The original Mamma Mia, based off the theatrical musical of the same name, was an absolute blast. Cram packed full of stars, fantastic numbers, clever direction, and clever winks at the genre the movie worked just as well as the musical did. Its direction was simple, but creative, and poked fun at theatrical traditions like Greek choruses and dance numbers all while getting every ABBA song stuck in your head for the next month. It was good, don’t hate.
Now it has a sequel because… well, it’s not really clear why. I don’t think Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again even knows why it exists. ABBA’s catalog of hits songs isn’t that deep, the story didn’t really need any expanding, and it’s been a decade since the first film. Have you ever heard anyone in the last 10 years ask for another? But here we are, going again.
Mamma Mia! Here I Go Again
Director: Ol Parker
Release Date: July 20, 2018
No, there is no Broadway version of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that the filmmakers are working off of. This is a wholly original musical made for the big screen, and boy does it show. Far from being the honed, tested, and practiced musical that the first movie was Here We Go Again delivers something more akin to a hastily cobbled together second mix tape you give someone you aren’t really interested in. The story is all over the place as it attempts to bring back all the original actors while flashing back to show how Donna (Lily James/Meryl Streep) met and bedded Sam (Pierce Brosnan/Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård/Josh Dylan), and Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner). In the present Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is trying to re-open the hotel after the passing of her mother, while the movie flashes back to how her mother originally came to the island.
It’s a mess of a story mostly put in to get from song to song with little or no connection. The attempt to tie the two timelines together falls flat for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it never actually feels like anything is happening. The film has no forward momentum because the movie cutting back and forth between the two times keeps stopping it. The drastic bouncing back and forth is handled so poorly that you never feel like you’re interested in either tale, and it leaves no time for either set of cast members to become anything more than cameos. That’s a real issue in a film that’s stuffed full of more actors and characters than it needs.
Forcing all these actors back into action just to have them in the movie is probably the film’s biggest issue. The plot strains to logically get everyone back on screen at some point and then throws Cher in for extra measure. It’s checking the boxes instead of creating something that works. By dividing up the timelines you’re delivering an entirely new cast that needs to insert itself while also making all the actors into nothing more than walk-on appearances. There are moments where some of the bigger name people are clearly nowhere near the rest of the cast and were obviously shot at drastically different times. It’s one of those movies where you just weep for the poor scheduling assistant who had to put this shoot together in a month-long time frame.
But we’re here for the music, you might exclaim. Sure, if you’re a big ABBA fan you’re going to be tapping you’re toes here and there, but general audiences aren’t going to be sucked in by classic hits this time around. There are some repeats, but for the most part, you’re getting second tier ABBA hits this time around. Some are enjoyable and some are b-sides and none sell the film as well as the repeat performance of “Mamma Mia.”
That’s not to say the movie can’t be fun. It is a musical and ABBA after all. When the film shoving actors in left and right and forcing plot points, it’s musical numbers can be enjoyable. When it embraces its absurdity and just dives headlong into ridiculous musical Here We Go Again can get your foot tapping and bring a smile to your face. The performance of “Waterloo” in a French restaurant is a Bubsy Berkley inspired wonder, with the movie basically admitting how dumb it is and finally letting go. A rendition by Any Garcia and Cher of “Fernando” also does this wonderfully. If the entire film had embraced this attitude and gone full movie musical it would have played a lot better.
It didn’t though. The film is such an overstuffed cash grab that its moments of fun just get lost. The toe-tapping enjoyment of the first is shoved away for a cavalcade of singing stars you don’t’ care about. The clever takes on genre norms are tossed out the window in favor of hitting more songs for less payoff. It’s a trite mess that barely clears enjoyable and only then because the songs are still catchy. Let’s just not go again… ever.