really fly, but it feels curiously inconsequential and undramatic. Is it too much to ask for Meryl Streep delivering ‘The Winner Takes It All’ like she’s reciting a Shakespearean soliloquy?

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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