Director: Ol Parker
Starring: Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth
Length: 1hr 54m
This review may contain spoilers.
I want to begin this piece by stating that ABBA f***ing rule and anyone who disagrees can bite me. The sequel to the decade-old movie phenomenon is a tremendously fun, if lightweight, addition to the Mamma Mia story. As a musical, it plays by different rules. It’s narrative, true to tradition, is less important than the raw emotion that the film elicits. And it is there where Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again indeed does the original justice.
One year after Donna’s death, her daughter Sophie is gearing up for the grand opening of the hotel her mother always dreamed of opening. This is whilst the film shows us a young Donna travelling Europe after university and her romantic exploits before reaching the Greek island of Kalokairi, where she eventually settles down.
The prequel story to the events of Mamma Mia! is when the movie gets going with the flashback to Donna’s graduation from New College, Oxford and subsequent “I Kissed the Teacher” number a fascinating exploration of Donna’s energy and relationship with the Dynamo’s which endures throughout the runtime. Truly the present-day story feels more of a side-plot and shouldn’t have got as much screen-time as it does. But the story grows as it goes along into a charming dual narrative helped by the latter half of the film’s transitions less clunky and the characters in Sophie’s story becoming fully-fledged and their motivations explored through the flashbacks to their youths. Still, the narrative jumps at the beginning take some time to get used to.
The humour starts off a tad flat but when Rosie (Julie Waters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) genuinely comes into its own. Their ineffable charisma carries the film through the second-best plot of this dual narrative.
The plot can sometimes feel too obviously a vessel merely to get to the next musical number, but when the songs come, they enthral. The choreography for most of these songs is a lot of fun. The most captivatingly fabulous are “Waterloo”, “Fernando” and mostly “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, which is tragically beautiful when performed by Lily James and Jeremy Irvine as Young Sam.
Lily James is radiant as Young Donna. Her story is more natural and more compelling than that of her future daughter. The glinted eyes of James perfectly encapsulate the essence of a woman looking for her place in the world. Hugh Skinner as Young Harry struggles vocally and to act as anything other than a poor caricature of Colin Firth. Luckily, he isn’t given the importance to damage the film and is cloaked by his place next to the aura of James.
The rest of the cast do very well. The young counterparts play their roles with nuance and respect while the returning cast reprise the roles without a missed beat. But special mention has to go to the new character of Ruby (Cher), Señor Cienfuegos (Andy García) and, my personal favourite, Omid Djalili as the Greek customs officer. They steal the screen and the breath-taking duet of “Fernando” by Ruby and Cienfuegos is a highlight of the film.
Ultimately, this film isn’t treading any new ground. It is not exposing wild ideas or being vastly experimental. But for a fiver or so you can go to the movies, watch this film and come out 2 hours later feeling better than you did when you went in. And isn’t that the point?