Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – movie review

by Russell Baillie / 24 July, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Mamma Mia! movie

It may not be as catchy, but the Mamma Mia! sequel outshines the original.  

Scrawled early in my notes: this song doesn’t make any narrative sense.

Scrawled a bit later: neither does that one. But she can sing.

Scrawled throughout: clearly another B-side. Needs more balalaika.

Welcome to the head-scratching though not unenjoyable experience of reviewing the sequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia! That film took the world-conquering Abba-powered stage production, threw at it some stars (Meryl! Colin! Julie! Whatshername with the really big eyes!) not known for their vocal or dance prowess and turned it into one of the biggest movie musicals of all time.

Most of the movie musicals with bigger box-office totals are cartoons. Funnily enough, Mamma Mia! had Pierce Brosnan moaning SOS, like a hoofed, possibly wounded, cast member of The Lion King. But animated he wasn’t.

Now, 10 years later, a reprise. The poster is even more crowded (Cher! Lily! Various unidentified young folk!). Its small print shows efforts have been made to avoid the sheer crumminess of the first outing. Well, at least new director Ol Parker was behind both Marigold Hotel flicks and veteran feel-good screenwriter Richard Curtis is co-credited with its story.

It has two timelines, a 1979 flashback following young, free-spirited Donna (Lily James channelling Streep and singing nicely) and her path to pregnancy (via flings with younger and better-singer versions of the Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård characters) and to the Greek islands.

That storyline yo-yos often wildly with a contemporary one following Donna’s daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, singing well, too) as she plans a bash for the reopening of her mother’s hotel.

Last time around, the songs haphazardly joined the dots in a story of mothers and daughters, female friendship, ambiguous paternity and blindingly turquoise scenery. This time, the reverse engineering of song-to-scene placement is even more impressive.

You’ve just got to laugh at the strenuous shoehorning of tracks into proceedings – Waterloo, for example, involves a Napoleonic-themed Paris restaurant; When I Kissed the Teacher bursts from an Oxford graduation ceremony where Abba’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus cameo among the professors.

It’s clear from early on that MM!HWGA is better made, sung and choreographed than its predecessor. But it’s just not as catchy, with its reliance on lesser-known regions of the Abba catalogue and some reprising of songs from the first movie.

Some of those are an improvement (Brosnan’s regretful re-warble of SOS is over mercifully quickly) and some are just bigger and sillier (Dancing Queen is delivered by a Greek chorus on a Dunkirk-sized flotilla).

And Streep? Well, she makes a late entrance due to Donna being no longer with us. But death becomes her – her My Love, My Life is a better musical turn than any she had in the previous film.

And Cher? Well, as Donna’s estranged pop-star mum, she turns up to deliver the only unsung hit left, Fernando, a song prompted by her arrival at the hotel and meeting an old flame (Andy Garcia), who you know is an old flame because at that very moment he’s carrying a burning torch, and it appears that, yes, he can hear the drums.

It’s a gloriously camp highlight to a musical sequel that defies the low expectations brought on by its lacklustre, hit-packed original. Here We Go Again may not have the ear-worm factor of its prototype, but it outdoes it in almost every other department.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★1/2

Video: Universal Pictures

This article was first published in the July 28, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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