“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” Movie Review

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

     Not long ago, I was reading an article in the local paper which explored the question as to whether artists should be required to play their hit songs during concerts, in addition to the less popular songs comprising their current album which is the likely reason for their tour in the first place.  This thought came to mind while viewing “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, the new sequel/prequel to the enormously successful first film, “Mamma Mia!”, which came out almost exactly ten years ago this month in 2008.  

     The lengthy time frame between films could easily be explained, given the difficulties the filmmakers most certainly experienced attempting to unearth another set of ABBA pop songs for use within the story, something which the filmmakers luckily inherited the first time around since that film was based on the pre-existing stage show.  But has writer/directer Ol Parker taken a tremendous risk with the sequel in attempting to build a new story around songs that never became popular some 40 years ago when they debuted?  And does he succumb to the temptation of having his all-star cast simply sing hits like “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper” all over again so as to ensure fans don't leave disappointed?  The answer is a combination of both, just as you might've guessed.

     There’s one thing you should know going into “Here We Go Again”.  If you're expecting to see Meryl Streep once again leading the cast as Donna, you’re bound to be disappointed.  She appears in one scene during the entire film.  The audience is told why almost immediately, and the result is an emotional letdown that quickly makes you wonder if the story moving forward can survive without her.  The film certainly benefits from the extended flashback sequences that take up nearly half of the running time and in some ways make up for Streep’s absence, but each time we are back in the present day, the story seems to falter, particularly given the fact there are no real stakes this time for any of the characters involved.

     Essentially, that present day story revolves around Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her near complete renovation of the once falling apart Greek hotel once owned by her mother, Donna (Steep).  To celebrate, she has planned a grand opening day party, inviting her three dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), and Harry (Colin Firth), as well as Donna’s former band mates, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).  So the gang is certainly all here, and game as ever to perform ABBA’s back catalog titles, glamorously choreographed as they are.  But as I said, the emotional weight to any of this is gone and what there is in the form of a few minor plot twists are all but resolved about half way through, leaving the third act to feel as though they couldn't think of anything else for the characters to do before wrapping up and rolling the credits.

     In the flashback sequences, we see the flings mentioned in Donna’s diary in the first film play out, as she meets Harry, Bill, and Sam for the first time at some point in the late 1970s.  Played by Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, and Jeremy Irvine, the trio find themselves in the company of a young and independent Donna, taking the form of Lily James, who provides a wonderful early look at the character during a time where she was still trying to find her purpose in life.  Problem is, the few minutes all of this is addressed in the first film seems adequate to me.  Is it really necessary to watch as she meets these three guys in different situations over a period of about three weeks, just so things we already know are memorialized on screen.  Quite frankly, there isn't much to it either.  

     Each of these scenes provides an opportunity for a musical number, but the staging of these scenes carry zero weight since we already know the outcome.  We already know Sam was engaged.  We already know he leaves to break it off, only to return for Donna and find she has moved on with someone else.  The adult versions of all of these characters fully explained that in the first film.  If there is a silver lining to all of this, it’s getting to see the early exploits of Donna’s band, with a young Tonya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and a young Rosie (Alexa Davies) performing at the Greek hotel for the very time and winning plenty of new fans in the process.

     Some of this; however, is so pedestrian, that you can’t really blame Parker for going back to the well and having his characters perform a few of the ABBA songs you’ll actually know in order to maintain the lively and happy tone the first film so masterfully displayed.  A sequence in which a fleet of fishermen approaching the island by boat gleefully singing Dancing Queen to the delight of onlookers awaiting their arrival is sure to bring an instant smile to your face, but scenes like these are few and far between. 

     The filmmakers knew this, and even go as far as to introduce Cher into the mix, appearing as Donna’s absentee mother (Sophie’s grandmother) for a party she was apparently not invited to, so as to liven up the ending a bit.  And given her talents, it’s no surprise she is belting out lyrics just minutes after her entrance.  It’s as if the entire cast was suddenly invited to a Cher concert where she does exclusive covers of ABBA b-sides!.  Not all of this is exactly a bad thing however.  “Here We Go Again” still manages to be a fun time at the movies and there’s no doubt the entire cast had a really good time putting it all together.  One has to question the creative decisions involving Streep’s character, but at least the filmmakers understood the importance of playing the hits we all came to see.  GRADE: C+