It’s hard to believe that the first Mamma Mia! came out ten years ago. For better or for worse, it feels like Meryl Streep in those damn dungarees is an image that has been part of pop culture for much longer than a decade! The unprecedented success of the 2008 big screen adaptation meant that a sequel was always going to be on the cards, but the one big question that persisted was, purely and simply, are there enough top tier ABBA songs to sustain a second outing?
The short answer to that, I’m afraid, is no. In fact, that problems with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again aren’t even in the fact that they have to repeat the majority of ABBA’s greatest hits, that’s really the least of its flaws. I’m sorry to be that girl, I really am. I know this franchise isn’t trying win Oscars, but whilst the first film was genuinely fun and entertaining, its sequel feels decidedly less so. The film attempts to tell us two different stories across two different timelines, the stronger of the two being a 1970s retelling of the story we all already know from the original. We follow young Donna (Lily James) as she adventures to Greece, complete with her whirlwind weeks of romance with Harry (Hugh Skinner), Sam (Jeremy Irvine) and Bill (Josh Dylan). These flashback sections of the film are undoubtedly the strongest, and there is a degree of pleasure to be taken from seeing Donna’s infamous story brought to life with almost the same kind of energy that the 2008 original possessed in spades.
However, I don’t think I’m being too harsh in saying that, with the exception of maybe three great musical numbers, the modern day scenes are a mess. The plot, revolving around a two minute storm and the fact that it has threatened Sophie’s grand reopening, is paper thin at best. This is the section that features all of the cast that we fell in love with ten years ago, but in all honesty it falls 95% flat. Not even the introduction of Cher in the last fifteen minutes of the film, or (worst kept secret in film history) the brief and roundabout return of Meryl Streep can save this timeline.
Perhaps I haven’t seen Mamma Mia! recently enough to compare, but there is something about many of the transitions in to song in Here We Go Again that feels beyond parody. Listen, I’m not asking for Les Miserables levels authenticity and craftsmanship here, but when you’re setting a scene in a French restaurant where the waiters are dressed as Napoleon, JUST so you can wedge in Waterloo, you know there is a problem.
Feel free to call me a party pooper. Believe me, you can’t imagine the kind of pain I’ve gone through to realise I’m not enjoying a film that A) is based around flipping ABBA songs, and B) features FLIPPING CHER, one of my all time icons, but I’ve got to tell it like it is. I genuinely think that people are going to have a hard time separating their love of the musical content with the fact that this just isn’t a good movie. Because it isn’t guys, it really isn’t. And from a cynical point of view, I think that’s the kind of attitude that the filmmakers were banking on in the first place.
You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think that arguably the primary joy of Mamma Mia! was watching living legend Meryl Streep sing and dance to the ABBA songs, and Here We Go Again definitely suffers through lack of that. In fairness, Lily James as young Donna does a great job of replicating the sort of spunk and free spirited fun that her older character counterpart exuded in 2008, but what I can’t seem to get away from is the fact is just isn’t as fun to watch.
In the modern day scenes, Amanda Seyfried feels criminally underused, and although she does share some great screen time with Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, their scenes don’t forgive the many sins of that messy half of the narrative.
The promotion and PR for Here We Go Again seemed to throw all of its weight behind the casting of Cher as a strong selling point, and whilst I worship the ground that the woman walks on, there is literally no character there. Playing Sophie’s estranged but return grandmother, it’s as if literal Cher showed up to the party to sing a song because she was booked for the gig. In itself, this is no bad thing, and her rendition of Fernando is ace, but come on guys, this is supposed to be some sort of revelatory moment in the film and not an ounce of characterisation is even attempted.
Overall, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again has left a bitter taste in my mouth, and I’m really sad about it. I wanted nothing more than for the sequel to meet the highs of the original, but in my opinion it didn’t even come close. Like I said, the 1970s Donna ‘origin story’ possessed some of the charm and heart that the first film came to represent, but sadly, the rest felt very much in the ‘they liked it before, let’s hope they kind of like it again’ camp. Some people will be more than satisfied with that, and that’s cool, but for me, this long awaited sequel was a big fat disappointment.