Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t solid filmmaking, but then again it isn’t meant to be
With its feel-good vibes and irresistible nostalgic draw, Mamma Mia! won over audiences around the globe in 2008, leaving viewers so engrossed in having fun that they didn't notice (or mind) that the ABBA jukebox musical wasn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece. Its financial success – the film became the highest grossing musical of its time – all but guaranteed that a follow-up would eventually materialise, and that sequel (which also serves as a prequel) is finally here in the form of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Directed by Ol Parker, the film brings more of the same joyous energy that made its predecessor such a delight for so many. In fact, even when it seems devoid of artistic merit or frantically, ineffectively searching for a reason to exist, you’re having too much fun singing along to the ABBA tunes to complain about the film’s shortcomings (which, if you stop to think about it, are many).
The narrative this time is split into two different timelines – the present and the past.
In the present, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is trying to honour her late mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), by renovating and reopening Donna’s hotel on the island of Kalokairi. Donna’s best friends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), promptly arrive to support Sophie, and one of her three dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), is on hand to help. But two of her fathers – businessman Harry (Colin Firth), who is busy with work, and sailor Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), who is receiving an award, are unable to make it to the reopening.
Moreover, Sophie is also having trouble in her relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is in New York where he has been offered a job.
Interspersed into these proceedings is a series of flashbacks that take us back in time. In the past, Young Donna (Lily James) sets off for and eventually settles on the Greek island, and along the way parties with the charming Young Harry (Hugh Skinner), falls in love with Young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) who breaks her heart, and is helped by Young Bill (Josh Dylan) to get over her heartbreak. It’s a story we’re already familiar with – after all, we did get its CliffsNotes version in the previous film – so there isn’t much that is revelatory or unexpected about this elaborated plot.
And it isn’t exactly a sign of competent filmmaking when the movie is littered with inconsistencies. There are plot holes aplenty in this drama, and vigilant viewers will quickly notice several continuity errors. Most prominently, the order in which Donna meets her suitors and the (unnecessarily tacked on) arrival of Sophie’s grandmother (portrayed by Cher) even though it was implied in the last film that Donna’s mother had passed away.
But hey, we’re not here for compelling drama and affecting character development. This is Mamma Mia! – basically an elaborate excuse to go from one ABBA tune to another. Filmmakers have once again ransacked the ABBA vault, rummaging through the leftovers and stringing together a threadbare plot. And it isn’t exactly shocking that this time the musical material isn’t as strong as it was in the last movie, seeing how we’ve already gone through much of their greatest hits in the 2008 adventure; there are a couple of repeats from the last film as well as several songs that only diehard fans of the band will be familiar with.
As for the cast, in general, the acting talent does the best to elevate this uneven project. Seyfried is effortlessly charming, but the rest of the legacy cast is underutilised. On the negative side, Streep is nowhere to be found for almost the entire film and appears in only one scene. On the positive, Bronsnan’s singing is mercifully brief. But it’s the younger cast that shines, or rather just James who simply steals the show, bringing young Donna to effervescent life.
Overall, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t solid filmmaking, but then again it isn’t meant to be. This project wasn’t created to be an Oscar contender, but just an enjoyable escape powered by the nostalgic sugary goodness of catchy 70s pop music. The setting is beautiful, the acting by the two main ladies – Seyfried and James – is impressive, and the film is indeed a whole lot of fun, as long as you don’t dissect its plot holes and get bogged down by its inconsistencies or expect a remarkable script and well-crafted, creative storytelling. For its target audience, the film is a joyous treat. For everyone else, it’s a dreary test of patience.
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