Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: Ten years after the original, this ABBA musical sequel explores the early years of Meryl Streep’s Donna, and how Sophie discovers her mothers past.

REVIEW: When MAMMA MIA! first arrived in 2008, it was a hit with audiences earning over 609 million worldwide – in case you were wondering why we have a part 2. While fans across the country enjoyed the ABBA-centric musical, critics were left mostly unimpressed thanks to leading actors who could hardly carry a tune and its plotless, glittery, pop-infused story of a young girl getting married. And now, a decade later, we have MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN! This time around, the prequel/sequel offers up a secret weapon courtesy of its new star. The plot is still empty, and that Seventies nostalgia for platform shoes and bright spandex is proudly tacky. Yet this time, we get a glimpse into how Donna (Lily James/Meryl Streep) found herself on that Greek Island where every single person seems to be under the influence of the "Dancing Queen."

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Ten years after the first, Donna (Streep) has passed away. Looking to honor her memory, her loving daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to create a hotel on the beautiful place her mother had made her home. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Donna (James) in her early years as she graduates college. The vibrant young woman, after breaking out into the song “I Kissed a Teacher” during her graduation ceremony, heads off on a romantic adventure. Along the way, she meets young Sam (Pierce Brosnan/Jeremy Irvine), young Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) and young Bill (Stellan Skarsgård/Josh Dylan). And more imprortanly, she finds a place that she can call home. Ultimately, this dual timeline leads to a massive musical celebration featuring Cher as Sophie’s grandmother.

One of the biggest issues I had with the original film was the fact that most of the cast wasn’t particularly the best when it came to belting out the hits – some of the muscial performances were dreadful. While Meryl Streep can certainly sing, her voice didn’t quite resonate with this particular style of music. And forget about Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgård. However, a few of the cast members were able to really have fun with the upbeat sounds of Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus from the Seventies supergroup ABBA. This time around, while you still have some of the lessor singers, the new cast is far better when it comes to songs like “Waterloo”, “ The Name of the Game” and of course “Mamma Mia” and “Super Trouper.” Even the signature song “Dancing Queen” sounds much better in the sequel. This time, Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie takes on most of the main vocals in her portion of the story – she was the best thing in the orignal when it came to singing.

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Another improvement is the film’s director. Ol Parker ( writer of both THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL) took on both writing and directing duties this time around. While the script is still pure fluff, it does have a few moments that are surprisingly sweet and not sickeningly so. What Mr. Parker really improves on is the look of the film. While both films present a gorgeous location, the sequel is better shot and takes full advantage of the stunning locales. This is a surprisingly well directed effort, even if the screenplay is still less than satisfying. However, Parker manages to inject a sense of of loss as the characters mourn the passing of Donna.

Still, unless you are a fan of the music and the over-the-top whirlwind romance behind it, this sequel is probably not for you. The break out into song moments are a little ridiculous and it still bothers me that everyone on this island seems to only know ABBA songs. However, this light and fluffy musical is an improvement over the original. And let’s face it, bringing Cher on for a couple of big numbers will appease a ton of fans who were desperate for a decent vocalist the first time around. Although, I still find Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) a bit enjoyable.

The best thing about the sequel however is Lily James as young Donna. Fresh off her terrific performance in BABY DRIVER, Lily is absolutely effervescent here. And yes, she can sing and she can dance. The actress delivers a fine performance, and while the story doesn’t do her many favors, she is absolutely lovely here. Thankfully, she handles most of the singing this time and it is a huge difference when you cast someone that can bring the pop tunes to life. She does, as well as her lifelong friends, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) – although it is odd that their adult counterparts, Baranski and Walters, haven't changed their style at all.

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MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is not a great musical, but the soundtrack is better this time with a few fresh songs from the ABBA collection. Thankfully, the lesser vocalists in the original film have far less to do here. Writer/director Ol Parker manages to inject a bit more energy into this new story. Yet the film’s heart is Lily James. The actress is utterly charming as a free-spirited young woman that falls in love easily, and deals with pretty much everything in her life by breaking out into song. Yet, the actress makes it work. If anything can be said about this latest sugar-coated romantic fable, this may be the performance to really show what Ms. James can do. And since much of the run time is spent on her, it makes the experience more enjoyable all around.



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