The story may be lame as heck, but who cares? Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again delivers exactly what I expected: a groovy movie musical with a simple plot built around lyrics to ABBA songs — just like the first Mamma Mia! nearly a decade ago. In some ways, the sequel is even better, thanks to the singing, dancing and acting chops of Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as a younger version of free-spirited Donna Sheridan, the role inhabited by Meryl Streep in 2008. Streep is back for the sequel, but only for a brief yet poignant scene in the final minutes of the film (no spoilers). And oh yeah, Cher pops in too – as Donna’s showstopper (and scene-stealer) of a Mom.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again interweaves the past with the present. It opens on the Greek Isle of Kalokairi (aka Skopelos), the same beautiful locale we visited in the first Mamma Mia, when Donna’s daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) learned that any one of three very different guys (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) could be her biological father, and all three showed up for her wedding.
Fast forward to present-day and Sophie is still married, though facing a bit of a rough patch with hubby Sky (Dominic Cooper) as she prepares to re-open a hotel that’s always been close to her mother’s heart. The connection dates back to that magical summer of ’79 when Donna set out to conquer the world, or at least her chosen corner of it… and got pregnant with Sophie. Mamma Mia! – tell us more. In song, please. See that girl, watch that scene… digging the dancing queen.
As the narrative switches over to young Donna’s exploits, we meet her three suitors, the younger versions of the Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard characters, played by Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan. Fortunately, the guys were much better singers in their younger days, and you can see why each held a special place in Donna’s heart and could be Sophie’s dad.
The sequel also makes joyful good use of Donna’s longtime friends and bandmates, Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski, Julie Waters) and their younger selves as played by Jessica Kennan Wynn and Alexa Davies. The other addition of note to the MM2 cast is the charming (but under-utilized) Andy Garcia as the manager of the Hotel Bella Donna and an “old friend” of Sophie’s grandmother Ruby (Cher). His character’s name: FERNANDO. What’s not to love about that?
Make no mistake. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is full of cheesy imperfections, especially in the first half. But they’re all forgivable and forgettable – erased by the sweetness, heart and outright fun as the movie enters the home stretch, bringing the story full circle, and treating the audience to a frolicking good time as the credits roll. It’s Greece! In summertime! With ABBA! Be a Super Trouper. No SOS needed. Face your Waterloo and surrender to the music.