Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The filmmakers looked to The Godfather Part II for inspiration

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Directed by Ol Parker
With Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher, Meryl Streep

ABBA music and Mediterranean beaches come back together for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the follow up film to the 2008 hit Mamma Mia!

The most obvious comparison, oddly, is to The Godfather Part II, at least structurally. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again intercuts scenes from before the first film with scenes a few years after, making it a combination prequel and sequel.

Also in common with The Godfather Part II, the previous big star is largely absent. Meryl Streep's character, Donna, we find out very early, has passed away in between the time of the last film and sequel scenes of the new one. Marlon Brando refused to appear in The Godfather Part II.

Conceivably, the two Mamma Mia films could be edited together into The Mamma Mia Saga, just like the first two Godfather films were, with the scenes in chronological order — though there would be some continuity problems due to changes in filming locations. The pre- / sequel was shot in Croatia, not Greece.

With its impossible beautiful cast, pop music score and sunny settings, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again offers an escape not only from the bleak news headlines, but also from the depressing dystopian visions, CGI monsters and explosive action that has been filling the screens this summer.

The prequel sections feature a capable young cast, and might also help to bring a wider demographic than the original, which relied largely on older actors.

The scenes set in the late 1970s actually make Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again worth watching. Lily James plays the young Donna, the same character played by Meryl Streep in the original. We catch Donna fresh out of college and exploring the world before settling down.

James brings a gleeful energy to the character, jumping rapidly around Europe and meeting three young men along the way. People who have seen the original know what this leads to.

The flashbacks are filled with romantic humor and of course big productions of ABBA songs. A whole cafe full of people dance on the tables to “Waterloo,” for example.

An earlier production number of “When I Kissed the Teacher,” performed at a graduation, is borderline creepy, though.

The young Donna, even though she is seeing three young men at once, come off as sweet and wholesome.

The young counterparts of Donna's friends, Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), turn up to help Donna sing at small Greek cafe. Jessica Keenan Wynn, the granddaughter of old-time radio star Keenan Wynn, stands out as the slightly sexually aggressive Tanya. The same character is played by Christine Baranski in the modern-time part of the film.

Of the three younger actors playing the male parts, Josh Dylan makes an impression as the yachting playboy Bill, played by Stellan Skarsgård in the contemporary part.

The three young women together give the song productions their full energy, embracing the campy costumes and kitschy staging.

The flashbacks at least have a bit of a standard romantic plot, with the expected complications and emotional scenes.

The part with the older actors, though, is almost plotless, having something to do with a grand opening of a small hotel that is forcing most of the original cast to have to get back together one more time. These actors mope around, mourning the loss of the older Donna and reminiscing over photos.

Donna's daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), asks people endlessly if her mother would have been proud of her. We got the point the first time.

Next to the youthful energy of the flashbacks, this part has all the charm of a boat anchor. The big stars from the original — Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Julie Walters — all just tread water since the thin plot offers little to actually do.

Andy Garcia is thrown into the mix, also endlessly brooding over his lost love and his mistakes in life.

This all serves as setups to more songs, of course.

Many of the big ABBA songs were used up in the first film, so some secondary hits have to be used this time. Several songs such as “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” are repeated. Others like “Andante, Andante” and “Fernando” are new.

They are performed decently for the most part, though sometimes they are rather awkwardly shoved intro the thin plot.

Pierce Brosnan in particular can't sing that well, but he only has a few short bits to try.

A good singer does pop up in this part. That person's name is in the credits. so if you want at least one surprise in this rather dull part, don't read the full cast list.

There is a final joke after all of the end credits, though not so funny that you really need to wait for it.

ABBA fans will obviously appreciate this fluffy pre- /sequel a lot more than others, who might find the whole affair rather trite.

Lily James, though, comes out a winner as she upstages half a dozen top international stars and likely will find herself in demand for starring roles from now on.

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