Despite using lesser-known Abba songs, Ol Parker’s ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ knocks off the first film by having a focused narrative, offering more room for poignant character introspection.
If you have already seen the trailers released for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, you might have noticed the glaring absence of ‘The Dancing Queen’ herself, Meryl Streep. Well, there’s no way of working around this review without giving away this mild spoiler, so I’ll spill it out: her character Donna Sheridan has long been dead before this sequel started. But before Streep fans demand for a refund, do note that she still makes an appearance here (and she sings too) – that you have to wait. And before you raise both hands in the air saying how this might be the dumbest sequel decision ever, the film proves otherwise as this allows the story to have a more creative narrative direction.
This sequel, which also works as a prequel, plays on two timelines. Set a year after Donna’s passing, the present arc thankfully does not dwell much on gloom as her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) honors her memory by relaunching the Bella Donna Hotel. Donna’s best friends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) makes a return to guide Sophie and share more of her mother’s past. Cue in the 1979 flashbacks when a free-spirited, young Donna (Lily James) first steps in Europe after graduating from college, chances upon a greek island and meets Sophie’s three potential dads: Harry (Hugh Skinner as young Colin Firth), Bill (Josh Dylan as young Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine as young Pierce Brosnan).
Departing from the stage musical, Here We Go Again surprisingly captures the heart of the story more so than the first film did. Mamma Mia! The Movie is a 2008 endearing blockbuster but more often a ridiculous patchwork – its story simply built around Abba’s greatest hits collection, with its songs shoehorned whether or not they have relevance to the story. Here, the narrative takes the driver seat and the tunes are suitably chosen to enhance it. The stakes remain to be light for a festive summer level: Can Sophie successfully relaunch her hotel with a looming storm ahead? Can she sustain a long distance relationship with her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper)? How will young Donna navigate a new world filled with short-lived affairs and unexpected pregnancy? The film does little to advance the story but if offers more room for poignant character introspection.
But of course, the main reason why you would see this film is to be enthralled by its elaborately choreographed and lavishly produced musical numbers. While the first film surely exhausted most of Abba’s more popular hits, this sequel makes do with some melancholic, non-single tracks like “Andante Andante,” “I’ve Been Waiting for You” and “My Love, My Life.” The notable performances remain to be the welcome rehashes of “Dancing Queen” featuring a dancing crowd on top of landward boats, a kinetic “Waterloo” which is aptly set in a French restaurant, or a sharply edited “I Have a Dream” that gracefully intersperses young Donna’s dilapidated villa to Sophie’s fully refurbished hotel, evoking a timeless bond between mother and daughter.
While Streep is sorely missed for the most parts, Lily James radiates with a wild, positive energy needed to anchor this film. As the film kicks off, young Donna says during her valedictory speech that the best things in life are unexpected and before we know it, she blasts off with an impromptu performance of “When I Kissed the Teacher” – it’s a declaration to the audience that she has the singing chops to do this. Her back-ups, the Dynamos, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies) are also wonderful, uncanny good matches of their older counterparts. The same can be said for the younger versions of Harry, Bill and Sam who can actually sing well too. This film excels in its casting choices, for the most part.
The film’s superstar, Cher with a platinum wig and shows up fashionably late (and uninvited) via helicopter as Ruby Sheridan… the er, mother of Donna. It’s an odd casting choice if we are to be reminded that Cher is almost the same age with Streep and her Dynamos. But before the flawed logic sinks in, the audience will already be swept away as she sings “Fernando” to Sophie’s hotel manager, Andy Garcia. The whole subplot has the weakest link to the main story, a mere excuse to generate starpower and let Cher sing. Oh well, cue in the fireworks spectacle.
And so, for the credits scene, the past and present timelines meet as the original casts and their younger incarnations sing and jive to one final glamorous song of “Super Trouper.” No matter how much of a calculated crowd-pleaser Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is, it has touching insights on friendships, romantic relationships and mother-daughter relationships, more so than the first film achieved. It’s flashy, fleeting, campy and jukebox as ever… how could you resist it?
Listen to the full soundtrack below.
4 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Universal Pictures, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again‘ is now showing in PH cinemas starring Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Andy García, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan with Cher and Meryl Streep. Written and directed by Ol Parker. Run time: 114 minutes.