Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) Review!!!

Synopsis – Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie learns about her mother’s past while pregnant herself.

My Take – Does anyone remember the summer blockbuster season of 2008? Where films like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Hancock, Wall-E, Tropic Thunder and Kung Fu Panda dominated the box office? However, amidst all this films, a little known jukebox musical romantic comedy called Mamma Mia!, backed by Tom Hanks as an executive producer with a star studded cast released and ended up raking over $600 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing musical of all-time. Based on the 1999 musical of the same name, the film directed by Phyllida Lloyd played to the tunes of the ABBA, the Swedish pop group who are responsible for some absolutely timeless songs, and wholeheartedly welcomed us into its candy-colored world filled with excellent production design, superbly-produced musical numbers and sheer outrageous set pieces.

Sure, it was goofy and corny most of the time, but an excellent ABBA catalog and a very likable cast made sure the film was extremely entertaining and a joyous cinematic romp for its viewers. Nevertheless, the idea of a sequel that too ten years later seemed like a bit of a stretch, despite most of the cast members returning from the said original film. Thankfully, with a new director in the form of Ol Parker (writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) at the helm, the film surprisingly manages to retain everything what made the first film so enjoyable, while also improving over everything the original struggled with, that too without looking forced. While the sequel adds a sense of sadness to itself, in comparison to persistently upbeat predecessor, it also fulfills its number one priority i.e. entertaining its fans.

Set five years after the events of the first film, the story follows Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who following the death of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), has returned to the Greek island of Kalokairi and devoted herself to rebuilding the inn which her mother owned. Renaming it as La Bella Donna in her honor with the help of her hotel manager Fernando (Andy Garcia), Sophie is preparing a big party for the reopening, with wealthy guests en route. However, Sophie has been upset by the fact that her longtime partner Sky (Dominic Cooper), who had gone to New York City, to learn about high-end hotels and courting millionaire clients, refuses to come back to island and wants her in the city by her side.

Adding more hurt to her injury, that her two potential biological fathers, Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) have confirmed that they won’t be joining her in the launch. While Sophie’s stepfather and also potential biological father Sam (Pierce Brosnan), and her aunt-like figures Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) are still mourning the loss of Donna, they are on the island and are willing to help in every way possible.

As she prepares for the festivities, Sophie reflects on her mother’s past, and the film floats back to 1979, when a young Donna (Lily James) graduated from university alongside Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) as the Dynamos, and decided to travel the world alone. At first she reaches France, where she meets a young Harry (Hugh Skinner); then there’s a boat captained by young Bill (Josh Dylan) from France to Greece; and finally there’s the island of Kalokairi itself, where she connects with young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), and somehow both the past and present story-lines come to mirror one another in a certain regard.

Yes, there are big dance numbers and seductive little ones, and in that sense, this film is a lot like the first, with some big winks at the audience and some shiny spandex to keep it all sparkly. Director Ol Parker, who has proved a master of mature-age comedy with his screenplays for the The Exotic Marigold Hotel films, co-wrote this one with Richard Curtis, whose combination of the upbeat and the self-deprecating has powered most of Britain’s comedy hits of the past 24 years, starting with Four Weddings and a Funeral, make sure that they are never overreaching from their self-knowledge of a escapist potboiler. By basking in the photogenic landscape or the hummable tunes, the film just wants to provide a pure joy feel-good time to its core audience and writer-director Ol Parker attests to be an able hand in coordinating and segueing between its two likable story-lines.

One half of Donna’s backstory proves fertile ground for all the emotions that ABBA songs convey so powerfully: her joy of finishing school and kissing the teacher goodbye; the excitement of flirtation when meeting those three nice young men; the hopeful longing for the future when she arrives in Greece and feels immediately at home. Of course, heartbreak finds its place too. While the other is focused on the connection between Donna and Sophie which I thought was beautifully done. Their relationship was the heart of the first film and it was great to see it continue to be the heart in the second. After the early scenes where certain plot elements were revealed, I was worried but, ultimately, I think they, mostly, nailed the new angle in Donna and Sophie’s relationship. This was achieved by the interweaving of Donna’s past and Sophie in the present. Sophie thinking back to what happened to her mother on that faithful summer.

At first, this interweaving felt a clunky. I wanted them to just get back to exploring Donna’s past. But once we got into the deeper stuff, towards the end, the story really started to shine and I was crying. The final scene was the best part of the whole film, and I could finally see what most of the interweaving story line was leading up to it. It hit me in the feels more than anything that happened in the first film. In comparison, this sequel feels a tad more mature than its predecessor, which ended in a double wedding and the hint of more romances to come. Now, five years on, relationships have changed, shifted, and matured.

While I may be looking into the story line and characters way too deeply, after all, this are not the kind of films you look into deeply, but with the added emotional depth in the story line, I just couldn’t help myself. Of course, the songs are the major key to the success of these film and many of the ABBA numbers from the first film are featured again this time. For example, “Waterloo”, “I Have a Dream,” “The Name of the Game,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper” from the original are featured here. From upbeat, dance filled sequences to the more emotional, slower tracks there is a tempo for everyone in this film. As the tracks play, the choreography is just as vibrant, packed with a fun energy that fits the tracks well, and brings you into the party.

But like its predecessor, this one too isn’t flawless. Yes, Pierce Brosnan still can’t sing, but while the story line dives into the younger characters, it gives the older ones lesser screen time, especially Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård. Then there were some of the side plots that felt shoe horned in, for example the present day Bill and Rosie, didn’t need the conflict. Then there was a small drama with Sky which again I don’t think was really needed either. And as for Ruby, the grandmother. What was the point? Cher’s presence is a little disruptive; although the film is kind of tongue-in-cheek about her, you never forget that it’s Cher up there. Yet regardless of your cynical nature around the sequels of this magnitude, the filmmakers of keep a card close to their chest for the final few scenes and deliver clear big screen moments, which will leave audiences itching to return and experience it all over again.

Yes, it’s not the greatest film out there, and not even a particularly great musical, but at least it delivers on its promises wholeheartedly. The cast as expected are great, with Amanda Seyfriend, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, and Dominic Cooper, all matching up to their characters in the previous films, while Meryl Streep appears only in a glorified cameo near the end. While Cher is alright, Andy Garcia is a welcome addition to the cast. However, director Parker and his team deserve kudos for matching the original cast with their younger selves. At first sight, ‘Cinderella‘ star Lily James bears little resemblance to Streep but the spark is there – the will to go on extracting happiness from unpromising circumstances, together with the can-do spirit symbolized by those dungarees. And she can sing, with that Lily James does manage to steal the spotlight from the rest of the cast.

Her companions are similarly recognizable: Alexa Davies apes Julie Walters’s pixie cut to play Rosie, and as Tanya, Jessica Keenan Wynn nails both the Christine Baranski wig and the Christine Baranski voice. Hugh Skinner is also artfully dorky like Firth, while Josh Dylan and Jeremy Irvine too manage to share in the spotlight with extraordinary turns. On the whole, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again‘ is an enjoyable and satisfying sequel that manages to maintain the fun energy, charming cuteness, and beauty of the first film.

Directed – Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 114 minutes

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