Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, and Amanda Seyfried in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Christine Baranski, Julie Walters & Amanda Seyfried in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again © Universal Pictures

Full of love, life and song, MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN outshines the original in almost every way

It’s been a decade since the original MAMMA MIA! hit cinema screens. The 2008 musical rom-com, based on the 1999 musical of the same name, fast became a fan favourite grossing $615 million at the box office to become the fifth highest-grossing film of 2008. No surprise then that due to the financial success of the first film, Universal Pictures decided to release a sequel, albeit 10 years later.

Set five years after the events of MAMMA MIA! (2008), MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN follows Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she anxiously prepares for the opening night of the renovation on Donna’s old Greek seaside hotel, one year after her mother’s death. As the guests arrive, the film bounces back and forth between the present and 1979 as a young Donna (Lily James) graduates and sets out to find her place in the world. Meanwhile, back in present day, Sophie harbours a secret of her own.

Full of love, life and song, MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN in many ways, outshines the original. Everything about this production, from the cinematography and production design to the singing and choreography, is vastly improved. Add in a fresh story with plenty more melodrama and a host of ABBA songs missing from the first film and you’re onto a winner.

It’s a tough start for the first twenty minutes or so as we catch up with Sophie who, let’s face it, isn’t in the best place. With her mother gone and her three fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth) all dealing with their grief in various ways, the opening isn’t quite the light-hearted fun-loving sequence we’re used to. Thankfully though, it isn’t long before we’re back on a high.

Lily James in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Lily James in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) © Universal Pictures

Much of the joy in MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN comes from Lily James’ performance as young Donna. Lighting up the screen with fire, passion and carefree charm, James perfectly matches Meryl Streep in her approach of the character, the first flashback establishing Donna as a free spirit from the get go as she sheds her Oxford University’s graduation robes to deliver a spirited rendition of WHEN I KISSED THE TEACHER with fellow Dynamos Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan).

For the present day scenes, most of the cast make a welcome return including Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth as Sophie’s possible fathers, as well as Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Tanya and Rosie. But it is the young cast that truly shine here with Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner all delivering funny and charming performances as the younger Sam, Bill and Harry.

Of course, the real appeal is the music and while some of the songs used here are lesser known ABBA numbers, there’s also plenty of well-known hits including a lovely rendition of WATERLOO and KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU. It is here that writer/director Ol Parker comes into his own, incorporating the music into the story in a much more organic way with a marked improvement in both script and direction throughout. The large action dance scenes are especially fun to watch, with DANCING QUEEN, WATERLOO and SUPER TROUPER, in particular, standing out.

Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2008)

Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2008) © Universal Pictures

Like the original film, the plot is a little weak at times and the nature of the dual timeline means many of the older actors are reduced to playing glorified cameos, as the main body is shouldered by the younger cast. I was also disappointed to hear that, with the exception of Seyfried and James, the actors’ singing is also frequently buried in the sound mix. Clearly, this decision was to mask some of dodgy vocal deliveries heard in the original but for me, that is part of the film’s charm.

That said, there are flashes of brilliance, particularly the casting of Cher as Sophie’s maternal grandmother Ruby Sheridan, who comes close to stealing the show with her fabulous duet of FERNANDO with Andy Garcia.

But the best is saved for last as Meryl Streep makes an emotional return as Donna, with her heart-breaking performance of MY LOVE, MY LIFE ensuring that this easy, breezy and slightly cheesy film stays with you for far longer than you might expect.

Once again, its times to dance, jive and have the time of your life!

3.5 out of 5 stars

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is in UK cinemas from 20 July 2018