After pouring through ABBA’s greatest hits for the first Mamma Mia! movie, a jaunting ridiculous time at the theater, the film’s sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again had to wade through the super-group’s deep cuts and, thereby, so did the writers for the film’s story. ABBA fans will still sway their heads to the tunes, but it won’t be until halfway through the movie with a repeat rendition of “Mamma Mia” or toward the end with “Fernando” and “Super Trouper,” that audiences will feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
Picking up a short while after the death of Meryl Streep’s Donna, her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is still grieving, but is readying their home in Kalokairi for the grand re-opening of their hotel. In a setting befitting reunions and memories, this causes Sophie to look back on her mother’s first arrival to the greek island so many years before, launching the film into its paralleled storyline of young Donna’s (Lily James) exploits prior to the events of the first film during which she had encounters with all “three” of Sophie’s dads (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard).
The sequel is stacked up for cast members, with virtually everyone but Amanda and her beau (Dominic Cooper) receiving young doubles. The entire cast takes up the spacy disco ABBA mantle well, particularly James, who shines in this film, and does Meryl proud in her show-stopping numbers and vibrant presence. The young actors breathe life into the film while the older gang provide a nostalgic and roaring celebration. It is almost unfair that Seyfried has all of those heavy hitters mainly to herself, also including the magnificent Julie Walters, Christine Baranski (with the absolute best lines in the movie) and a new addition of a suave Andy Garcia.
More than anything, this film is costume porn, though. The story flows somewhat unnaturally from song to song, but it almost is distracted by the pure fun the costume designer had in mixing and matching bohemian ‘70s frocks for James and her co-stars. Seeing the clothes in action was equally entertaining, with special kudos to the choreographer, who even got Colin Firth following some basic, albeit charmingly uncoordinated moves.
My bits of praise aside, the narrative in this film is naught. We already knew the story of Donna coming to the island from the first film, and the tragic love stories along the way, but now we just get to see it dragged out for two hours, only to leave the past plotlines cut off early in order to blend into the events of the first film and Seyfried’s plot in the present day. Eeking mirrored stories out of lesser known ABBA songs also left much to be desired. Cher (yes, she is somehow in this) does a lovely rendition of “Fernando,” but at a cost to the overall validity of plot.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
This movie is very close to a 2-2.5 rating, if not for the sheer brilliance that is Lily James in the film. Audiences will agree that we could watch her dance, sing and radiate the screen possibly forever. ABBA fans will definitely still have fun while scratching their heads at the ludicrously forced plot, like I did, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this story never needed to be told, even if we do need some more films following the newly formed “kindness” genre started by Paddington 2.