Review: 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' sings a familiar song
Sure, there are problems in the world, but the outside world is of no consequence in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," a defiantly cheery sequel to the 2008 musical.
Here there are no issues that can't be fixed or emotions that can't be expressed through the music of ABBA, the elastic Swedish hitmakers who gifted the world with some of the bounciest pop anthems ever created.
It may not make you get up out of your theater seat and dance, but it is a pleasant escape into a blue-sky dream world that will leave you with ABBA songs bouncing around inside your head. These days, you could do a lot worse.
The story picks up five years after the original, with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) preparing for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna, the Greek villa owned by her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), who passed on to the ABBA-themed karaoke bar in the sky in the time elapsed between the two films. (Don't worry, Streep maniacs, your goddess makes a cameo appearance in the film.)
While Sophie prepares for the opening, the story casually drifts back to 1979, when a young Donna (played by "Cinderella's" Lily James) meets the three fellas who may father her child to be.
The stuttering Harry (Hugh Skinner as a young version of Colin Firth's character) is a nervous Nellie who woos Donna by singing her "Waterloo" in a French cafe; studly Bill (Josh Dylan, playing an early Stellan Skarsgård) sweeps Donna off her feet and takes her on his sailboat, where they duet on "Why Did it Have to be Me"; Sam (Jeremy Irvine, standing in for Pierce Brosnan) wins Donna's heart and then breaks it when she learns of his previous engagement.
Swirling around Donna are her friends, Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn), younger versions of Julie Walters' and Christine Baranski's characters, and of course, lots of ABBA songs. Almost 20 of them, in fact. Several are repeats from the first film, but what, are you going to complain about hearing "Dancing Queen" again? (You're not, and if you are, there's a "Jurassic Park" movie screening a few theaters down that may be better suited to your tastes.)
Emotions aren't really nuanced in writer-director Ol Parker's script or direction; characters are either happy or sad, with little in between, and the sadness can usually be fixed by a song.
The musical set pieces are good, if not showstopping; Donna performs "I Kissed the Teacher" in front of her graduating class from Oxford, all of whom follow her into town on a bicycle, none of which makes a whole lot of narrative sense, but hey, it's a musical.
(Where exactly the ABBA songs come from is never really acknowledged; does ABBA exist in the world of "Mamma Mia" and is everyone huge fans, or do their songs just flow from the characters as natural extensions of their emotions? It's not explained, although ABBA's Benny Andersson does appear in the aforementioned French cafe, giving a sly wink and a nod to the camera.)
"Here We Go Again" builds to a big party scene where all the adult characters gather; even Cher (playing Sophie's grandmother) shows up, because why wouldn't she? It's that kind of a party.
This sequel plays like a familiar song covered by a lesser artist, but the good parts are still intact. If you're in the mood for a dance, take the chance.
'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again'
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material
Running time: 114 minutes