‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’ is a Thin but Affable Rehash

Ten years later, Mamma Mia returns with even less of a story to tell

by Philbert Dy

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again begins with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) preparing for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna in the island of Kalokari. Her mother passed away a year ago, and her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) is in New York, learning the tricks of the hotel trade. But now he’s been offered a permanent position, and Sophie is faced with the prospect having to leave it all behind to be with her husband. As this is all going on, the movie goes back to 1979, looking into the story of her mother Donna (Lily James), and the whirlwind week where she met Sophie’s three possible fathers.

The first Mamma Mia was a fizzy jukebox musical that barely hung a narrative around ABBA’s infectious pop concoctions. But there was a story, more or less, of a woman confronted with faces from her past, having to deal with feelings she thought she put away. And  within that sliver of a story, the movie is actually able to deliver a couple of numbers that add real gravity to a couple of the songs. The same can’t really be said of this sequel, which turns the past into present, and turns the present into some far more inconsequential.

There really isn’t much to the story of Sophie. The film, once again, is much more interested in what Donna is going through. It’s in the flashbacks that the movie gains some verve, though it must be said that this entire story was already told before, and there isn’t a lot more gained in actually seeing it play out. If anything, it was a little more interesting to leave some of the details to the imagination. Having said that, it does provide the platform for some memorable numbers.

And that’s really the extent of it. One could certainly dig deeper into how the movie doesn’t really tell a compelling story, but that seems to be beside the point. The whole idea was always to just to create an excuse to perform these songs. The movie actually works best when it just abandons the pretense of these songs making sense within the story. The Dancing Queen sequence, for example, comes out of nowhere. But now we’re enjoying a bunch of happy people singing Dancing Queen, and it’s hard to object to that. The Fernando sequence comes out of the most contrived setup with zero emotional stakes, but it’s terribly easy to enjoy.

The movies technical package is generally okay. There are points where things look pretty artificial, but that works well enough within the kitsch context of the movie. Amanda Seyfried reprises her role fr the first movie, but once again she is playing second fiddle to another star. Lily James steals the show playing the younger version of Meryl Streep’s character. It’s a really charming performance that serves the movie really well. And Cher is such a perfect fit for this movie’s world that it’s a shame we don’t see a whole lot of her.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is occasionally fun, but at over two hours long, it can be a lot to sit through. It certainly suffers from the fact that most of the best and most recognizable ABBA songs were used up in the first movie, and this sequel has to dig deeper into the catalog to generate its fun. In its fizziest moments, it doesn’t even bother with that small pretense anymore, reusing songs that were already big numbers in the last movie, throwing caution to the wind and just fully embracing the disco silliness. The songs are still great, but the movie often makes getting to the singing too much of a chore.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is currently in cinemas.