A decade after the hit screen adaptation of the ABBA-inspired musical Mamma Mia!, we’ve finally been graced, or subjected to, a follow-up. I say that since your tolerance of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again depends a lot on how you felt about the original and feel generally about ABBA’s music. Neither really does much for me, which is perhaps an understatement, since Here We Go Again is also the type of basic, showy musical that rarely does anything for me. But the soft landing here is mostly because I can see (and have seen) where the film is mighty enjoyable for its target audience.
Picking up the lives of the original film’s characters several years down the line, the film acts as both a sequel and a prequel. It tells the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) after the death of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep), while also filling in the gaps of young Donna’s (Lily James, Baby Driver) original journey to Greece and her trysts with youthful versions of Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth’s characters Sam (Jeremy Irvine, Railway Man), Bill (Josh Dylan, Allied) Harry (Hugh Skinner, Les Miserables), respectively.
The idea behind the structure, of course, is to flesh out the story of the beloved characters — assuming, I suppose, you remember more about the original Mamma Mia! than I do, which basically involves Meryl Streep getting goosed by a goat. In reality, it feels more like a ploy to save on the budget, since the big name stars (Streep, Firth, etc.) all get minimal screen time and probably didn’t even spend enough time on the Greek set to get a tan. Even the trailer’s big tease, an appearance by Cher as Donna’s mother, is short and not really exciting.
This last part — especially when the film’s marketing comes to mind — feels especially cynical. But at the same time, the superfluousness of the film’s “stars” feels in step with a movie that doesn’t really have a point. The plot, which feels wholly like artifice, really only exists to get from one ABBA musical number to the next. Granted, that’s exactly how the movie should operate, but if you’re like me and ambivalent about ABBA and know maybe four of their songs, you’re going to spend a lot of the time wondering where this movie’s headed and why it wants to tell you any of this.
But even if you’re an ABBA fan, I’m not sure why you just wouldn’t listen to ABBA in the first place and save yourself a little time. Perhaps that’s cynical of me, but the movie (and the staging of the musical numbers) too often feels like karaoke, while Here We Go Again didn’t learn from the sins of its predecessor and decided to let Pierce Brosnan sing again. It’s all harmless, however, and a bit less cloying than the original Mamma Mia!, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. Now playing at AMC River Hills, Grail Moviehouse, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.