Possible Spoilers ahead!!
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” presents two parallel stories: one set in 1979 that follows Donna (Lily James) as a young woman, making her way from London to Greece. The other timeline is set a few years after the first “Mamma Mia!” and centers on Donna’s now 25-year old daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is trying to reopen the family hotel on the Greek island of Kalokairi. This takes place about a year after mom Donna (Meryl Streep) passed away.
Sophie’s desire to stay on the island and run the small hotel creates tension between her and her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is working in New york city. When a massive storm threatens to derail the grand re-opening plans, Sophie struggles to keep it together. But with support from her mom’s best friends Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), and one of her three dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Sophie doesn’t give up.
Meanwhile, back in the ’70s, young Donna (Lily James) is ready for a new adventure, and along the way crosses paths with three young men who will forever be linked to her: Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan), and Sam (Jeremy Irvine). And of course there’s plenty of singing and dancing throughout.
Directed by Ol Parker, Here We Go Again is a fun musical just like the first “Mamma Mia!” was ten years ago. The sequel even carries over some of the first film’s more popular ABBA songs, like “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.” But the sequel also adds a slew of other ABBA songs that were not used in the previous film.
However, the big issue with Here We Go Again is the death of Meryl Streep’s Donna. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise since Streep was absent from most the film’s marketing. But when Amanda Seyfried and Pierce Brosnan confirm the news, it literally sucked the air out of the theater. I heard loud gasps, and “Awws” from a number of people around me.
It’s bad enough she died between movies, I really hate when movies do that. But to make matters worse, Here We go Again doesn’t even explain what happened to Donna. Now, Meryl Streep does appear in the film, but I won’t spoil how or why. But I still think the script could have handled the situation better, and in a different way that wouldn’t have shocked the audience as much. Plus to hit you with it right after a big happy dance number was an odd choice.
That said, I do think having the two timelines worked well. We see Sophie’s difficulties in present day, while also seeing how young Donna experienced similat situations all those years ago. In a way, both are figuring out where they’re going in their lives, and the film does a nice job of cross-cutting between the two storylines. Most of the transitions are seemless, but a couple of times its jarring going from happy to somber.
For the most part, the new musical numbers are pretty great. Some of the film’s best were “Waterloo” and the opening number at Donna’s school graduation. The choreography in the movie is solid as well, and the cinematography around Greece is stunning too.
One little complaint from me would be that Here We go Again has a couple of plotholes that don’t work with what was said in the first film. But I won’t take away too many points for that. The timeline also doesn’t match up. Assuming the first movie took place in 2008, and if Donna had Sophie in 1979, then Sophie should be around 35-40, not 25. Otherwise, the first movie took place in 1999? I don’t know, I’m probably over thinking this.
What truly makes the Mamma Mia! sequel work is of course the cast. It’s a lot of fun seeing the old gang back together singing and dancing. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård as the older versions of Harry and Bill get some of the funniest moments in the sequel, and its nice to see the two characters became good friends over the course of the two films. Pierce Brosnan isn’t given as much to do here, but at least the filmmakers were smart enough not to give him too many notes to sing.
The big surprise for me was Lilly James as young Donna. She may not look like Meryl Streep, but she nailed Donna’s quirks and mannerisms. James also has the same energy and charisma that Meryl Streep brought to the role in the first movie. If that wasn’t enough, Lilly James has great chemistry with the young versions Harry, Bill, and Sam. It was easy to buy that she fell in love with all three, and the movie makes it all very natural.
Other new additions to the cast include Andy Garcia as the mysterious Mr. Cienfuegos, the man Sophie hired to manage the hotel. I’d say this is Garcia’s most subtle role. But I liked that he really cared for Sophie and the hotel. And of course there’s Cher as Sophie’s showbiz grandmother, Rubie. Cher is not in the movie for long, but when she sings, the auidence in the theater actually cheered.
Ten years ago I was shocked when I saw “Mamma Mia!” and liked it. I wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” as much, but the sequel offers just as much (if not more) fun cheesy entertainment and musical number as the first film. It sucks Meryl Streep’s Donna is gone, but it doesn’t take away the fact that I and the audience I saw this movie with, still had fun.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” score: B