Although the writers favour 'Money, Money Money' over continuity, the symbiosis of old and new talent makes this another enjoyable outing to Kalokairi.
Like all faithful fans of the first film, I was furious when presented with a trailer that hinted at the prospect of a Donna-shaped hole in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. After all, how can we have Mamma Mia without Donna, when she was such a pivotal part of the first film? The answer is that we can’t, but to my surprise, we can have Mamma Mia without Meryl. It feels different, yes, but isn’t a problem with most sequels that they’re too similar to their source material?
Lily James and the rest of the past incarnations take this sequel in a different and entertaining direction, making it a good film in its own right whilst maintaining the heart of the first. Given that the narrative is centred around a number of flashback sequences, I was worried that they would be framed within a cringey and cliche story by Tanya and Rosie, which would not only be tedious but also not give the original cast an awful lot to do. Luckily, the two threads of the present-day and the past are seamlessly linked, with one side not dominating the other too much. There are also some very interesting parallels between the two ‘times’, with the christening scene leading to some serious sobbing as we see how things like familial love never change.
Whilst protagonist Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) came across a little petulant, whiny and demanding in the first film, she seems to have toned it down a little here, although there are still hints of the other characters tiptoeing around her. On the other hand, Lily James as ‘young Donna’ was everything she was built up to be in Mamma Mia! and more. With a fun and infectious attitude, kindness, and fierce independence, she definitely builds upon Meryl Streep’s loveable Donna. What is really impressive, however, is how James has also made the character her own. The energy she brings are the main reason why the flashbacks are so mesmerising, and her vocal talent breathes new life into ABBA classics, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘I Have a Dream’.
The return of trio Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (Colin Firth) is a highly welcome one. Although Brosnan may not have as much to do here in comparison to the first film, a lot has happened in the ten years between the two outings for Sam and he delivers a more raw and real performance. Best of all, we get Firth’s Harry at his awkward and ‘spontaneous’ best. Harry and Bill’s (Stellan Skarsgard) double act goes from strength to strength with that homage to Titanic, and they also trigger an ensemble performance of ‘Dancing Queen’ which is arguably better than the one in the first film.
Tanya (Christine Baranksi) and Rosie (Julie Walters) are, however, the OG double act. Their quips are as humorous as ever, and their younger versions (Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davis) are perfectly cast in both appearance and mannerisms. Similarly, the young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) Bill (Josh Dylan) and Harry (Hugh Skinner) have bags of charisma, revitalising the traits expressed by their older equivalents. Credit has to be given especially to Skinner’s portrayal of Harry. Wonderfully awkward and yet strangely endearing, he provides one of the best numbers in the film with alongside James with ‘Waterloo’.
And then there was Cher. Her sassy characterization provides a refreshing change from the rest of the cast and, of course, she belts out ‘Fernando’. If we ignore the fact that it was strongly implied she was dead in the first film, her addition to our screens is very enjoyable. In fact, Donna’s mum appearing is the tip of a very inconsistent iceberg. First of all, if we take Donna’s diary to be the truth, it suggests that she meets the men in a different order than is shown to us. Also, it says that she spent time with Harry not only in Paris but also on the island. Meanwhile, Harry in this film is shown to be left behind on a ferry port. There are a few nice little Easter eggs and nods to the first film with the diary and guitar, but as cute as these are they don’t patch up some gaping plot holes.
But, maybe I’m taking this too seriously. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a musical based on ABBA songs after all, and these numbers are definitely the highlight of the film. The little-known but catchy ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’ establishes Donna and the Dynamos as a force to be reckoned with, and starts the film strongly musically-wise. Most of the new songs, however, are little-known ballads that fall a bit flat, so the mixing in of old favorites to remind us why we loved the first film is a welcome and wise move. Would the film be as good without these? Probably not.
The musical numbers managed to melt my cold critical heart and reminded me to appreciate this film for what it is: a feel-good musical. The writing and the plot are definitely sloppy, but it was good to catch up with our favourite characters. However, if we ever get a Mamma Mia 3, for the love of all things good, never let Dominic Cooper or Pierce Brosnan sing again. Ever.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, directed by Ol Parker, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, certificate PG.