Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Just when you thought it was safe to listen to ABBA music again, along has come the sequel (of sorts) to MAMMA MIA!, this time called (haha, yeah, we get it) MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN. It’s been ten years since the first film but time seems to have inched along on the beautiful but fictitious Greek island of Kalokairi (which doesn’t sound very Greek to me but that’s neither here nor there at this point) as we learn right at the outset that five years have passed since we last saw Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS; WHILE WE’RE YOUNG). In that time, though, her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep) has died, leaving Sophie with the villa which she has now turned into an upscale but quaint hotel called the Bella Donna that is about to open its aquamarine-shuttered doors to the public. But last-minute snags happen in the shape of: 1. her boyfriend, Sky (Dominic Cooper), accepting a job offer in New York; 2. two-thirds of her paternal unit , Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), having prior commitments and being unable to attend the grand opening as well; and 3. rain. We know where this story is heading.

Like its predecessor, MM! HWGA weaves together a story using hits from the legendary Swedish pop quartet ABBA. However, we have three problems here. The first is that the story of Sophie opening up the hotel is threadbare and it isn’t enough to sustain the film’s whole 114 minutes. To make up for that, we’re also given Donna’s origin story of how she came to the island in the first place and how she hooked up with Harry, Bill and Sam (Pierce Brosnan) 26 years earlier. Here, Lily James (BABY DRIVER; DARKEST HOUR) plays the young Donna and, to her credit, she does the role proud. I also backpacked across Europe in 1979 and if I had met someone like James’ Donna back then, my life would have been very different! The second problem is that all of ABBA’s biggest hits were already sung in the first film. With this film, we’re mostly given the less-than-memorable B-sides, but to get us to buy the album (I know I’m being old-school here), they threw in a few reprises like “I Have a Dream”, “Waterloo”, “Super Trouper” and, of course, “Dancing Queen”. I mean, does anyone outside of Argentina and El Salvador remember “Andante, Andante”? The third problem is that the trailer seriously misrepresents the movie. Meryl Streep is barely in this film! The same can be said for Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård but if you’ve seen the trailer, you would think that Streep is the star of the film. She’s not… by a longshot.

As problematic and dare I say mediocre as the film is, it’s still doing well at the box office having already taken in US$281 million worldwide (as of August 12, 2018). I would guess that a big part of this film’s appeal is Cher, who plays Sophie’s grandmother with typical Cher panache and camp. Her version of “Fernando” is getting plenty of airplay around the world. If you haven’t heard it yet, you will shortly… a lot.

As far as the other performances go, most everyone is reasonably good here, though there are a few stinkers like Andy Garcia (how the mighty have fallen!), who plays Sophie’s hotel manager, and Hugh Skinner (LES MISERABLES), who plays young Harry. Lily James, however, has more than enough on-screen charisma to compensate as does Josh Dylan, who plays young Bill. He’s starring in a new film called THE LITTLE STRANGER, which will be released in a few weeks’ time. (I’m not sure if or when it’s coming to Hong Kong’s cinemas.) For the older actors, if you were ready to cut your ears off after hearing Pierce Brosnan sing the last time, there’s good news as the autotune seems to have been working this time around. He’s still off-key but it’s not so drum-piercing.

If you’re an ABBA fan or if you’re simply looking to turn off your brain for two hours in air conditioned comfort, you’re going to enjoy this film. Otherwise, you can safely give it a miss.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, August 16th at 8:30 am HK time!

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