To be honest, I’d all but forgotten 2008’s Mamma Mia! by the time I heard the sequel was fizz-popping its way into theaters. The original saccharin-laced, musical bit of giddiness was pleasant enough. Plus, given that it’s been a decade since we heard Pierce Brosnan mistakenly attempt to croak his way through ABBA’s “SOS”, perhaps he’s had enough time to learn to carry a tune.
Not so much, but that’s just about the only thing that hasn’t improved for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Yes, Meryl Streep is absent (we’re told early on that her character, Donna, passed away a year ago), and, sure, the writers had to dig a little deeper into the ABBA songbook to avoid too much repetition, but the rest of the gang is back (along with some nice surprises along the way), and the whole shebang is guided by powerhouse Lily James, who is slowly proving herself a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
The film is presented in parallel storylines. In present day, we follow Donna’s daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she preps for the grand re-opening of her hotel in the Greek countryside. And then there’s also flashbacks to 1979, which provide us the backstory that simmered under the first film; James plays the 21-year-old version of Donna as she graduates college and then sleeps with three young men in the space of a few weeks—one of whom fathered Sophie.
And, of course, it’s all set to the infectious, uber-pop stylings of ABBA.
It’s easy to see that writer and director Ol Parker, who wrote the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, had a blast putting Here We Go Again together. Along with some snazzy little camera moves, he gives just enough time to the musical numbers to cut down on the cheesiness that ran rampant the first time around. Everything seems just a little tighter and a little more polished, and the script is funnier, too. Along with a couple fun cameos, there’s a handful meta-humor to help keep things from getting too stale.
Having the gang back together—minus Streep―is fine (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters again steal the show as Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s best friends), but the movie gets a welcome injection of life from the new cast, particularly James, who absolutely kills it in every scene she’s in. Adding to the fun is Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies, who play the younger versions of Tanya and Rosie, and Andy Garcia and Cher as the manager of Sophie’s hotel and her grandmother respectively.
People are already griping about the lack of continuity (or plot holes, if you prefer) between the two movies—the version of the events the Donna recounts in the first film varies quite a bit from what plays out in the sequel—but in the end, does it really matter? Of course not. We’re here for the goofy dance numbers, the sing-along pop, and the ability to just sit back and enjoy a sappy, sugary-sweet story. And, with apologies to ABBA, in Here We Go Again that’s the name of the game.