Director: Ol Parker
Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper with Andy Garcia and Cher
Plot: As Sophie (Seyfried) tries to reopen her mother’s villa, she draws strength from her mother’s (James) past.
Mamma Mia is the sort of sequel that, before it can even start being reviewed, needs to get past the fact that it is a largely unnecessary follow-up. The original was a popular musical, written for the stage, which the sequel is not. And this film is split right down the middle as both a prequel and a sequel. While the sequel part of the story shows new material, as Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie struggles with reopening the villa, the prequel elements are largely showing us stuff we already knew. Donna went travelling and slept with three men in a short space of time, while discovering the beautiful Greece and giving birth to Sophie.
However, perhaps, once the film has gotten over these two painful facts, it can be argued that Ol Parker’s film is a lot freer. The first Mamma Mia was shackled to the theatre production, which eventually weighed the story down into an awkward mess. However with no stage-play that needs converting for the big screen, it feels that Ol Parker can take the story and the characters wherever he feels they should go. This definitely helps keep certain story beats flowing. A few mistakes have been corrected since the last film. Actors are now given time to breathe in between the flashy musical numbers. Pierce Brosnan, always threatening to derail the last film with his abysmal singing, is allowed to handle a more dramatic script, where he can actually become a character. It means that almost everyone is fleshed out that little bit more. Ol Parker also manages to turn the film’s biggest weakness into its greatest strength. The big joke pointed at the sequel when it was first announced was that all the good ABBA songs had been used up. However, in being forced to dive into the back catalogue, selecting songs no one has ever heard of, Parker actually creates a more natural musical. Now he doesn’t have to cram the mandatory popular songs, such as ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ into the film, his choices of soundtrack feel more fluid, more natural. While there are certain awkward moments where a song is dropped into the mix for no more reason than the writers really liked the song, for the most part, the music feels natural. That being said, the film isn’t free of its cheesy origins. Mamma Mia is a film that keeps dropping silly mistakes into the mix that hinder it from being as good as the fans want it to be. A character’s existence in the plot is literally just to a punchline in the final act. Pierce Brosnan looks at crystal clear 4K photographs of Donna that he took in 1979. Perhaps the biggest clanger of a mistake is the fleshing out of Alexa Davies, younger version of Julie Walters character. While Davies adds precious comedy to the mix, on closer inspection you can tell that no one really thought about her character too much. In the end of the last film, Walters awkwardly chased Stellan Skarsgard around a party, until he somehow fell in love with (#flirting!) It was just another naff plot point, but it didn’t feel strange for two reasons. One, the entire film was naff, so what was one more bad scene? And being a romantic comedy, it made sense that everyone needed to couple up at the end. However, with Here We Go Again, it is revealed that Donna’s best friend actually harboured a long-suffering crush with Skarsgard from 1979, turning her funny best friend character into a bitter boyfriend-thief. It adds a slightly creepy undertone to the character that isn’t really needed.
Thankfully, Lily James is on hand to cover up any misguided narrative beats. Any actress would be terrified of following up the incredible Meryl Streep to any role, but James dives in with her game face on. It helps that it was a rare duff note from Streep, but that undersells how much work Lily James puts into the performance. It is the energy she injects into every scene that lands the role. Mamma Mia is an awkwardly cheesy type of film that can swallow up most actors. For example, Andy Garcia looks out of place, because he doesn’t really work for the genre. Lily James, on the other hand, thrives in this setting. Her character is a tough one to get right, because her story arc sees her sleep with three relative strangers in a short space of time. In the original, it was easy to breeze over, because it was just exposition. Here, we need to witness it and still keep the image of this strong character intact. Strong writing and keen performances make this possible. Donna never feels promiscuous in the hands of Lily James, rather all three relationships coming across as natural bonding. The male actors have strong chemistry with her, musical numbers making it impossible not to fall for them. Lily James has always been an actress on the verge of a break-through, but has not really had a movie that can give that to her. Hopefully Mamma Mia 2 will help her grab that much needed role, as it proves that the girl is definitely good for it.
In conclusion, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is much better than the first. Granted, it was a low bar to reach, but the truth is that the sequel is a much smoother beast. Clunky in places, but infectious fun in others. And it manages to sneak in Cher, a Titanic reference and commentary on the current Greek financial status…
Final Verdict: A definite improvement on the first, Mamma Mia’s sequel thrives. And Lily James is an official Super Trooper.