After having to see Mama Mia! far too many times (thanks Mom) it is almost ironic that they took the subtitle “here we go again” for the sequel. Still, when the screening came up I grit my teeth and signed up to see it. I mean, it can’t be worse right? Right? That’s at least what I had to tell myself as I sat in my seat and buckled in, praying Pierce Brosnan didn’t “sing” again. If you want to find out if it actually surprised me and was as good as early reviews claim, then follow after the jump.
So the plot of Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is pretty literally half the plot of the original, and half the story we were told in the original. We find out in the first scene that Donna (Meryl Streep) died a year ago off screen. In that time her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has been trying to continue her dream of making the hotel they live in a reality. This missing of her mom, and staying close to her dream, brings about a flashback to her mother’s journey to find this hotel and this dream. In those sequences we follow Young Donna ( Lily James) as she explores Europe, and love, and meets the three potential fathers of Sophie we already know. There are of course plot contrivances and setbacks that they have to deal with throughout.
I’ll go ahead and say it now: I kinda like it better than the original. Mama Mia! Here We Go Again relies on less cases of misunderstandings, and less overdrawn plot contrivances that don’t come up again than it’s predecessor and for that I really appreciate it. The music of ABBA is still catchy and great as ever too. Though they do rely on a lot of B-Sides to try and not use all the same songs as the original. Those two things alone generally make me like the film more. The biggest issues are still that while writer/director Ol Parker limits the plot issues, they are still there and still absurd. Also, the use of more songs that a casual ABBA fan wouldn’t know really can make it harder to latch on. It took 3 songs for me to even know one. And then there’s the imbalance between song scenes that are sometimes very traditional musical scenes, then others that feel almost like High School Musical. Its not quite polishing a turd, but maybe it is lipstick on a pig in the end.
As far as the cast goes, they still get all the same talented people as before, and some new faces with mixed results. Seyfried still drives the plot as the lead and really is a relatable and likable person with a good signing voice to boot. Lily James taking on the role of Young Donna is really the main focus here though, and she has really great range to her performance and a gorgeous singing voice that keeps you in the story, even if we already know it all from the last film. The return of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s oldest friends, are still amazing. Both are such incredibly talented and charming actresses that really level up the plot, and then Baranski just is a stellar singer, when they show up things start getting a bit better. Pierce Brosnan returns as Sam, one of the potential fathers who married Donna at the end of the last film, and he gets a reasonable amount of screen time. He is still charming as ever, and the fact that he doesn’t sing really makes this a better showing for him as he was terrible. Lastly we thankfully get a return of the other fathers, Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) who are just so charming and funny that you wish they were there sooner. Especially Firth who is just so damn lovable. All the other younger counterparts, besides Lily James, kinda were just there, with some occasional humor like Young Harry being a caricature of Firth…but its hardly noteworthy. The last additions, which felt needed but not really fleshed out, were Cher as Ruby Sheridan, Donna’s mother, and Andy Garcia as Senior Cienfuegos. They’re nice to have here, but overall feel tacked on almost.
I still worry my score is being a little generous here, but as I said I like the music and the plot being less of a mess. I also really love Christine Baranski, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth and they really are a joy to see playing around here. There’s still a lot of issues with this movie, especially a plot that we already know and another with manufactured stakes (evidently you can’t reschedule things in Greece?) Plus, if you don’t like ABBA at all, then there’s pretty much nothing at all here for you. But, I’d wager there’s a good chance that like my mother, your mom will really want to see this and enjoy it. There’s worse options to watch that your mom wants than one with good music at least!