When 2008’s Mamma Mia! hit cinema screens back in 2008, a lot of people flocked to see it, enjoying themselves in those special singalong screenings and all but I didn’t see it when it originally came out. I saw the film for the first time when it showed up on Netflix a relatively short while ago and I found it to be a decent film; the story was a mess and, it being the film adaptation of the popular stage musical, they seemed determined to throw in as many ABBA songs as they possibly could. But that’s no bad thing because, even with the so-so plot, Mamma Mia! turned out to be a film with infectious energy – one where you just can’t help but sing along with all the wonderful songs and have a really good time experiencing it.
I was originally in two minds as to whether I would go and see the sequel but hearing a certain amount of very positive feedback (*cough* Mark Kermode *cough*), I decided to TAKE A CHANCE on it.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again sees Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) preparing for the grand reopening of her mother’s hotel on Kalokairi, dealing with her estrangement from Sky (Dominic Cooper) and the fact that two of her three fathers are unable to attend the event. The film also looks at how a young Donna (Lily James), desperate to explore the world, graduated from college and wound up on the island, meeting Sam, Harry and Bill in the process.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is an improvement on its 2008 predecessor because it delivers the same level of utterly infectious fun and energy (even more so, this time around) but along with all the wonderful tunes, this sequel has a far better story that takes place on a larger scale, allowing us to visit several new places outside the pivotal hotel – a location that Mamma Mia! was more or less constricted to (as well as a few places around the island). Since this film moves away from the stage-y feel of the previous film, the writers have more of a free reign to further explore these characters and to come up with a whole new story for this brand new film; the plot of this film is solid, nothing revolutionary, and the dual narratives give the film plenty of material to work with.
It’s a lighthearted story that allows for a generous helping of affectionate humour but it also attempts to put in some touching moments as well – the scenes near the end where we see the similarities between Young Donna and Sophie are a perfect example of this. It might not have meant to have been taken seriously but there’s a nice theme of family running through the film, especially motherhood, and this helps to give the film a strong foundation.
Here We Go Again also improves on Mamma Mia! through its direction, cinematography and choreography; Ol Parker directs the musical numbers excellently as he uses a very wide variety of framing techniques and tricks to always keep things visually fun and interesting and he makes sure that we always see exactly what’s going on all of the time. The cinematography also shines since the film allows for a wider range of locations (the ocean looks particularly appealing) and the choreography of Here We Go Again is big, bold, smile-incuding and just incredibly accomplished – even better than it was in the first film.
Being based on a jukebox musical, the original film clearly attempted to jam as many ABBA songs in as possible but here, there’s a little more restraint on the filmmakers’ behalf because the songs are chosen more carefully and most of them have a real reason to be played in certain scenes. There’s also an admirable mix of tunes and the film gives us many of ABBA’s very best hits as well as some songs that are perhaps not so well known. Well, ones that I hadn’t heard of, anyway. Highlights include “Why Did It Have To Be Me?” (sung by Young Donna and the handsome, charismatic Young Bill), “Super Trouper” (played during the perfect finale) and, of course, “Dancing Queen” – arguably the highlight of the whole film and a scene that will be remembered come the end of the year. It certainly raised my spirits and then some!
And a big part of why Here We Go Again works so well is its lovely and lively cast; Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan (only singing a little this time in an effective scene), Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård all come back to have some fun and we also have newcomers like Lily James, Andy Garcia and Cher making an appearance, with great “cameos” from Celia Imrie and Omid Djalili as well. The brand new cast mixes wonderfully with the regulars, all having an absolute blast, and in particular, Lily James proves that she’s more than up to the task of portraying Young Donna – she’s a really delightful and fun performer and sings and dances amazingly!
So at the end of the day, while I may not exactly have been a huge fan of 2008’s Mamma Mia! (though the awesome music got me unashamedly singing along), Here We Go Again proved to be a delightful excursion and it really made me smile. An excellent musical and a superior sequel – go and see it!