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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! – Review: Can the Sequel Recapture the Magic?

‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!’

  • Directed and screenplay by: Ol Parker
  • Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep and Cher

There are few pleasures guiltier than 2008 musical adaptation Mamma Mia! The out-there plot and, let’s say ‘raw’ singing ability of the star-studded cast won the affections of millions, making a sequel seem almost an inevitability. Now, with the whole cast back and the much-publicised addition of pop icon Cher, can the sequel recapture the magic?

We return to Donna’s (Meryl Streep) idyllic hotel on a secluded Greek island, except Donna isn’t there any more. Having passed away a year ago, Donna’s beloved daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) mourns her loss and renovates the hotel to fulfil her mother’s legacy alongside one of her three dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan). With the re-launch days away and in the middle of a spat with husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), Sophie looks to Donna’s besties Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) for support. Alongside this storyline, we also go back to the 70’s to witness the journey of Young Donna (Lily James), from her arrival on the island to meeting the younger versions of Sophie’s three fathers (Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan).

The first film was a big hit, but even its biggest fans would have to admit the film wasn’t quite all it could be. Stuck somewhere between heels-in-the-air musical and romantic melodrama, there were moments of drama that fell flat (such as Meryl Streep’s dramatic clifftop reading of The Winner Takes It All). This time, the film makers have clearly taken notice of fan reaction and focused on the fun. Therefore we have more comedy, more costume changes, and mercifully Pierce Brosnan’s mic has been turned down. It’s not perfect, but there is an awful lot to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is.

What unfolds is like a cinematic summer holiday, with lots of booze, pretty boys and big musical numbers. There are moments of unashamed silliness, such as Lily James and Hugh Skinner’s slapstick performance of Waterloo, Bill’s (Stellan Skarsgård) efforts to make it to Sophie’s party on time, or the fact that there’s a poorly photoshopped portrait of Meryl looms in the background of many scenes. However, the film proudly owns the camp nuttiness of it all, and by the fourth of fifth number you’ll be too busy smiling to pick holes in the story.

Fans might be aghast at the absence of Streep, but it actually gives the rest of the cast a chance to shine. Seyfried controls the chaos in the present while James does a great job as the younger Donna, projecting a free-spirited energy that makes a nice addition to the story. She can also sing really naturally, in way that doesn’t feel like we’re watching an ad for her album. New additions Skinner, Dylan and Irvine (the latter sporting a disturbingly good Brosnan impression) are there to be ogled and discarded at various points, while Andy Garcia floats in and out as the hotel’s suave manager. Even in a cast as crowded as this, Julie Walter and Christine Baranski stand out as the film’s secret weapons. As cake munching, wine swilling man eaters, they get the biggest laughs and feel like the friends you always wanted. Baranski’s cry of “be still my beating vagina” may be one of the best lines of 2018.

And then there’s Her Royal Cherness. Turning up fashionably late as Sophie’s glamorous but absent grandmother, it’s as one-dimension a bit-part as you can think of – she’s basically playing Cher. However, in this setting, it makes perfect sense. Amid fireworks, music and dancing, she makes an entrance so fabulous it’s as if the previous 100 minutes were simply a warm-up for her arrival. Like everyone else in the cast, she knows exactly how to pitch her performance and it’s a glittery shot in the arm for the film’s final act.

It’s loud and corny, but somehow Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again manages to be a triumph. Turning the volume up on all the things you liked, and throwing out the rest, the film doesn’t come close to taking itself seriously, and is all the better for it. Here’s to more fun, and more divas, in another ten years.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! is released in the UK 20th July 2018.

Written by James Luxford

James Luxford is a film journalist from London. He is currently a critic for Radio Times, Metro and City AM. He has also written and broadcast for BBC, The Guardian and Little White Lies.

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