Over 35 years since they split, ABBA’s music continues to sell in huge quantities and be discovered by new generations around the world. The stage musical of ‘Mamma Mia’ – built around their best-known tracks has been a worldwide success for 20 years, and the film based on this also did pretty well ten years ago.
On top of this, we also now have the unexpected excitement of two imminent brand-new ABBA tracks due just before Christmas – to launch their forthcoming ‘virtual’ tour. This summer, in a move that could be seen as ‘milking it’ – we finally got a sequel to the first film – ‘Mamma-Mia – Here we go again’. But is it any good?
From the off, the new film feels like a slicker, bigger-budget affair. The plot is more fully-developed than the it’s predecessor (which was wafer-thin), and the standard of the choreography and singing feel superior.
The story flips between 1979, where we follow the young Donna (Meryl Streep’s character in the first film) played by Lily James, as she graduates from university and makes her way across Europe in pursuit of her ‘destiny’ on the Greek island of Kalokairi; and the present day – where we learn that Donna has sadly passed away, and her daughter Sophie is trying to revamp her mother’s restaurant for a grand reopening.
The film opens with Sophie – once again played by Amanda Seyfried, having an emotional phone conversation with Sky (Dominic Cooper), her other half, who is in New York on some kind of chef/hotel training scheme. He tells her that he can’t return to Greece for the reopening of the restaurant, cue poor Sophie getting all weepy and singing a rather maudlin version of ‘Thank-you for the Music’.
Switching back to 1979, we see the young Donna and her two best friends – Tanya and Rosie, their younger selves played brilliantly Jessica Keenan Wyn and Alexa Davies respectively; about to leave university, reflecting on their good times together and preparing to embark on their futures.
Lily James absolutely shines as the young Donna, bringing a cheeky sassiness to the role – contrasting with the demurer vulnerability of Amanda Seyfriend. * Sophie/Amanda and Sky/Dominic do seem perhaps just a tad wet and lifeless in comparison to the 1979 characters.
There is a fantastically cheesy/brilliantly choreographed scene for Donna’s graduation, with the sublime – Celia Imrie, a great English actress, making an appearance as the vice chancellor of the university.
With all the best-known ABBA songs used for the first film, it was time to drag out some of the more obscure album tracks for this movie. If you’re not a hardcore ABBA fan then you might think ‘what on earth is this?’ – but if you are familiar with their wider back catalogue, then it’s rather lovely to hear the likes of ‘When I kissed the teacher’, as we get to here.
The whole film and cast just brims with personality, everyone from Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth to the hilariously camp Christine Baranski – returning as the present-day Tanya; radiates humour and fun. Julie Walters is also back at her side as the homely, slightly downtrodden present-day Rosie. You do get the sense the cast really had a whale of a time making this film.
There are some great one-liners throughout, and Baranski gets quite a few of them. She delivers one such gem when Tanya and Rosie arrive in Greece to support Sophie with the restaurant opening.
Their jeep breaks down on the mountain road (there is also some breathtaking scenery in the film) and they come face to face with a dashing older gentleman from the island – named erm’ Fernando (more of him later), as Tanya vampishly lowers her shades and exclaims “be still my beating vagina”.
The younger versions of Tanya and Rosie are spot on, with Keenan Wyn looking spookily like Baranski; while Davies has the cute charm of Walter’s Rosie’ to a tee – “I think cake may be my soulmate” she declares in one scene (I hear you girlfriend).
We see the young Donna making her way across Europe – while in the process of her journey meeting younger versions of Harry/Sam/Bill, aka the future Sophie’s’ three ‘Dad’s.
First, she stops off in Paris – where she stumbles into the charmingly-gawky’ young Harry, played by W1A’s’ Hugh Skinner, with what is rapidly becoming his trademark awkward-posh-boy style.
‘Our Last Summer’ from the Swedish’ quartet’s’ classic ‘Super Trouper’ album plays neatly (the lyrics of the song tell of a youthful romance in Paris with a guy named Harry) in the background as he and Sophie jaunt through the French capital in fabulously 70’s garb of flares, wing collars and platforms.
As Sophie arrives in Greece and attempts to make her way to the Kalakoairi – she meets the young Bill, played with lots of cheek and charm by Josh Dylan. Bill gives Donna an, erm ‘ride’ on his boat to the Greek Island, and as she teases and flirts with his affections he launches into ‘Why did it have to be me’ – arguably one of ABBA’s naffer songs (Bjorn turns on lead vocals were never among their finest moments). However, even this relative dud finds life here.
Before too long blonde Bill is also history, and on her arrival on the Island – Donna meets the young Sam (the Pierce Brosnan ‘Dad’) – played by the also rather easy on the eye Jeremy Irvine; a newly qualified architect who is running away from impending responsibility and a mapped-out life. (Donna gets through these men at quite a rate it has to be said, but hey, this was the ‘permissive’ ‘70’s)
However, Sam it turns out is a bit of a cad as Donna discovers he has a fiancé back in England and he soon too becomes history – not before we get to see him deliver an actually-rather-touching version of ‘Knowing me, knowing you’.
Later, when she has settled in Greece– Donna discovers there is a consequence to all this when she learns is pregnant and faces life as a single-mother; but not to fear – her two besties soon turn up to lend support.
Meanwhile back in the current day, Sophie is up against it to get the restaurant reopened. Will Sky come back for reopening? Will her other two Dad’s make it (only one– Sam aka Pierce Brosnan has turned up so far with Bill and Harry apparently otherwise engaged). Well this is Hollywood, of course they will/can.
The reopening is inevitably all comes together at the last minute, and just when you think think the film has peaked and can’t get any camper– Cher, playing Sophie’s reluctant glam-mother makes a grand appearance via helicopter; looking both fabulous and frighteningly unreal.
In the final scene, Meryl’s Streep makes a comeback as a ghost – here it all gets perhaps a little cloying and schmaltzy; but does provide a nice, neat finish to the film.
The closing credits provide one last magnificent burst of fabulousness – with Cher radiantly singing ‘Super Trouper’ while perched upon a podium, with the entire cast appearing to dance around her looking like they are having the time of their lives, busting moves of varying degrees of laughability and proficiency.
While Josh Dylan and Jeremy Irvine do their best to look sexy, Hugh Skinner embraces the ridiculousness with his exaggeratedly daft dancing. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper finally succeeds in actually looking kind of hot. And Cher, well Cher just looks like she’s queen of the goddamn universe.
Of course, Mamma Mia- Here we go again’ is predictable and corny, but its also immensely uplifting and entertaining – and with those songs you really can’t go wrong.
If you watch this film and don’t smile lots/shed a few cheeky tears/laugh out loud– you are clearly either a robot, or no longer breathing.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is currently in cinemas worldwide.
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