'Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again' Review: A Delightful Miracle Of A Sequel

If I didn't know any better, I would say that the Mamma Mia movies are in a genre of their own. There's no real reason for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to exist — it feels improbable that it exists at all, as a prequel-sequel of a movie spawned from a musical spawned from the songs of a Swedish pop group. It has no real stakes, next to no story, and barely any connective tissue holding it together. Even the trailers were baffling, as Meryl Streep's conspicuous absence from them begged the question of whether or not Donna had kicked the bucket between Mamma Mias one and two.

But it hardly matters. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, directed by Ol Parker (Imagine Me & You, both Exotic Marigold Hotel movies), is a complete delight. I laughed, I gasped, and I cried, as did the entire screening audience I watched the film with. How many other films can boast that kind of a balancing act?

Here We Go Again is essentially an invitation to have a good time. The movie drags at times — at no fault of the direction or the tremendously charming cast, rather a symptom of how difficult it is to sustain tension through an entire song when you've exhausted the number of surfaces you can dance on — but any restless itch will be a faded memory by the time the next number kicks in. And even the biggest cynic likely won't be able to deny the sheer magic of Cher helicoptering in for a rendition of "Fernando."

To backtrack a bit, the second Mamma Mia follows Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she turns her dearly departed mother's villa into a hotel. As she struggles with her grief and the absence of her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), a counter storyline starts to weave through the narrative, this one following the young Donna (Lily James) as she meets each of Sophie's three dads, played in their younger iterations by Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan. We know, of course, that all of them will eventually be back in Donna's (as well as Sophie's) life, thereby severely undercutting any dramatic tension, but you don't come to Mamma Mia for angst.

That isn't to say that the film doesn't have its share of emotional moments. By nature of having Donna out of the picture (mostly, anyway), there's a thread of bittersweetness that runs through the film, particularly towards the ending, which successfully spins together the unironically saccharine quality of ABBA's music and the overall sweetness of the Mamma Mia movies to land a punch. This is a series about mothers and daughters, after all — well, family on the whole, but let's not kid ourselves — it's hard not to get a little teary-eyed. 

It's an impressive feat for a movie that could easily be dismissed as a trifle, and I get the feeling that it would still be a joy even if the plot were abandoned completely. Such is the power of the cast, who are either having such a good time or so committed to making sure that the audience is that it's guilt-inducing to describe the film as a guilty pleasure. Why be guilty about it? The movie wears its heart on its sleeve; we might as well, too.

Despite the fact that Cher pretty much steals the show (it's not entirely fair to the rest of the cast — who sing gamely enough — to fly Cher in; the effect she has on the film is to make it seem like an hour and a half lead-up to a Cher concert), credit is due to Lily James, who seems to have figured out how to channel all the rays of the sun. Though she bears no resemblance to Streep, it — like so much else in these movies, including the passage of time (Cher is supposed to be Streep's mother, despite being only three years older) — doesn't matter. She's a force of nature, which is what any woman who would spontaneously come up with songs like "Dancing Queen" would have to be. As the other two parts of Donna and the Dynamos, Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn are also terrific as the young Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, respectively. (Keenan Wynn in particular is so dialed into Baranski's mannerisms and the way she speaks as to merit a few double-takes.) 

And, of course, God bless the dads. Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård are all back. They are once again mostly kept from singing, though it arguably makes it all the more delightful when they do. They also seem to have been given the most license to josh around, as per a Titanic gag and the looks on their faces in every dance number they pop up in, and they're joined this time around by Andy Garcia as the manager of Sophie's hotel. Garcia is giving one of the archest performances of them all, leaning directly into the way his character — named Fernando, you do the math — is written to be everyone's romantic summer fantasy.

I can't think of any other franchise (or movie, singular) that can quite lay claim to simultaneously being everything and nothing in quite the same way. Aided by ABBA and Cher, Parker has pulled off a minor miracle. I don't think the franchise quite has the juice left for a third outing (unless it's just a Cher concert with Andy Garcia scenes sprinkled in), but thank God for this one.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10