It’s been ten years since Mamma Mia! danced its way into our hearts: a full decade since Meryl Streep donned a pair of overalls to sing Money, Money, Money while fixing paving slaps in a Greek island resort; since former 007 Pierce Brosnan, standing on a lonely hilltop, tore his way through SOS with all the well-meaning pathos - and total disregard for tune - of a dad at a wedding disco. Appropriate, really, given that the two words to best tie together Mamma Mia!’s tenuous iPod-set-to-shuffle plot are ‘dads’ (always plural) and ‘wedding’ (the third word would, of course, be ‘ABBA’). It was objectively terrible, it was utterly joyful, and it managed to raise the best part of £70 million at the box office. But did we really need any more?
When it comes to lucrative sequels, the phrase ‘here we go again’ is one you’ll hear critics utter with a sense of déjà vu and a cynical eye roll. For Mamma Mia! 2, it’s actually the film’s subtitle, so the potential for an own goal is huge. But that brilliantly brazen move just encapsulates everything that's great about this second act: yes, it re-treads everything you loved (or loathed) about the first film, but does so with a constantly arched eyebrow. There’s a sense of self-awareness to Here We Go Again that means everyone is in on this joke, amiably poking fun at the film’s expense. Meta and feta, you might say.
The curtain opens on Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie (still the standout singer in an often vocally-challenged cast) as she prepares to relaunch the hotel her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) toiled over in the first movie. As you’ve probably gleaned from the trailers, Donna is sadly absent and Sophie must fend for herself, helped out only by her hotel manager, the conveniently Latin-American Senor Cienfuegos (can you guess his first name? Or should I say, can you hear the drums?). At the same time, she’s got a transatlantic relationship to maintain with her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper). The Mamma Mia! extended universe is, of course, dictated by the discography of ABBA (this time around, the hits are more Silver than Gold, though a handful of favourites are reprised with gusto). This means that Sophie and Sky have to break up, because sad-banger One Of Us is one of the few songs the producers haven’t used up yet.
Though her beachy waves remain impeccable, Sophie is pensive, and her thoughts keep returning to her mother: what actually happened in the 'last summer' that Colin Firth dolefully recalled through song in the last film? Because Here We Go Again is both sequel and prequel, we soon find out. Lily James has the unenviable task of portraying Streep's character as a young woman in these flashback sequences: not only does she have the beachy waves required to plausibly play Seyfried's mother, she also boasts a great voice and is clearly having (for want of a better phrase) the time of her life in the role. We follow young Donna as she meets each of Sophie's three potential fathers, younger analogues for the holy trinity of Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. (A moment, please, for the casting director that let the hapless intern from W1A play a young Colin Firth). As we know from last time, she also sleeps with each of them, and in a strange turn of events, Here We Go Again might just be the most sex-positive film you see this summer (albeit it in a distinctly PG way). If this was Love Island, not Kalokairi, Donna would probably be vilified; in an ABBA movie musical, there’s no judgement: three potential dads just means bigger dance sequences.
There are plenty of attempts to top the first film’s record for truly bizarre musical set pieces. Where Mamma Mia! had hundreds of men in snorkelling gear dancing on a jetty to Lay All Your Love On Me, the sequel has a Waterloo set-piece taking place in a Napoleon-themed restaurant, complete with baguette-based air guitar; any film that names a minor character Fernando purely so that Cher can arrive on a helicopter to sing that song surely deserves a place in the canon of camp. The same self-awareness brings us some of the film’s best lines. In one of the flashback sequences, the younger version of Christine Baranski’s wine-toting sidekick breaks the fourth wall as she spots yet another of Donna’s photogenic suitors, asking the (yes, largely female) audience ‘What kind of island IS this?’
So, do we need a Mamma Mia! sequel? The answer to that question will always be contingent upon your personal tolerance for the back catalogue of a certain Swedish pop group. But if you’re prepared to suspend your cynicism for two sun-soaked hours, Here We Go Again is a delight, best enjoyed with irony, a full heart and a series of wine glasses as huge as those that Christine Baranski’s Tanya totes around.
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