It should come as no surprise that I utterly despised 2008’s Mamma Mia!, rightly considering it a saccharine extravaganza of multi-coloured vapidity. It shouldn’t come as a shock, then, that I also disliked the ten-years-later sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the subtitle of which I said aloud while rolling my eyes at least twice through its tortuous 114-minute runtime.
Yes, before you start, I know this shit isn’t for me. But my argument is that these ridiculous karaoke musicals shouldn’t be for anyone. It’s difficult enough to make a musical that has the good sense and integrity to write its own songs; Mamma Mia! had the ungodly task of writing a watered-down soap opera that could somehow incorporate two-dozen ABBA tracks that weren’t anything to do with it. Didn’t work, obviously, but then again how can it? Hiring Meryl Streep doesn’t hurt, but even she can’t salvage a love story that occasionally slips into a weird pocket dimension where everyone – including random extras – bursts into stagily-choreographed song-and-dance numbers. And the less said about Pierce Brosnan’s singing the better.
Nevertheless, here we are, back on the made-up Greek island of Kalokairi, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is preparing for the grand reopening of the recently-renamed bed and breakfast left to her by her late mother, Donna (Streep). Immediately we have a problem. Streep’s character, featured so heavily in this film’s marketing and in nostalgic remembrances of the last one, has snuffed it off-screen. You’ll have to do without her, I’m afraid; she’s barely in it. And don’t hold out hope that she’ll return as a ghost for a climactic duet – no movie, even Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, could possibly be that ridiculous.
Things aren’t going particularly well for Sophie. Her mum’s dead. Her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper) is being strained by a big job offer in New York. Two of her three fathers, Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), are otherwise indisposed, leaving only Sam (Brosnan), who married Donna at the end of the previous movie and never left the island. Sophie knows that this inevitably means he’ll do more singing. (He does.)
Luckily, although I suppose it depends who you ask quite how lucky this is, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is both a sequel and a prequel, devoting plenty of time to a young Donna (Lily James) as a carefree flower child who arrives on the fictional island and beds any handsome man in the general vicinity, including the young versions of Bill (Josh Dylan), Sam (Jeremy Irvine), and Harry (Hugh Skinner). Writer-director Ol Parker might have turned this into a riotous empowerment fantasy had he any sense of eroticism, excitement or, indeed, any semblance of directorial style, but unfortunately Ol Parker has none of these things.
The time-hopping also includes Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), who will eventually grow up into Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, and everyone involved will be made to sing ABBA songs which visibly make them miserable and which make me contemplate a killing spree that begins with Pierce Brosnan and ends with myself. Unless I’m being sarcastic, of course, which is a possibility we should probably consider.
As for those songs, some – “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” “Mamma Mia,” – are shamelessly recycled from the first film, and the rest are plucked from the lesser-known bits of ABBA’s catalogue, which is another downside of a karaoke musical that has the sheer gall to venture into sequel territory. Most of ABBA’s lesser-known hits are lesser-known because they’re rubbish, and even harder to cram into a narrative. This leads to the extraordinarily odd scenario of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again being both a slightly better film but a much worse musical than Mamma Mia!, neither of which were accomplishments I thought were possible.