Hot Take: I’ve always been a sucker for musicals… Just not this musical. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was a fever dream unnecessarily jamming B-sides of ABBA hits into a sequel. Really? “When I Kissed the Teacher” as the speech from the valedictorian? Yikes!
There is a 0% chance that I would have seen Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again if I didn’t have this website. I could barely stomach the trailer. However, in 2016, I felt the same way when My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was released 14 years after the original and was pleasantly surprised when, against my better judgment, decided to take it in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the sequel to the 2008 musical Mamma Mia! The follow up, featuring most of the original cast and some new younger versions of the characters to tell the backstory as well as Cher which deserves to be mentioned separately because at this point in her career Cher is such a spectacle you have to mention her separately, failed to strike an interesting chord throughout it’s myriad of B-side tunes from the ABBA catalog alongside a few reprises from the original film (“Dancing Queen”, “I Have A Dream” and “Mamma Mia” return as well as the ultimate fever dream end credits performance of “Super Trouper” by the entire cast). Inexplicably, the eager audience ate this nostalgia reliant cash grab up. At my particular showing there was a standing ovation when the credits rolled with not just applause but screams. My biggest fear was that the crowd would call for an encore and somehow the celluloid cast would hear their calls and come back for a few more numbers. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but since it’s being received so well critically and from audiences and ABBA still has about 50 or 60 songs in their library that weren’t crowbarred into the two films, a third Mamma Mia! wouldn’t shock me.
In the sequel, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is preparing for the grand re-opening of her mother Donna’s hotel. In the storyline, Donna died a year earlier which is somewhat misleading since the trailer prominently features Meryl Streep whose character is now dead. (Spoiler alert: Streep makes a late appearance in the film as a ghost version of Donna). So, in the sequel, Donna’s character is now played in flashbacks by a much younger Lily James who gets to tell the story of how Donna’s promiscuity led to Sophie having three fathers. Don’t worry though, Donna tells us over and over again how she’s not that kind of girl… after singing “When I Kissed the Teacher” as valedictorian of her college class at Oxford, of course. Meanwhile, the present day Sophie is dealing with feeling alone as she prepares for the hotel’s opening. Two of her three fathers are away with only Sam (Pierce Brosnan) there as emotional support. Her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper) is in New York and toying with the idea of never coming back because they had to figure out a way to smush “One of Us” into the film. Donna’s besties make it to Sophie’s side for emotional support with Christine Baranski and Julie Walters reprising their roles as Tanya and Rosie. There’s also movie poison Andy Garcia as hotel manager Fernando Cienfuegos who is there to help Sophie as well.
As much as I hated this film, there’s no need spoiling it for those of you who might find some enjoyment in a bunch of B-sides from an overrated Swedish band crammed into a musical whose original served little purpose. At a run time of 114 minutes, the sequel is unrelenting, outlasting the original by 5 minutes. The sequel is more dramatic and attempts to flesh out more of a story than the original which seems unnecessary since the rabid fan base was willing to slurp down whatever slop was thrown on the plate and the critics seemed to be willing to give this grotesque schmaltzfest a pass. Actually, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again found more love from the critics than the original with a 79% Tomatometer vs. the original’s 54%.
Despite the more dramatic facade, as someone not all-in on the sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again felt forced. The introduction as James as a young Donna is probably the film’s best move as James has a great voice and delivers some solid performances. However, her character is marginalized by making her look so shallow and ditzy. It’s downright unbecoming of a former valedictorian of Oxford. What’s unfair to fans of the original though is the film’s blatant misuse of Streep as a marketing tool. She’s featured heavily in the trailer and even makes it to the poster but she might be on screen for 5 minutes, if that, and most of that comes in the fever dream of an end credits scene featuring every version of every character singing “Super Trouper” together.
This is an easy one to decipher for those of you thinking about seeing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Did you love the original? You’ll probably eat this up. If you didn’t like the original, it’s not very likely that the sequel will sway you. If you hated the original, what the hell are you even thinking about? Didn’t you watch the trailer? Some people never learn, I guess.
You’re dying to know how they crammed “Andante, Andante” into the sequel. Plus, Cher.
The thought of hearing “Dancing Queen” one more time makes you cringe.