After seeing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again I immediately went home, fired up the Netflix machine and pressed play on the 2008 original, which through the lens of this sequel is a far superior and much more fun extension of the blockbuster stage musical. It does not say a lot about Here We Go Again that the original Mamma Mia! is a great movie in comparison. Some blatant plot holes can be forgiven for the sake of fun (ie, in the first movie Donna strongly implies that her mother has passed away but yet here is Cher on Sophie’s door step as her long lost grandmother) but overall the movie just kind of happens in front of you, nothing about the singing and dancing - this is a musical after all – or the storyline makes any kind of argument for this movie’s existence.
What the original movie lacked in polish it more than made up for with pure, unadulterated fun. Here We Go Again strikes a different tone. SPOILER ALERT: Since we last checked in on the island of Kalokairi Donna has passed away and Sophie has refurbished the inn in honor of her mother. The preparation for the grand reopening of the inn is told alongside flashbacks to Donna as a young woman setting out to find her destiny and meeting Sam, Bill and Harry during that fateful summer when she became pregnant with Sophie. While Sophie’s current storyline is meant to mirror Donna’s experience when first moving to the island, setting up the inn and becoming a mother, the tone of the two storylines is different enough that it often feels as though there are two different movies playing on the same reel. One is a fun romp following Donna’s adventures and the other is the sequel to Mamma Mia that continues the plot of the first movie and catches us up with what has happened to the characters in the meantime. They somehow never quite jive.
The songs you know and love from the musical and the first movie are there but even that does not always lift the movie up. Some of the lyrics are altered to better fit the scene and, while that does lend some originality, it then meant that I couldn’t sing along (don’t worry, just in my head, I am mostly tone deaf thanks to my G'ma). Here We Go Again utilizes some ABBA songs that were not featured in the musical or the first movie and those scenes certainly felt fresher than the scenes that merely tweaked or gender-flipped the original hits. The opener "When I Kissed the Teacher" is a fun homage to the big "Dancing Queen" number in the first film. At least it is until the new "Dancing Queen" scene that is essentially the original "Dancing Queen" scene sans Meryl Streep pops up.
There are a few bright spots in Here We Go Again. First, the powers that be have limited Pierce Brosnan’s musical numbers. Good actor, not a great singer. And the aforementioned “Dancing Queen” scene is fantastic: a big, fun musical number that strikes a perfectly upbeat summer movie tone. Lily James, as young Donna, is another bright spot. James’ energy radiates from the screen and her singing and acting are superior to some of the supporting cast. And stay until the end of the credits; it may just be a quick scene but it provides a genuine laugh.
At the end of the day Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again needs more. More fun, more Rosie and Tonya, more sense of purpose. I love a good excuse for romping around in the sun with the sweet tunes of ABBA but the world would have been okay to stop at the first movie, or really, at the musical. As with the first movie my reaction was simply to wish I was watching the stage musical instead. A movie will never match the immediacy of live theater but the translation is even more lost on a show such as this one that relies on and is buoyed by audience reaction. If you have low expectations and a pocketbook to support paying for movies that are just so-so go ahead and take a chance on Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Otherwise wait for it to hit Redbox so that you save yourself the heartache of money lost on a movie that could have been better.