Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Dir: Ol Parker

I’m a little sad to say this sequel is really not very good at all. I didn’t particularly love the first one, in all honesty, I watched it somewhat ironically with a friend but it was entertaining enough for my self-imposed irony to largely wear off by the end. Not so with this sequel, it feels like someone asked for a basic idea for a lucrative sequel and then put that first draft into production with no adjustments.

Serving as both a prequel and sequel simultaneously, this film follows Donna’s (Meryl Streep) daughter Sophie reopening the hotel after her death, while also expanding on how Donna came to the island and acquired a trio of lovers. 

If you take away the foundation of the first film’s (and stage musical’s) story and the music of ABBA, this film would be empty, the shallowest pit of underdeveloped narrative and character I’ve had the misfortune of seeing in a very long time. Neither narrative not character were the strongest points of the first film, but it had ABBA’s greatest hits, and the one and only Meryl Streep. Without those treasures to rely on, this needed to bring more of the basic fundamentals of a good film to the rescue, yet they’re also conspicuously absent. 

There was an opportunity to develop the backstory of Meryl Streep’s Donna in a way that would build on the first film and add to the character meaningfully. Sadly that doesn’t really happen. I didn’t think anything in this film added to my appreciation of the character from the first much at all, it almost undermined the idea of a strong independent single mother who’d raised her daughter and built her business, I like Lilly James but I couldn’t say I much cared for young Donna. 

I understand the dilemma, they have to make the difficult and unavoidable choice to either use ABBA’s less popular songs that only the biggest fans will know and appreciate, or reuse some hits from the first film, yet for some reason, they do both, as if that’d mitigate the issue. There are at least 5 songs brought back from the first film, because “you’ve got to play the hits”. Then, there are an equal number of songs that I had never heard before in my life until I saw this film. 

Lily James is great casting as young Donna (or young Meryl Streep if you prefer to think of it that way) and her singing voice is lovely, she’s Lily James, everything about her is lovely, but the character as presented feels so superficial and didn’t do anything much to showcase James’ acting abilities. Cher is also great casting and it’s obvious that they were incredibly pleased to have nabbed her for the role. From both a musical and acting perspective she’s a brilliant choice, a huge draw for their target demographic, but once she appears it’s impossible to ignore the fact that her extensive plastic surgery means her face shows so little emotion the character comes across as cold even when the whole point is that she’s meant to be turning over a new warmer leaf.

Costing a bit more than the first film to make, this took nearly half the amount at the box office, though still providing huge returns on the investment as the production cost was very modest by modern blockbuster standards. If it weren’t for the huge success of the first film and the appeal of ABBA, this film’s foundations would be savaged, the story is endlessly contrived and underdeveloped. Audiences largely knew what they’d be getting, and it delivers on the campy musical promise, but doesn’t even attempt to offer much of a story beyond unnecessarily ‘fleshing out’ the specific details referred to in the first. It has nearly nothing to offer someone who hasn’t seen the first film and isn’t a die-hard fan of ABBA, except the performances of some superb actresses, and sadly, that’s not enough to make this remotely rewatchable for me. 

An inevitable third film is in production. Based on the box office returns of the first two it’s no surprise they’d want to make another, though it’s not coming from a creative perspective because there are complex characters whose depths need further exploration, it’ll just be to continue the predictable story arc. I can with complete certainty predict the tale they’re going to tell, another simultaneous prequel and sequel, showing how Sophie handles being a new mother intercut with the comparable experience of Donna raising Sophie. They’ll throw a huge amount of money at Meryl to get her to appear again for added legitimacy, though in this film she’s little more than a cameo, and now that the younger version of the character is established a cameo may be sufficient, providing Lily James does return. 

As to what songs they’ll use, maybe you can guess a few, but the rest will be mere padding, apparently including newly written songs for the band’s reunion, thereby further losing what covered over the cracks in the first film and plugged gaping holes in this second, the well-known and beloved ABBA hits. Trading on the huge popularity of the franchise so far it’ll likely be a success financially but difficult to make anything but a dismal failure creatively. 

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