Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Julie Walters
Director: Ol Parker
Running Time: 114 mins
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a British film and the sequel to Mamma Mia!. As Sophie opens a hotel, she learns more about the way how her mother first came to the island, and how she met Sophie’s three fathers.
I despised the last Mamma Mia. I’ve nothing against the musical genre, and I like a good ABBA singalong as much as the next person, but it was a messy, painfully cheesy and dull affair that bored and irritated me from beginning to end. So, as you would expect, I was dreading the thought of a sequel, but I’m delighted to say that Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a far superior film that, while still not great, is far more full of energy, along with some good cinematography, fun choreography, and one real stand-out performance.
Firstly, the film is split between two main stories: that of the present day and the characters and actors we saw in the last movie, and that of 30 years ago, watching Donna (played by Meryl Streep in the last film and Lily James here) as she made her way across Europe to finally settle on the small island she would call home.
Strangely, the film’s focus on the beginning of a family dynasty on the small Greek island mirrored by the continuation of that legacy in the present day is rather reminiscent of The Godfather Part II. It’s a terrible comparison to make, and while Francis Ford Coppola’s classic doesn’t quite stand up to this masterpiece, it’s a good way to understand the plot structure here.
Now, when it comes to those two stories, I have very polarising opinions that made this film both an unexpected delight and a predictable chore to watch. On the one hand, the story set in present day, following Amanda Seyfried as she reunites with many of the characters from the last film, was pretty tedious, featuring next to no character development until the final ten minutes, and just more excuses to see a group of A-listers randomly bursting into song.
So, for half of the movie, I was pretty bored, and although things are never as infuriatingly cheesy as the original film – even this side of the plot is a bit more self-aware and humorous – it proves a really frustrating point that takes away from the surprise of just how good the other side of the story is.
From the start, I was fully ready to hate this film as much as I did its predecessor, and after a cheesy and predictable opening set in the modern day, I was expecting just the same. However, when the film turns back time and follows Donna in the late 70s as she graduates university and then travels across Europe in search of her utopia, things suddenly become both immensely entertaining and genuinely interesting.
For one, the writing on this side of the story is far superior to anything else in the movie, as we get a surprisingly genuine coming of age-style plot that sees our main character learn and change a lot over the course of two hours, featuring far more drama and emotional intrigue than I could have ever expected. Sure, there’s the typical cheesy romance as she bumps into the men that will eventually become Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård, and it’s fairly dull to see, however the fact remains that as a nostalgic piece about a young woman letting herself free, this movie works like a dream.
Throughout, the music is fairly jarring – an unfortunate characteristic of the jukebox musical – although the dance choreography is a lot more enjoyable this time round, with a bit more of a playful attitude to the various musical numbers, while the film’s cinematography is actually rather striking and bold, bathing every scene in a beautiful sun-drenched tone that really adds to the atmosphere well.
But above all, what’s best about this whole film is the lead performance from Lily James. This is arguably her biggest lead role up to this point, but not only does James lead the film confidently and stylishly, but absolutely owns every second, with a performance full of life, joy and energy, bringing far more entertainment value than Meryl Streep was able to last time out, and brilliantly bringing her character to life in a vibrant and immensely likable manner.
In general, the film’s role as a prequel is what makes it ultimately a far more enjoyable watch, however with Lily James, I feel that the whole affair would have been lost, and it’s her genuinely fantastic performance that really made me enjoy a movie that I was expecting to despise from the start, something that I was consistently impressed by from beginning to end.
Overall, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is the very definition of a mixed bag. On the one hand, half of its story is tedious, cheesy, predictable and rather empty, failing to build on what little the last film established, and making for a generally underwhelming watch. However, its prequel story, comprising the other half of the movie, is genuinely brilliant; full of energy and joy from start to finish, as well as one of the most surprisingly impressive performances I’ve seen all year.
In short, if you liked the last movie, you’ll surely love this one, and if you loathed it before, then there is some real light to make even the biggest haters enjoy themselves, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.4.