Thank you for the music.
In 2008, the world was introduced to a new era of filmmaking. Sure, musicals had been brought to the big screen before, with the likes of Rent, Hairspray, and Chicago getting film adaptations already. But with Mamma Mia!, the world was taken by storm, and musical theater became a lot more mainstream. While it wasn’t extremely well received critically, earning a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 51 on Metacritic, Mamma Mia! is still heralded as a classic amongst musical fans. Now 10 years later, the world has been given a sequel; but did we ask for one? While I erred on the side of “why is this a movie?” I was pleasantly surprised by the final outcome, as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again provided just enough musical fun as its predecessor and successfully breathed new life into this franchise, a decade later.
Taking place a whole decade after the original film, Mamma Mia! 2 – as I’ll refer to it in this review – follows Sophie, played by original cast member Amanda Seyfried, as she prepares a party to celebrate the grand reopening of The Hotel Bella Donna. Since we visited the island last, Sophie’s mother Donna has passed away, though we never find out how. So begins one of the movie’s main plot holes, and unfortunately, it is one of the most crucial details of the whole film. It is quite unbelievable that Donna would die of old age within 10 years, considering nobody else from the original movie has passed away. On top of this, if she died of a disease or a freak shark attack, this would’ve been nice to know at some point during the film. Mamma Mia! 2 is comprehensible even without Donna’s cause of death being revealed, and it’s obvious her death was written in to reflect Sophie’s “single mom”-like struggles with barely any guidance to go to; however, considering they even got Meryl Streep to reprise her role as Donna’s ghost, it seems a little unnecessary to make her die without context.
Fortunately, Sophie is not alone in her motherless journey. Pierce Brosnan returns as her father, Harry, and while he’s still grieving over the loss of Donna, he helps his daughter cope while she gets the party together. Meanwhile, Sophie’s husband Sky is away on a work trip, so she enlists the help of some old friends, Tanya and Rosie, all of whom are played by their original cast members. If you haven’t noticed by now, the entire principal cast has returned for Mamma Mia! 2, and honestly it’s probably the most refreshing part of the film. Viewing it for the first time, it feels like we as an audience never left the island. Take away the concept of Donna’s death, and Mamma Mia! 2 feels like a direct continuation of the original’s plot. Sophie’s other dads return, played by Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, and with the addition of fun new characters like Mr. Cienfuegos, played by Andy Garcia, and Cher’s eccentric, albeit short-lived role as Sophie’s grandmother Ruby, this ensemble cast couldn’t be any more entertaining.
Alongside this present day storyline, there are some fresh faces amongst the OG Mamma Mia! crew. The majority of this sequel takes place in 1979, and gives us a glimpse into Donna’s past. It’s during these post-college years that she meets the three men who may or may not be Sophie’s fathers, and every character is a spot-on representation of a younger fan favorite. The standout performance of Mamma Mia! 2 is definitely Lily James’s portrayal of Young Donna. Lily James, known for her performances in films like Cinderella and Baby Driver, doesn’t have a lot of singing and dancing experience when it comes to the big screen. However, this role gave her a chance to blow audiences away with her talent, and it was extremely well done.
I never tired of watching Lily James onscreen; however, her worst moments were clearly not her fault, so much as they were the character’s writing. Simply put, Donna is not a likable character, and there is just no way to sympathize with her. Even in the musical’s portrayal of this protagonist, she comes off as an anti-hero. Sure, she’s the downtrodden single mother who’s trying to maintain a strong image while holding it all together, but when she’s really put under a microscope, Donna is constantly a disappointment, and watching her past unfold does nothing to help that representation. She sleeps with three different guys back to back, pretends to love all of them, and then gets pregnant without knowing which one is the father. Not to mention her idea of “living life and following your dreams” means, “No fucks given, I’m going to sleep with everyone.” Donna’s not exactly the perfect role model for Sophie, but regardless, she makes it through life on her own, and creates her own “success story” in the form of The Bella Donna Hotel.
Simply put, Donna is not a likable character, and there is just no way to sympathize with her.
Exploring Donna’s past was both entertaining and semi-disappointing. It was fun to watch the way Young Donna, Tanya, and Rosie interacted, as their chemistry was just as natural as their older counterparts in the original film. Seeing them fool around, singing at their graduation and whatnot, made it feel like the gang was back together again. Lily James brings a certain childish grace to a young Meryl Streep, and it almost feels as though you’re actually watching the iconic actress as a teenager. Each of the young “fathers” is portrayed expertly, with Harry being my personal favorite, played by Hugh Skinner of American Psycho fame. Each man emits their respective charm, as introduced by Brosnan, Firth, and Skarsgard in the original, and it really helps the audience see them as the fathers we know and love. There’s a certain brilliance about each character’s past portrayal, and that makes Mamma Mia! 2 thoroughly enjoyable, even in flashbacks.
I was hung up on one massive detail, however, which would most likely be lost on viewers who weren’t huge fans of Mamma Mia!. Seeing every father’s past with Donna, and their experiences that were foretold in the musical number “Our Last Summer,” Mamma Mia! 2 should’ve included references to “Head Banger,” Harry’s days as a guitarist in a band, and all the traveling Donna did with him. Unfortunately, this huge detail was neglected in the sequel, and left me scratching my head when their romance was the shortest-lived of the three. Another decent-sized plot hole was the lack of reference to Bill’s great-aunt’s money loan to Donna, which she then used to buy the villa. This plot point was crucial in figuring out who Sophie’s father was in the original Mamma Mia!, and not mentioning it in this semi-prequel was a real missed opportunity.
Much like the previous film, Mamma Mia! 2 is a nonstop singalong flick.
Of course, what would a sequel to the musical comedy Mamma Mia! be without music? Fortunately, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again includes yet another excellent soundtrack from the Swedish band ABBA. Like its predecessor, Mamma Mia! 2 is a jukebox musical containing only ABBA tunes, and while the original is beloved for classics like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “Honey, Honey,” this sequel offers some more obscure songs, as well as hits like “Waterloo,” and “Fernando.” Having counted every song that popped up, I noticed nearly 20 songs in total, with quite a few of them being either short reprises of songs from the original Mamma Mia! or fully remade versions, like the Lily James rendition of “Mamma Mia.” Much like the previous film, Mamma Mia! 2 is a nonstop singalong flick. I noticed others in the theater jamming in their seats just as hard as I was, and there’s just something about ABBA that makes you wanna get up and dance. Mamma Mia! 2 brings new meaning to “feel good movie of the summer,” as even though it gets sad at times, there’s always a tune to sing along to and a smile on your face.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Mamma Mia! 2 was the background music, unnoticeable to those who weren’t listening for it, and noticeable to those like me who adore the original film. Hidden behind nearly every scene is an instrumental version of one of Mamma Mia!’s classic songs, played on flutes, mandolins, and other acoustic instruments. Every time I caught a note of “Chiquitita” or “S.O.S.,” I felt my heart skip a beat. I was surprised at how comforting it felt to hear the melody of “Slipping Through My Fingers” sans vocals in the background of a scene. It just brought a certain mood to the film, and the inclusion of these instrumentals was an absolutely beautiful touch.
Being a massive fan of the original Mamma Mia!, I was not sure what to expect from a rather unnecessary sequel. While the main character may be unredeeming, this sequel was even able to turn that around and show Donna in a light that was cheery and damn near relatable. Every character produced a certain charm that mirrored the original’s fun-loving attitude, from their acting to their singing and dancing. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again felt like a proper sequel for a true modern classic. While it failed to fill in some plot holes, and left some die-hard fans feeling underappreciated where certain details are concerned, this sequel as a whole was a delightful trip to the past and a glimpse at the future of life on Kalokairi Island, and I walked away feeling quite satisfied. I wouldn’t mind visiting Greece again in another 10 years or so.