I’m sure when someone describes a film as “love it or hate it”, no film fits that description better than the 2008 jukebox musical film (and long-running stage show of the same name) Mamma Mia! It is truly the cinematic equivalent of Marmite, and I was pretty firmly in the “hate it” camp. I’ve also seen the stage show and found it to be the same cheesy mess. I do love Abba, and I enjoy musicals, but maybe I’m still not the target demographic. So with no small amount of trepidation, I gave this belated sequel a shot. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be rather good.
Here We Go Again picks up five years after the events of the original. The first thing you’ll notice is there is no sign of Meryl Streep’s Donna – that’s right, she’s dead! At first you might think this will be a detriment to the film, but it handles it really well, tying the loss into the fabric and feeling of the film. If anything, her loss gives the film an emotional weight that the first one was lacking. Picking up five years after the first film, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has renovated the Greek famous into the Hotel Bella Donna in honour of her late mother. Also on the island is dashing (and strangely aged) Andy Garcia as the hotel manager and Pierce Brosnan’s Sam.
Now, I’m not a big fan of the first film or any of the lore, but some reliable sources seem to indicate some pretty whopping plot holes in this sequel/prequel. Timelines not adding up (when the hell is this movie set anyway?), events not happening anything like they were described in the first film, ages being completely all over the place (though not technically a plot hole, you’re reaching if you expect an audience to believe Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan are in their fifties and that Cher and Andy Garcia were lovers in the late 1950’s) and just a general feeling of “Wait, didn’t anyone watch the first film?” But it’s Mamma Mia and I doubt anyone cares. This is not a film that lives or dies based on its continuity, it’s the songs that matter.
And the songs, for the most part, are pretty great. If you were worried that all the best songs were used in the first film, fear not. There are plenty of what I’d consider classic ABBA songs in this sequel. The standout for me is ‘Waterloo’ (the best ABBA song) and the opening ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. The choreography and staging on these two are really very good, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the sheer joy on screen – and trust me, I tried. And yeah ok, perhaps some actors can carry a tune better than others, but truth be told I never really noticed. They can all hold a note better than I can, and it seemed like every last cast member was having an absolute blast.
The film benefits from being much more self-aware than it’s predecessor. The cheese is (mostly) gone and the jokes are intentionally funny. The characters that I found annoying in the first film and the stage show are actually great here – though Meryl Streep gets out of being annoying by being dead for most of the film. There’s less of that hen-party humour that defined the first film, more jokes and much more emotional heft.
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a rare film, a sequel to a cinematic disaster that is actually pretty good and enjoyable. Or maybe I’m less cynical and are more easily swept up in the music and campiness than I thought. It reminds me of The Greatest Showman – a movie I was sure I’d hate but turned out to be too infectious to ignore. Overall, it’s an enjoyable jukebox musical with some fun performances and well made musical numbers. If you can ignore the plot inconsistencies and logical leaps required around some character’s ages, you’ll have a good time.
Reviewed by Jack