There was nothing 13 year old Greyson wanted more than for school to be out for summer and July to roll around so he could see the major motion picture event known as Mamma Mia!. I say major motion picture event because it had everything young Greyson could want in a movie; singing, dancing, beautiful locations and of course (all hail) Meryl Streep. Three times in theaters, Greyson couldn't help but feel like he contributed to making it one of the highest grossing musical movies ever (and still is in the top 10). Needless to say, I was obsessed.
Rumors of a sequel to the over-the-top musical began almost immediately following its release, but nothing was definite until the news broke in Spring of 2017 and I guess you could say I was hesitant. Building upon originals that I already love never strike me with excitement and confidence (cough cough Pitch Perfect cough cough). But the ABBA songbook is so expansive and if they got the original cast back, I'm sure you couldn't really go too far off the beaten path the original stage musical set. Oh boy, was I wrong.
Despite getting the entire original cast back, a difficult feat with a gap of 10 years and the cast being top notch/in demand actors, all hopes that a sequel could successfully build upon the complicated family triangle (pentagon?) that we all fell in love with were shattered when we learned our beloved Donna Sheridan, MERYL F-ING STREEP would be killed off. When the trailer dropped, my excitement only continued to decrease with expectations of insurmountable cheese, lack of story/character development and missed opportunity. As much as I love being right, there are many circumstances I hope I'm wrong, but unfortunately Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was not one of those times.
A year since the death of the dancing queen herself, Donna (played by DMAA winner Meryl Streep), the girl with three fathers, Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) has worked, alongside 1/3 dad and stepdad Sam (played by Pierce Brosnan) to renovate and reopen Villa Donna. Longtime backup girls (backup girls, my ass!), Tanya (played by DMAA nominee Chrsitine Baranski) and Rosie (played by Julie Walters) arrive on the island to support Sophie in her new endeavor, while the other 2/3 of her dads, Bill (played by Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (played by Colin Firth), and her husband, Sky (played by Dominic Cooper) have other commitments preventing them from being there for Sophie. With so much on her plate, Sophie wonders how Donna did all she accomplished before her, and we flashback to Young Donna (played by Lily James) graduating college with Young Tanya (played by Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Young Rosie (played by Alexa Davies).
Revisiting all these characters and the actors who portray them does hit you with a twinge of nostalgia, but then they start to recite the severely underdeveloped script and predictable dialogue, you just start to feel bad for them. The performances from all original stars, while enjoyable due to the actors ability to step back into their roles, can only go so far with a script that doesn't further their character development, but rather sides with cheesy sentiment and overused romantic obstacles. While it appears everyone had fun filming the sequel, there is a constant air that the original cast did not want to be there. Baranski, Walters and Firth are among the most memorable of the original cast with authentic comedy that was obviously created by their skill, rather than brought off the page.
Refusing to go home to her absent, wannabe star mother, Donna sets off on a European adventure with a destination of Kalokairi. Upon her arrival in each new place, she coincidentally meets all three of our shared-dads-to-be. In Paris, we meet eager, awkward, virgin Young Harry (played by Hugh Skinner) and are subjected to an extremely busy rendition of "Waterloo". When Young Donna misses the last ferry to Kalokairi, dashing, confident, player Young Bill (played by Josh Dylan) is all too prepared to help Donna out. Then when a storm hits the island and Young Donna finds a horse trapped in a barn, she just so happens to stumble across emotionally-torn Young Sam (played by Jeremy Irvine) riding up on a motorcycle to help her calm the horse.
The new cast of "Young" people have all the energy you could wish for, but sadly only adds to the exaggeration of the film. James, who's strong vocals help carry the film, tries a bit too hard to exude the chill, layed-back attitude and physicality Streep brought to the role in the first movie. It is really Wynn and Davies as Young Tanya and Rosie that steal the prequel scenes with their precise embodiment of the characters. The similarities are even obvious in the credits dance-party sequence when original and prequel actors dance with their mini-mes. The remaining Young dads are all equally charming in their portrayals, but don't go far beyond their charisma due to the lack of character development. We don't get any inclinations of Harry being gay (as we learned in the first movie), Bill is apparently now a playboy/cheater, and Sam is just a regular guy who falls in love very, very quickly.
As emotions fly in the prequel story and it's cloudy with a chance of pregnancy, back in the present, one thing after another goes wrong with Sophie's grand re-opening, but with the love and support of her family, she begins to understand that even though Donna was single mother, she was never alone. And upon the announcement of her own pregnancy, Sophie's grandmother/Donna's mother (lol), Ruby (played by Cher) arrives via helicopter to be the self-centered villain she was set up to be? Nope, just to say she's finally going to be there for Sophie and sing a song with her ex-lover. Then all of a sudden...flash forward nine months later, when little Sophie-Sky is born. In the best number of the whole movie, we FINALLY get Donna (as a ghost) who will strike you down with all the feels before the movie unsatisfying ends.
Yep, that's right. Cher is in about two and a half scenes and Meryl is only in the last scene as a muh-f-ing ghost. So let's get this straight; you got THE bff queens together in their first credited movie since 1983 and completely don't utilize them, but rather sneak them in at the end? This is just one of the many examples why Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again fails to add upon the musical story and rather assaults you with overwhelming musical numbers and a script with as much depth and development as a Freeform original movie. Clearly from the multiple times I've written it, the lack of story and character development that is the primary downfall of the film. We do not learn anything we didn't know from the first movie or see any character's change for better or worse in the five years since we've seen them. And plot points introduced in the first film are completely ignored, such as Donna's mother being dead and conservative, but is now alive and a diva. Or Sofia, Bill's great aunt who Donna happened to look after when Sophie was young, but is now a bar worker who takes a liking to Donna. And I can't even talk about how we're supposed to accept that Cher is Meryl's mother, I mean come on!
*eye roll* The musical numbers. Remember "Money, Money, Money" in the first movie which was the most ridiculous, over-done number of the entire movie? Well, we get that in nearly every number in Here We Go Again. It was almost as if director Ol Parker was afraid to just have people singing on screen, so he needed to fill every verse and chorus with activity. Never in my life have I seen a movie with so many match-cuts and never have I watched a musical where nearly every time a new song started I thought "do we really have to sing again?" While I can handle a decent amount of cheese, I think I am now lactose intolerant due to the extent of cheese Here We Go Again has to offer. Thank god we get the final number "My Love, My Life" which freshens our pallet and reminds us that when people burst into song in a musical, it serves a purpose.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again met every expectation I had going into the theater, which in this case is not a good thing. I do commend the lightness of the film, for it is solely an escape and if you can handle copious amounts of cheese, you will have a fun time at the movies. But it by no means surpasses the original and it's sad that with literally everything in its favor, the sequel failed meet the potential it had to make a movie beyond more than entertainment value.
Richard Curtis (story by)
Catherine Johnson (story by)
Meryl Streep (DMAA winner)
Jessica Keenan Wynn