This review contains a mild spoiler for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a prequel and a sequel. It’s hotly anticipated but risky, as this sequel to a very popular musical romantic comedy (that grossed over $600 million worldwide) kicks off with a reveal that could ruin the movie for its many loyal fans. But then it does something truly shocking. It transcends your expectations and makes you wonder what you really wanted this sequel to be. And it remembers to be a good movie.
In the opening moments of Here We Go Again, we learn that heroine Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) has passed away a year ago. Since then, her daughter Sophie has built a new hotel on the grounds of her inn, as a tribute to her mother. In the present day, we follow her as she prepares for the hotel’s grand re-opening celebration. The film shares a simultaneous flashback structure that shows 1979 Donna, brought to life exuberantly by Lily James, as she settles on the fictional Greek island of Kalokari, meets Sophie’s three possible fathers and unwittingly forges relationships that last a lifetime.
The young versions of every cast member are arguably the people doing the heaviest lifting here. James is the real reason to see this movie. She encapsulates the eternal ‘70s flower child. She’s a living, breathing, singing beam of sunshine. Jessica Keenan Wynn, as the young Christine Baranski, Alexa Davies as the young Julie Walters, are both so good, almost identical to their counterparts. Baranski and Walters are also a lot funnier this time and have great one-liners. Amanda Seyfried also shows growth as an actress and a singer. While she was the effervescent carefree girl in the first movie, now she has more on her mind. Sophie’s hardened and is stronger than she was before because she’s had to be. Seyfried is up to the challenge of personifying that.
And then we have Cher. Cher as Sophie’s grandmother. She arrives late in the game, but when she arrives, she arrives! She brings so much to the movie, and she isn’t in much of it. You leave this movie hoping that a potential third part revolves solely around Cher and her character’s backstory. They could make this work again, a half prequel-half sequel, and have it be all about this backstory. Her rendition of the song “Fernando” is undoubtedly one of the movie’s highlights. You walk out humming that song. And those lyrics tell a story. A whole movie could be built around them.
First time director Ol Parker, who wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, does an excellent job here. A sequel that barely includes the original’s biggest star could be alienating to fans. Not only that, but it could be a true piece of garbage. Here We Go Again makes you wonder what the story would even be if not this. Mamma Mia has always, at its core, been a story about mothers and daughters, and the enduring power of familial love. The reason these movies exist is encapsulated in the final, gently heartbreaking musical number. But of course, we have a joyous dance-in-the-aisles curtain call to send the audience off with a smile.
In the end, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, against all odds, is an absolutely delightful time at the movies. It isn’t trying to win any awards, and not every moment feels polished and meticulously planned. But these are movies that know what they are and what they want to do. While there are plenty of inconsistencies with the original, you leave wanting to see another Mamma Mia! movie. It’s a hoot to watch brilliant actors letting loose and having fun for a few hours, and in the overcrowded summer landscape of superhero movies, this might be just what the world needs.