Director: Ol Parker
Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Cher, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Meryl Streep
Despite originally forming in 1972 and disbanding (for the first time) in 1982, ABBA are still one of the most popular and well-known groups the world has ever known. Since winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, their many, many catchy hits have never waned in popularity. As if to prove this, 1999 saw their music forever harnessed in the form of a stage musical, Mamma Mia!, which went on to become one of the most successful musicals of all time. It still plays in London’s West End and in numerous countries across the world. Following its success, Mamma Mia! was adapted into a film in 2008, taking on further critical, commercial and financial success. Finally, we arrive at 2018, with a sequel to the 2008 film, smartly titled as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. With the first movie being such a hit with fans, and finding new fans for ABBA’s music, Here We Go Again has big, sparkly and chunky boots to fill. Is it a success in its own right, or is it just a continuation of something that’s better left in the last century?
Preceded by a new lengthy and exciting trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, the upcoming Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic, Here We Go Again picks up five years after the events of Mamma Mia!. Sophie (Seyfried) has just finished refurbishing her hotel on the Greek island of Kalokairi, originally owned by her mother, Donna (Streep), who passed away a year before. Sophie is preparing for a big party to celebrate the grand reopening of the hotel she has christened Bella Donna, after her mother. In the process, she reminisces about Donna and hears stories from those who knew her, such as Donna’s two best friends, Tanya (Baranski) and Rosie (Walters), Sophie’s step-father and possible biological father, Sam (Brosnan), and Sophie’s two other possible biological fathers, Harry (Firth) and Bill (Skarsgård). From her university graduation to meeting Harry, Bill and Sam and right up to the birth of Sophie, the life of a young Donna (James) is shown in lengthy flashbacks, also featuring younger versions of all the adults in Sophie’s life.
Story-wise, Here We Go Again is unusual, but in a good way. The structure doesn’t exactly follow the three-act rules. This could be partially down to the fact that Richard Curtis (yes, he of Notting Hill, Love Actually and Four Weddings) was on the writing and producing teams. There’s nothing particularly at stake (whether or not the party for the reopening will go ahead following a vicious storm doesn’t really count as it’s dealt with pretty swiftly) and thanks to the previous film we already know the basics of what happened to Donna when she came to Kalokairi and fell pregnant. What this film does instead is indulge its audience in more of what they love and have come for: the characters and the tunes. With more real laugh-out-loud humour and incredibly strong performances, any kind of plot doesn’t need to be front and centre: mixing certain songs with already emotional scenes provides audiences with everything they need in order to to invest. Even the most stone-hearted of people will see some cracks appear watching this musical.
The soundtrack is a welcome mixture of well-known and lesser-known songs, particularly Andante Andante, which was released only in El Salvador and Argentina. Some songs which featured in the first film (Dancing Queen, Waterloo, I Have A Dream, amongst others) have a reprisal here, which may seem repetitive but frankly, who gives a damn, they are fantastic songs and used once again to great effect. If they don’t make you want to get up and sing and dance or affect something inside you, then you mustn’t be watching the film properly (or maybe you’re dead inside… no judgement here). With cameos from original ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and the entire cast coming together for another Super Trouper singalong at the end, fourth walls are broken but it’s just a reminder of how fun ABBA’s music and Mamma Mia! is; it’s a way of getting everyone, audiences included, to join in.
As previously mentioned, the performances are spectacular. Lily James excels herself in a role that is one of the most perfectly suited to her since Cinderella, a film in which she was able to briefly showcase that she has some pipes. She does a great job of doing slight imitations of Meryl Streep whilst bringing her own personality to the role of a young Donna. Playing an American is also perfect for James, again proven in her role as Debora in Baby Driver, as she often plays her characters a little over the top, which is more of an American thing than the more subtle British way of performing. Amanda Seyfried seems to be the opposite – in Mamma Mia! Sophie was a little more over the top, but it seems with age she has calmed down and become more likable. Seyfried’s vocals have also improved exponentially, making her performances softer and easier to listen to. Baranski and Walters are just as hilarious, if not more so, than their first outings as Tanya and Rosie, and Keenan Wynn and Davies as their younger counterparts are absolutely spot in. The same goes for Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgård, with Brosnan in particular being a surprising standout. His vocals are still a struggle to listen to, however he brings a lot of heart to every scene he’s in. Again, their three younger counterparts, Irvine, Dylan and Skinner, immerse themselves in perfect twenty-something versions of Sophie’s three potential fathers, with Skinner in particular coming across as an incredibly endearing young Harry. In her fairly small part as Sophie’s grandmother Ruby, Cher is absolutely wonderful, and Andy Garcia as Fernando is the perfect on-screen compliment to Cher. Dominic Cooper reprises his role as Sophie’s partner, Sky, though he’s not often seen, and although Streep hardly appears, you can still feel her presence throughout, which is a credit to both the filmmakers and her performance in Mamma Mia!.
In comparison to its predecessor, Here We Go Again surpasses Mamma Mia! in just about every way, which was completely unexpected. Even its Greek setting (though it was actually filmed in Croatia) seems that much more beautiful. It’s touching, it’s fun, it’s happy, it’s sad; you’ll smile, you’ll laugh, you’ll well up, you’ll want to sing along, all numerous times; it has just about everything you could possibly want from a piece of entertainment. If musicals and/or films with heightened emotion are your thing, you will absolutely love it. If musicals and/or emotions aren’t really your thing, you may not enjoy how over the top it can be, but there’s a firm belief that it has something for everyone. Two hours absolutely fly by, and you may even find yourself not wanting it to end, in which case, a second and third viewing is highly recommended, particularly if you ever find yourself having a bad day/week/month. You’ll leave with a fire in your soul that only ABBA could ignite.